The Wine of the Winds: Ricardo Mazal

Tenya Mastoras
Jun 3, 2016 1:57PM
"Out of bitterness itself the clear wine of the imagination will be pressed and the dance prosper thereby." - William Carlos Williams

By Gary Michael Dault

"There is no such thing," writes the great American poet, William Carlos Williams, in his Kora in Hell, "that with a twist of the imagination, cannot be something else."

Having recourse to this "twist of the imagination" is a methodological given, a procedural axiom, for Mexican-born painter, Ricardo Mazal.

A masterful wielder of diverse media to serve his expressive ends, Mazal has been both inventive and fearless in his employment of certain multidisciplinary processes that dance attendant upon the presentation of his final vision for a work.

He has had frequent recourse, for example, to photography. But Mazal's photographs are rarely ever positioned as ends in themselves. Rather, he tends to futher manipulate his photos in the computer, thereby generating suggestive digital sketches. When he finally does begin to paint—which he undertakes with remarkable force and brio—he continues to photograph the painting as it develops, stage by stage, always circling back to the computer with these vivid progress-photographs, where he can then produce even more complex digital sketches—in which the painting and the photographic image interpenetrate and meld themselves into the gathering rush of a surging, ongoing idea. The process, through digitally assisted and enriched, thus enacts and replays the cyclical and regenerative energies of the natural world—with its endless, relentless, exalting (and sometimes terrifying) play of birth-death-rebirth which all of us are heir to.

Mazal’s paintings often employ the grid as an organizational armature (see, for example, his Kora C20, Kora C21, Kora C22, Kailash G3 and the majestic Kailash G4). Unlike most grid-construed, minimal works by other artists, however, where colour and shape are offered as chromatic and compositional ends in themselves, Mazal’s grid-supported paintings are somehow only initially tethered by their underlying structure. In the end, the grid is used as a route to further freedoms (the way a writer can count on bedrock language-stores and certain syntactical givens beneath what he then writes).  Having erected the grid as home-base, Mazal can then allow his paintings to fly free—as he does with the flapping, fluttering, strip-like, ribbon-like, banner-like, flag-like, high-wind diptych dancework, Kailash PF7 and Kailash PF8).

These muscular, exuberantly assertive paintings of Mazal’s are strange, compelling admixtures of tenderness, compassion and what the Spanish would characterize as duende (having soul, possessing “dark authenticity”).

The paintings with titles referencing, for example, “Kora” and “Kailash,” are evocations of an epic trilogy of art-enterprises which took him on a journey to, for example, the Tibet Himalayas in 2009, and specifically to the mysterious Mount Kailash, sacred to Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus.   

It was in the course of this twenty-one day sojourn at the hallowed mountain (to which Tibetans bring their deal for a “sky burial”) that Mazal became galvanized by the beauty and mystery of the mountain itself—which (as Cezanne did for Mount St. Victoire) he made palpable in painting after painting (see, for example, Kailash M20 and Septiembre 24.13).

Fascinated not only by the nobility of the mountain’s imperturbable presence, to which he pays homage in work after work, using wipers and scrapers (which he wields with virtuoso skill) to mimic the mountain’s forbidding flanks, he became transfixed, in equal measure, by the ritual material the mountain engendered: by the aliveness of the wind-whipped prayer flags, for example, positioned across the mountain (in paintings like Kora C21 and Kora C22, you can feel the sanguine vitality of their saffrons and reds and golds, juxtaposed to the eternal snow-coldness of the mountain).  According to Tibetan belief, the forbidding winds blowing from the mountain serve to deliver the blessings inscribed on the flags to the world at large.    

Very few painters have ever succeeded as well as Ricardo Mazal in so memorably offering the runaway energies of the natural world in its most elemental, brut form and, at the same time, ameliorating the terrible imperatives of death and fate, regret and inevitability with such compassionate and sweetly elaborated ruminations about life and its meaning.

It is indeed bracingly strange—and exhilarating—to see a painter acting in such a profoundly painterly way —his paintings bristle and shout with formal mastery—and yet to find him to be, at heart, a gentle, if intense, metaphysician. 

Tenya Mastoras