“I believe art is one of the few tools that human beings have to be able to think, feel and be moved, art is able to connect mind with heart and human being. Human being must have the chance to experience art.”
– Ernesto Morales
The Italo-Argentinian artist Ernesto Morales was born in 1974 in Montevideo, Uruguay. During the training period in Buenos Aires, in 1999 he obtained the title of Professor of Fine Arts and in 2005 he obtained a Doctorate in Visual Arts from the Universidad de Bellas Artes. From 1999 to 2006 he taught Painting and History of Art at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and held the position of Director of the Academia de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires.
In 2006 he moved to Europe and, after a first period in Paris he established his studio in Italy, initially in Rome and from 2011 in Turin, where he now lives and works. His artistic career has led him, in the last twenty years, to carry out exhibitions in museums and art galleries in many countries, including the United States, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay.
He has taken part in many international fairs and between 2009 and 2015 he institutionally represented the Governments of Italy, Argentina and Uruguay with a series of important solo exhibitions held in various museums. Since 2013, he has regularly exhibited in the United States and in Southeast Asia. In 2014 he participated in important exhibitions in Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and in 2015 he was protagonist of an important solo show in New York City at the General Consulate of the Republic of Argentina.
In recent years, many monographic volumes have been published dedicated to his work, including: “Memoria dell’impermanenza” (Cuneo – New York, 2019), “Il Tempo della Distanza” (Genoa, 2010), “The invisible bridges” (Singapore, 2014), “Traces of memory” (New York, 2015), “The day as the night” (Turin, 2015), “Distance” (Milan, 2016), “Aurum” (Milan, 2017), “Mari migrants “(Rapallo, 2012).
In 2019 he took part in the 58th edition of La Biennale di Venezia, with the exhibition “Heat“.
And, in the same year, after the exhibition “Mindscapes”, held at the Consulate General of Argentina in New York, the catalogue of the series Clouds was acquired by MET – Metropolitan museum di New York.
ARTISTIC RESEARCH AND PICTORIAL PROCESS
“Reality is not transparent: it is opaque, it is dense”
– Roberto Mastroianni, curator and art critic
Ernesto Morales believes that painting is a daily exercise, a slow personal application. His poetics doesn’t come from inert intuition but from the study, practice and continuity of the gesture, without ever being satisfied with the result obtained or yielding to the use of a recognizable formula.
Before starting a new project, the painter carries out some accurate studies and researches, also in the philosophical and literary field, with the aim of understanding the theme or subject he wants to represent and deepening it in every aspect.
“Then, when I start painting, I live completely inside painting, I follow its codes and rhythms. My mind is connected to that manual dimension and the search for the right color and shape.”
The artist himself creates the colors he will then use on canvas: this is not only a meditative ritual, but also a way to include nature in his works. “To me it’s almost like an alchemical process.” He works with ancient techniques, paying great attention to the material nature of painting. After many years and having experimented with modern techniques like photography, installation and video art, Morales has chosen to devote himself exclusively to oil painting. “I think art needs to talk about its time and, in a context of hyper-technology, I’ve accepted the challenge of going back to the origin of things, to a manual skill that is at the origin of art and that is based on the awareness of the materials used.”
In his travels he researches and collects minerals and stones from which he will obtain, once back in his studio in Turin, the pigments for his canvases.
“It is important for me to be able to make nature present in my work, not only represented, but also alive, there because in my art I talk precisely about the process of transformation of things, of mind, of the soul, of the body. This process and this coherence are very important to me and also for this reason the colors I use are unique, there is never one color equal to the other, because the stones always change”. The artist lets the brushstroke be visible and the color drip on the canvas. The painting is not only a representation of something external, but a representation of the act of painting. “In my works there is a part that I realize with great precision with the use of brushstrokes and a part that is destined to the natural flow of color. I let the painting drip, I make it move independently.”
