When we keep our eyes on every minimum detail in Dino Valls’s paintings, we discover a melomaniac and an avid reader. The artist captures, on the panel, many fragments of all the melodies and readings he has been living with throughout his journey as a creator. We discover his musicomania when we see how he studies this sound art, and Valls not only researches that classical music we all have listened to sometimes, but also a music which dates back to an almost “extinguished time”. He goes back to the very beginning of music as a written and ruled art. Valls was devouring the ancient monks’ manuscripts. He found neumes which were composed for the liturgy. He, simultaneously, tries to revive the emotions that believers felt when they heard those chants many centuries ago. A tumult of thoughts twist and turn in his brain when he confronts a new canvas. These melodies, poems, philosophy or science and memories swirl around his imagination. His way of working is a commitment to his own inventiveness and with his legacy in history. He respects himself and he does not leave any thought or knowledge in disuse. He claims he mixes consciousness and unconsciousness in each of his works. He immerses himself in a vortex of impulses and intuition that he later improves and loads with reasoning. “Reason tends to be irrationally delirious and unconsciousness should be intellectualized with consciousness and culture”, his voice summarizes. Arbor Vitae (1994)
In Arbor Vitae (1994), there is a clear example of what I mentioned about music. This retable refers to the European cultural background that talks about the Christianization of peoples in a really personal way. He depicts these medieval scenes with a really fresh perception: the parishioner used to be controlled by clergy. Church misinterpreted the Bible. It sometimes understood God’s words literally and spread it in that way to its believers. Valls paints four characters who can be seen as people who are involved in the clergy world. They are psychologically tortured by their fear of sin and of eternally roaming in hell. The lady on our left is the only one who stares at us and who includes us in the scene. There is an allusion to the biblical Genesis as well as to all other big religions of the world. The Tree of Life constantly appears in every civilization. Here, life and death are represented. The person in the middle evokes an anatomical print and, at the same time, he is a martyr or a prophet. He looks at Heaven, connecting divinity with Earth through his eyes and hands. His right hand talks to God and his left one points to the ground: immortality in front of the impermanent sphere. Death is latent in the skeleton, in the girl who is buried in the predella and also in the nails which torture the woman on the left. These nails are related to African art, in particular with the rituals performed by shamans of Congo. In turn, the young woman on the right has a stigma in her hand. However, the artist veils ugliness when he puts a gemstone in the wound. The cadaver buried in the base of the altarpiece is forced to keep a fetal position since she is tied with some ropes. In this way, the circle of life is captured. The dead body nourishes the tree roots, subsistence, and rebirth. There, in the predella, the artist places music. He hammers scores that contain neumes and psalms. The neumes blow spirituality (what we feel but do not see). The psalms are those texts that adorn the sound, the harmonious and organized wind. This is the ecclesiastical chant that praises God because of the gift of life and, at the same time, we do not forget the Parcae who visit every living being. Vanitas (2004)
Let us direct our vision to Valls’s reader identity. Allow me to mention his painting Vanitas (2004). It is a small and profound panel. The words we read in this painting are Salome, O. Wilde. They are written on the spine of the red book, where the character puts her head. This plain work alludes to Baroque still lifes, those with the same name, where human skulls were depicted. These works tried to alert humans about their useless vainglory. Salome is a clear representation of human vanity. She is a beautiful and a seductive young woman who asks for the decapitation of the man who did not want to see her. The painter is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s words and, at the same time, Valls is thrilled by Richard Strauss’s chords. The Irish playwright and the German musician agreed Salome’s death. Valls brings her head.
Alchemy We have already seen how much the painter is attracted by medieval art and science. It is a moment in history he understands very well and loves because of all he knows about it. Middle Ages manuscripts used to be written by people with an active imagination. They were able to recreate scenes and images that functioned as codes and those codes should not be condemned by the church. The art of that epoch is so refined as mankind was eager to perfect itself to resemble the Creator. Alchemy, what could be considered as the medieval science was a doctrine which aspired to conquer full knowledge of the physical and spiritual world. Valls brings many alchemical symbols in his works to talk about his own search of the perfection of the soul that arises after a flawless behavior. There is one of his works which shows alchemical symbols in a remarkable way. It is Zadkiel (1988). The key element is the androgynous character in the middle of the piece, and also the dragon that is under that character. We see a perfectly symmetric structure where the midpoint is the hermaphrodite pelvis of Rebis. These characters are introduced to the audience with language. Valls prefers Latin because it was the lingua franca in Europe then, and it is still, in some way, considering that it is the root or complement in many of our current languages of the Western world. The androgynous has the word Rebis (double thing) embroidered in its apparel. Above the dragon’s head, it is deposited a band with the phrase Ego sum Draco. Rebis can be the first human God created (in His own image and likeness) and androgynous consequently. God decides to divide this creature into masculine and feminine halves. He weakens human being making every half seeking each other. The Rebis on the dragon is a model taken from some alchemy documents. Nevertheless, we can