As long as man continues to be man, as long as his necessity to feel emotions lasts, to think and make inquiries with the same sharpness of wit that made him discover the fire or first draw a bison on the walls of a cave, there will exist an art that should shy away from its fashionable and mercantilist evolution and take refugee in the ups and downs of the artistic necessity and in the vindication of the most permanent values of existence; that is, concentrating itself in the search for those everlasting values that can only be caught in the deep exploration of individuality, in the consideration and in the study of the most solid pillars of the artistic tradition and, at last, in the observation of the most original and motor nature. One of the challenges with which painters like Blake, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Miró or Baselitz have more fervently led to, has been to find again the thread between the painter of Altamira and the civilized man; painters who have survived in parallel to the “-isms” or the predominant styles and who, on their motifs being discovered, have accomplished the function of restoring the har-monic bond among man, art and nature. Oriol Sàbat belongs to the contemporary Catalan painters who have known better to adopt this artistic attitude from the faithfulness towards the forms and expressions that pour out from the inside, considering an expressionist tradition in his case and, finally, keeping a profound and visionary relationship with the natural world around him.


The Legacy of a Tradition


All serious art claims for a tradition which, filtered by the artist’s sensibility, is returned to our reality with a fresh and renewed gesture. The work of art goes adrift without this referent, fails and centrifuges itself. Responsible art often tends towards concentration, that is to say, to the contention of the natural human tendency to go away from the centre of its culture1: of its genuine values, its memory, its personality and idiosyncrasy. A concentrated work like Oriol Sàbat’s follows the dictates of his personality without renouncing the legacy of our artistic knowledge, that is, the expression of Michelangelo, the harmony of Phidias, the faithfulness to drawing –to dissegno– as the base of creation, the multidisciplinary art of the Renaissance, the tragic concretion of Goya or Roualt, the symbolic simplification of Miró or Tàpies or the usage of classic disciplines –oil painting, xylography, ceramics, poetry, wood sculpture­–. The painter, consciously or not, builds upon this sediment of a technical and formal nature, a naturalist content in which a great part of modern art history has been forged: be it in an idealized manner, faithful to perception, tortuous and delirious, organic or operating on nature itself.


The Daydreams of a Lonely Walker


“He who underestimates painting despises nature.”

Leonardo da Vinci2


His morning walks around Sant Sadurni d’Anoia lead the painter to natural areas that border with civilization: areas lost in nothingness that mankind have left free, although not completely freed from the corrosive effects of the civilized advance. We could call them vague lands, not with the meaning given by Marc Auge, terrains vagues3, in the sense of big mercantile areas without identity in the suburbs like the big commercial centres or industrial zones, but for their condition of indeterminate regions, in which nature imposes itself over a contrived substratum, as if they had heroically survived the effects of a great destruction, like the «zone» that appears in the film Stalker, masterly presented by the Russian director A.Tarkovsky. Most of Oriol Sàbat’s pictorial motifs find their source in the astonishment in front of the natural phenomenon that he identifies in these places, not necessarily spectacular as for the scale or the surface, but rather dense in detail and profundity: a striated rock, a tree cracked by time or machine, pebbles isolated and stained innocently by nature or rudely by man, the trunk of a tree trapped by crawling vines, the sun crossed by a light mist, waterweeds timidly dancing by the effect of the waters of suspicious purity of a little river, a bush harmonically choked by debris. A series of «real presences» taking the expression from George Steiner– differential and mysterious, which the painter feels the need to abstract and communicate.


This interest by natural phenomenon is subjected by Oriol Sàbat to the fertile impulse of his imagination. The trunks of the trees choked by crawling vines are seen by the artist’s eye as ghostly beings sheltered under big locks of hair –Newborn, 2005; The Bride of the Forest, 2007–; the entrance of a forest can be thought of like a great portal or arcade of a fortress –Snake, 2006–; the branches and roots that time has integrated to the bark of trees can be interpreted as anguishing snakes­ –Yellow Flower, 2004; Snake Wound Around Nothingness,2006–. The telephone poles inspire fallen crosses on abandoned meadows –Tomb at the Foot of a Tree, 2006–. In the cracks of a trunk, human wounds can be perceived, and in the marks of cracked trees, masks or prophetic faces –Man Who Walks, 2005–.


The solution that the painter finally adopts is not clear but rather ambiguous; he inspires and opens a path to imagination which will have to be completed by the spectator, absorbed in the resolution of the enigma. They are works that suggest before they define, as nature does with its features. It is as if his works were to connect with that precept of Leonardo da Vinci –painter beloved by Sàbat as it is shown by the different times he has paid homage to him: see Leonardo Looking at the Void, 2007 or Bird? 2004–, according to which the artist makes his inventiveness acute by looking fixedly at the abstract elements in nature, that is to say, giving value to indecisiveness as a central motor of artistic creation, what is contradictory with the Renaissance principle about the objective and clear expression of reality transformed by idea. A concept that we believe is worth being exposed to understand the relevant bind that, as we see, exists in Oriol Sàbat’s work among imagination, subjectivity and nature:


“If you have to imagine a place, you will be able to see on the walls full of spots, in the ashes of a fire, or in the clouds, or in a piece of clay, or in rocks of different tones, resemblance with varied landscapes, like mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills of different shapes; and you will still be able to see fast gestures of strange figures and infinitely more things that you will be able to reduce to a good and upright form. Things like these will honour you, since in the confusion of forms, the inventiveness sharpens new ideas.”4


From Organic Nature to Symbol


At the same time we appreciate a strong organic drive in his work, because the painter goes inside nature in its more original characteristic, that is to say, flaming, telluric, identifying himself particularly with its paradoxical germen, germinal but at the same time destructive. We observe how his work constructs itself in a fight of contraries, between original chaos and human order. This way, his work forges itself in the necessity to control natural chaos and human feelings, a fact that has its formal translation in a permanent combat between the backgrounds of his compositions: plain and simple, clear, and the more bursting forms which project from them precisely, like cooled lava once the volcanic explosion has past.