From a technical point of view, Morales’ painting is a research on color and light, perceptible and imaginable. The artist uses an apparent linearity and surreal chromatic monochrome as expedients to make visible the material and metaphorical density of reality, the full and the voids of meaning. He investigates the themes of impermanence, memory, the passing of time and, to do so, he appropriates everyday elements – nature, sky, the city – as a source of metaphysical and archetypal symbols and not just as simple realistic inspiration for figuration.
While discovering Ernesto Morales’ works it is essential to have a contemplative look, just as the contemplation of the pictorial gesture is inherent in the artist’s work.
CLOUDS, FORESTS AND URBAN LANDSCAPES
“When I was at the Academy of Fine Arts, trying to put into practice some philosophical concepts I was studying, I started attending a Zen monastery located in the mountains of Cordoba, towards the north of Argentina. One day, the abbot of this monastery, while observing some paintings that I was doing and that represented the movement of the mountains that were around, told me: “Ernesto, look around and look up, you will see that reality is as changeable as the clouds”. That concept struck me so much that I began to study the landscape, interior and exterior, to seek a dialogue with that mutable character that all things have and to be able to build an image that goes towards their essence. I began to take an interest in the representation of light and what is ethereal. Over the years it would become a key concept of all my work: light that is that unknown that is everything.”
– Ernesto Morales
Interior landscape and exterior landscape: this is the perfect formula to reach the heart of the Argentine painter’s poetics. His landscapes are not panoramic views, they are not landscapes, but rather mindscapes, landscapes of the mind and of the psyche, populated by metaphysical horizons, for reflection rather than for the gaze.
“This is my landscape [ed. of his country of origin, Argentina], I grew up there, it is a landscape defined by a flat horizon, a simple horizontal line; the further you go inwards and the further this line moves away, you want to reach something that is unattainable. You always feel like you’re on your way but you feel like you’ll never reach your destination. I’m not interested in representing that landscape directly, but it lives within me, perhaps evoked – maybe unconsciously – with the horizontal line that I use in my paintings to make the canvas space boundless. If you wish, it’s a way to get closer to the idea of infinity.”
There are three groups of subjects in Ernesto Morales’ research: views of urban landscapes, clouds and forests.
“The former interest me as natural places that have been intentionally modified by man; they are a metaphor that I use to investigate memory, places lived and imaginary ones, the traces we leave in our journey and what a place leaves within us. Then the skies, be they clouds or constellations, allow me to deepen concepts such as impermanence, metamorphosis, the changing character of everything from our mind to the material world. And, at the end, the forests. They represent our inner world, the mystery of the irrational, of the unconscious, a search beyond light.”
Ernesto Morales is interested in building ambiguity, versatility and stratifications: behind the apparent conventionality of a sky with clouds or a bright constellation he hides a complex, metaphorically layered space, as it is the one of the mental dimension.
In his works the Argentine artist depicts clouds, forests, cities, and implicitly also man, without ever directly depicting him. Man is an implicit presence, filtering like the light among thin trees; that shines through the shadows of silent buildings; that emerges when contemplating the sky or diving into a cloud. The individual is always there, we can perceive his breath. “The distinction between man and nature is completely wrong, because cosmos and man are the same thing.”
The cloud becomes a river, a sea, an ocean and maybe returns to be a cloud on the other side of the world. I am interested in that cloud that is always different but is always the same, going through time. The cloud becomes a symbol of all that is regenerated, transformed, the cloud shows us that everything is interconnected.”
– Ernesto Morales
Ernesto Morales has made important studies on clouds, during his trips – from New York, to Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Vienna, Rome, Florence – with the aim of composing a sort of map of the sky, or of the world. His first reflections began, however, during his studies, and from 2012 they became paintings.
“Since 2001 I have started taking hundreds of photographs of clouds, with the intention of creating an Atlas of Clouds as a metaphor of the world. I photographed the clouds wherever I was and then took note of the date and place of the shot; today I reconsider them and choose them as models. I am interested in the idea that, despite time has passed, a photograph taken ten years ago can still tell me that on that precise date and in that precise place there was that cloud, with its own specific historical and cultural context.”