not know the authentic meaning if we are not an alchemist. We can perceive it as the reflection of opposites that lives in all bodies. It can also be understood as the improvement and perfection through the union of the contraries. In this complex canvas, there is much more. The title of the artwork belongs to one of the seven archangels. Zadkiel is the angel associated with planet Jupiter and the same that equates to Thursday. The woman on the left is dressed in this spirit’s color (purple), and its complementary hue (yellow). She has a Jupiter’s talisman with the word SATQVIEL. She raises her left index finger to show us Jupiter’s magic square that is carved on the wall in the background. A tiny character, who appears on the right side of the painting holds another magic square of the same planet. These squares are formed by sixteen boxes (four horizontal divisions plus four vertical divisions). Numbers are arranged in order to obtain 34 every time we count the numbers of every side. Throughout the length and breadth of the painting, Valls paints those numbers with Hebrew letters that have a numerical value from one to sixteen. Then, the whole canvas is a magic square. When we observe carefully all the clues the painter is giving, we discover the mathematical structure of the canvas: there are sixteen perfect quadrilaterals around the Hebrew letters. Let us mention a last point about this work. If we see what the Rebis holds in its hands, the masculine side has a compass to emphasize the phallic strength and the perfection of the circle. In the feminine side, there is a framing square that represents rectitude. Both melt together in the mathematical principle that rules the universe. Aracne (1998)
Aracne (1998) talks about alchemy. The big parchment that is hanging behind the characters is a blank sheet with a little annotation in the lower part, on the right. That note indicates the ancient alchemical motto Obscurum per obscurius, ingnotum per ignotius. It means that we can get into darkness and the unknown through our less rational side. On the wall, there is a series of different diagrams: about Magic, Alchemy, Cabala, Astronomy, Portolan or Nautical charts: all the human knowledge enclosed in a room, creating a state of confusion, where all the doctrines weave together or branch off, giving rise to that multiple creature that is looking at us. Criptodidymus (1999)
Criptodidymus (1999) is a painting that resembles the previous one, because we see conjoined human bodies again. In this case, the texts are on the character’s feet. Valls puts sheets of paper creating a checkered floor. The papers come from the Alchemy manuscript Sapientia Veterum Philosophorum Sive Doctrina Eorundem de Summa et Universali Medicina (18th century). In the panel, some hands emerge. They are examining the twins’ body. The twins share just the same abdomen and a unique pair of legs (it is a body embedded into the other one). So far, we have the objective description of the painting, but do not forget that Valls always revolves around more complex meanings. We cannot approach his works with the intention of understanding them in a literal way. The painter claims it is a “painting about duality and about the consequent psychological conflict”. Then there is “a reference to Alchemy, activity that symbolically projects that everlasting search of the human being in the union of opposites.”
Opus Nigrum (2000) Coming to the exit of this section, we find other two panels: Opus Nigrum (2000) and Mutus Liber (1996). Both of them have in common that there is an only feminine character with alchemical texts written on their skins. In Opus Nigrum we see a girl facing us, slightly turned to her left. She is staring at us with a distant and fearful gaze. She seems unsure and sore. On her body’s left half we see a mortified skin with scratches that write twelve Latin names. They designate operations of the alchemical process: Calcinatio, Solutio, Elementorum separation, Coniunctio, Putrefactio, Coagulatio, Cibatio, Sublimatio, Fermentatio, Exaltatio, Augmentatio and Protectio. Mutus Liber (1996)
In Mutus Liber, the woman is in a corner, in a library or studio. In the shelves, behind her, we can see around twenty books. All of them have different binding, but the same title is written on their spines: Mutus Liber. There is an Alchemy text with the same name. It was published in France in the 17th century. The book, more than words, has images: fifteen engravings that illustrate a chemical process of purification. In this work, Valls tells us about silence too. Images talk without any kind of sound. The character is enclosed in herself. At the same time, she points at something on the labyrinthine lines of the carpet. She wants to give us a hint and everything else is silence. It is a kind of communication through gestures and gazes. In addition, there are small letters painted on her back. It implies that the text represents a burden to her. It is a knowledge she must not reveal. There are more words on her back than in the twenty books we mentioned. Her skin collects a glossary of alchemical symbols and names from the 16th century.
Pieces Insania (2007) and Nubilis (2010) are small panels where the characters seem to be pieces of a museum. The first painting has an imprecise setting with intense red color. It shows a woman’s face and shoulders. Her body was cut at her chest and then we only see her head and upper chest, which are placed in a goblet or wooden big cup. She has a label on her right side. It says: No. 11 -Insania-. This painting is the painter’s “Praise of Folly.” He personifies folly, painting it as beautiful as he always paints. He glorifies this mental disorder somehow. Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote his Praise at the beginning of the 16th century and he describes “Insania” as the daughter of ignorance and inebriety. That is why he paints her on a cup. Valls gets, again, harmony in the painting when he puts dementia and beauty face to face. Nubilis (2010) Nubilis, for its part, exhibits a young woman’s face emerging from a silk cushion. The spectator can read a label on her neck: MVSEYM VVLTVVM, 310, Nubilis. It is a young nubile’s face. She looks energetic, with big eyes and a kind way of looking. She could be another visage among the big museum of faces that the painter envisions.