Determining what is originally amorphous, the painter communicates, aspiring for an art more and more symbolic and less anecdotal. Symbols which in spite of the effort to make them precise stay ambiguous: mysterious forms in transit between what is formless and what is identifiable, which reason can not often understand, but with which, however, we feel and react. We are in front of a painting that states the astonishment of man in front of the unknown, in front of what attracts us but disturbs us, because of its violent familiarity.





Contemporary Expressionism


The painter gets close to nature with an equally expressive intention, being conscience –as Gogol noted– that the work of art “does not have to teach but show life as it manifests itself to the creator”. Certainly, expressionism appears as a corollary of a disenchantment in front of our worldly and industrialized society, and at the same time, as a desperate response to a communicative necessity. Oriol Sàbat has kept himself unconditionally faithful to the Rousseauan belief according to which art can not be fully formulated if it is not from a controlled distance to the civilized world, that is to say, always suspecting that lies currently follow the modernized society. It is an attitude tinted by pain and hope –like his brushstroke– that does not hide an air of a period in accord with the expressionist resurgence that European painting experienced during the eighties. Certainly, Oriol Sàbat’s painting seems to continue that trend that revelled itself at the Biennal in Venice in 1980, led by Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer and followed by painters from Cologne and Berlin like Markus Lüpertz, Jörg Immendorff and A.R. Penck.


They were compromised paintings that were reacting against the drowsiness of a society resting on the laurels of consumerism, against an art wasted by the conceptual fashion and the technology or by the academic attitude of informalism or minimalism. The plastic response occurred demanding a return to content painting Inhaltliche Malerei, from a representational pictorial eclecticism –returning to the roots of gesture painting from impressionism to surrealism–, strongly rebellious as for the colour and the gesture. A movement of German base that had its correlation in the Italian transvanguarda, the French peinture libre, the new representational movement in the United States and in the feverish forms of Miquel Barceló in Catalonia, but also among some artists that were educated in the School of Fine Arts of Barcelona, of whom only Oriol Sàbat and Xavier Tuset (Barcelona, 1968) have persisted. A bright expressionism that denounces the macro-technological contemporaneousness from the plastic catharsis, that besides that, it does not hide a primitive and pre-civilized research in the basis of our culture. Using primitive techniques, used also by the German masters, like xylography or wood sculpture, Sàbat recreates crosses or biblical characters –Cross; Prophet; Eve; all three from 2007– which often connect with the motifs claimed in his paintings–Totem, 2007–.




“Once again I would like to start at the wound. If we start from the fact that I could also sink, that I have already sunk, that I have to lower myself down to the tomb, but that from this tomb there will emerge a resurrection.”5

Joseph Beuys

The work Crucifixion Resurrection (2006) sums up some of the considerations that have been introduced in this study to this point and at the same time is the work that, we think, transmits better the artistic convictions of the painter. The cross, organic and flaming, is trapped in the darkness and awakens with symbolic presence from obscurity with a range of reds and yellows, densely applied, and that on the contrary of what we can think of in a superficial view, radiates a vigorous burst of life and hope. This way, Christ’s death does not mean for Sàbat, in this work and in all his artistic production, the end but the beginning of life, resurrection. Crucifixion has a


“Men have to suffer as well the process of crucifixion, of total incarnation of the material world, to overcome materialism.” 6


To understand creativity as a cathartic agent that is able to go beyond mankind and its drowsiness. The descent to hell, the crossing of the desert looking for the most original wounds of mankind and of nature, and furthermore their ingenuous and ardent return to reality through the artistic phenomenon, are some of the considerations that unite Beuy’s art and Sàbat’s. And that make Sàbat’s work perfectly valid and contemporary, ready to awaken the minds of those who long for a trip, ephemeral and redemptory to the coals of creation and existence.

1 For further account of the concept of centrifuged culture see the most recent publication of Marc FUMAROLI , El estado cultural: ensayo sobre una religion moderna, Barcelona, Acantilado,2007.

2 Leonardo DA VINCI , Tratado de la pintura, precept num.8, Buenos Aires, Editorial Losada, 1943.

3 For further information about the no-places and the «terrains vagues» see Marc AUGÉ, Non-lieux: introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité, Paris, Éditions su Seuil, 1992.

4 Leonardo DA VINCI, op. cit., precept num.63

5 BEUYS, Joseph: “Discourse about my country”, conference given by Joseph Beuys in 1958. Extracted from Carmen BERNARDEZ, Joseph Beuys, San Sebastian: Nerea, 1999: p.97

6 MENNEKES, Pensar Cristo, Barcelona, Herder, 1996: p.34