In choosing the right cloud, Morales is guided by his feelings, observing for a long time, choosing clouds that move at a slow pace. “I’m interested in those who have defined shapes and contours. I also perceive the cloud as a volume, a body, a character. It is as if I were looking, in its concrete expressions, for the ideal cloud.”
There is no cloud in the sky the same as another, and the same is for the clouds and skies in Morales’ paintings.
Clouds are elusive, have no consistency, you can’t take them; and their strength is that they are a great metaphor for our thinking, which changes, transforms and surprises us. In the clouds we can detach and observe it, see how it flows, how it is volatile and constantly changes. Being able to represent a thought in a still image like a painting, allows you to fix what is elusive and allows what is ethereus to become physic.
Morales does not try to direct the thoughts of his viewers but tries to offer them a stimulus to open their mind. In the clouds man can easily fall, find himself, contemplate his own projections and ghosts. They are a catalyst for gaze and reflection. And after a while you contemplate them, Morales clouds start staring at you, and talking to you.
“They are Clouds of Heaven, powerful deities for those who do not want to do anything: they make us able to think, to speak, to reflect, to enchant and deceive.“
– Aristofane, The Clouds, vv. 316-320, 331
The clouds are accompanied by works that deal with the second of the dearest themes to the Argentine painter: that of the forest and wood. These are seductive symbolic places and, at the same time, full of life and dangers, a starting point where you can rise from the world or get lost (so was in Plato the ὕλη (hyle), “wood”, the material, and so also Dante’s forest). A space that, like clouds, is imbued with full and empty, light and darkness.
The forest attracts and at the same time worries, comforts and threatens, offers glimpses of intimate reflection and disorients with the idea of its endless extension. Psychoanalysis identifies the forest as the place of unconscious thought, precluded in sunlight, full of allegories and archetypal symbols. Morales also offers this place in nature, closer to man than heaven, to reflection and thought. Rather than places to visit, these are, once again, places to enter with your eyes and thoughts. The materiality of painting is always present in order to point out where the canvas ends and the contemplative effort of the viewer is required.
The urban landscapes of the series PLACES are nebulous places with minimal contours, as it often is with memory. They are certainly human spaces far from nature, but nevertheless archetypal and authentic. Red and blue shadows make it a dreamlike place.
They are not postcards: it is not the architectural detail that counts, but their continuous trembling, the swarm of life and ghosts. So emptied by passers-by, they are ready to populate themselves in the mind of the viewer, free to recognize in the fog silhouettes of places or people, and to walk around with thought.
Even when the title reveals what we are looking at, in each canvas we could see glimpses of any city, frozen in an indefinite and suspended time.
They are like gleams of civilization and humanity, places of collective memory, physical spaces that deposit the meaning of man.
The urban places that Morales paints are places that he carries inside, of course, but that the viewer does not have to recognize: to those who watch these canvases is asked the effort to find their inner landscapes.
In January 2020, after his solo show Mindscapes at the Consulate General of Argentina in New York, Ernesto Morales presented Arbolecer, a limited edition artist’s book published with Valk Gallery. The volume consists of 15 brand new works, specially conceived and painted for the book, combined there to create a conceptual unit.
“Arbolecer” is a Spanish verb, of ancient origin. It comes from the Latin “arborescĕre”, from which the most recent form “arborecer”: it indicates the “becoming” of a tree, not only in the transitive sense of “cultivating or planting a plant”, but also in the more subjective one of “growing, becoming tree, developing over time”.
Here the purpose of the work is not descriptive but reflective and regenerative, both for the artist and for the reader. It is, in fact, easy to recognize the presence of the verb “Lecer”, “read”, the primary task of those who approach the volume, which however is not pure fruition but if anything active investigation of oneself in nature.
The second artist’s book by the Argentine painter, Trentatré Haiku (Ed. Lindau), a volume that combines the art of haiku poetry by one of Japan’s greatest masters, Matsuo Bashō, with Morales’ contemporary pictorial language, was published in October 2020.
Haiku, a very special form of “rarefied” poetry, formed by three verses in seventeen syllables, has its origins in Zen philosophy: the contemplation of nature generates flashes of awareness that are expressed through the evocation of few essential traits.
Morales chose thirty-three pieces (Italian translation curated by Yuko Fujimoto) and for each of them he created delicate watercolors in sumi-e technique, ink painting, thus composing a dense but refined book.
Between Bashō’s poetry and Morales’ brush, a dialogue filled with subtle resonances was thus created, without a purely illustrative intent.
“Since the beginning of Trentatré haiku’s conception, I have wondered how to interact with poems written centuries ago with the use of painting; how to seek a dialogue with them that was authentic, and that did not start from a description or a didactic interpretation of the verses, nor from an illustration in the classical sense of the term, nor from the imitation of a Japanese pictorial technique that was not part of my research. From the selection of poems to the realization of the images, I tried to leave my senses free to express so that my personal vision, that comes from my approach to painting, could be manifested. And it was a gradual path, a slow but constant flourish, between a grass in summer and a winter moon, between an autumn forest and a spring mountain. It was an uninterrupted and intense contemplation of sunrise and sunset, and from sunrise to sunset.”
– Ernesto Morales
L’Aleph, parallel visions
Among Ernesto Morales’ most recent collaborations it is worth to be mentioned the illustration of the famous text Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges, with a cycle of 33 painted boards collected in a volume which has been recently published by the publishing house Barometz in Naples. It is a limited edition of 120 numbered copies with gold leaf and copper leaf applications.
For Borges – fervent investigator of the themes of metaphysics, death and immortality, labyrinths and infinity – the Aleph is “the place where all the places on earth are located, without being confused.” Ernesto Morales also caught the essence of Aleph and painted it, thus making it visible to the readers. The Argentine painter met Borges as a child:
“It happened in Buenos Aires. A teacher took me to a cultural gathering where he held readings for a few people. I heard him talk, read some stories. I couldn’t figure out the density of those texts, but his magnetic figure fascinated me.” So why Aleph? “That text encloses my artistic research. In the forests, in the woods, in the light emanated by the clouds that I paint there is the Aleph, which in Hebrew language is the first letter. To me, he’s the One Plotinus was talking about. It was natural for me to ask myself how to represent him.”
Uniti con l’arte
“I try to turn this critical situation into a new beauty. Because art also and above all helps us in moments like this”
– Ernesto Morales
A painting in exchange for a donation to the hospitals of Città della Salute e della Scienza in Turin. It is the initiative launched in 2020 by the Argentine painter to concretely support with art the Covid-19 health emergency situation that has hit hard also his city.
The artist was supposed to exhibit in Barcelona and Paris, after returning in February from an exhibition in New York. But the pandemic has postponed everything to a date to be defined.
“In addition to the disappointment for the cancellation of my projects – explained Morales – this discomfort and this suffering on a social level impressed me a lot, from an emotional point of view. I then wondered how I could help, not being in the trenches with doctors and nurses. I thought to be useful with my work.” The campaign has gained lots of success in a short time, raising over 12 thousand euros in donations. “Alone you can do a lot, but thanks to Uniti con l’Arte (United with Art) we have done more!”
Since 2019 Ernesto Morales has been working on a pictorial cycle of about 240 square meters, in order to fresco the walls of Spinetta Marengo (AL) plant of the Ecoplasteam company.
Cosmogony. A great work of industrial art, that will be visible only to the 18 workers of the factory. For its realization Morales involved 4 students of the Academy, who have been studying his pictorial technique for 5 months in order to make it at its best on large surfaces and realize what is not a simple mural, but a pictorial work tout court. We leave you the link to a timelapse video in order to discover more about it.