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The Expressionist Artwork of Ramón Lapayese

by Javier Rubio Nomblot

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Despite the respect that his figure has inspired in all the artists and critics that knew him, and in spite of the influence that he has had on certain artists and critics of his generation, until now the sculptor and painter Ramón Lapayese has not been the subject of an in-depth study, perhaps because he was not present, in the last stage of his career, in the Spanish market and scene. (...)
It therefore seems to be time to pay tribute to his figure and work, especially since a large part of it is practically unknown in Spain.

In the 50s, Lapayese received two grants to travel to Rome (where he also toured around Italy and part of Europe) and Paris (where he lived for six years, completing several exhibitions), coming into contact with the avant-garde European art of that time. His sculptures as well as the magnificent collection of abstract paintings conserved from that period make up, without a doubt, a spectacular starting point for an anthology of the artist: perfectly conserved, these paintings show us diverse reticular structures in relief, impeccably composed and adorned with deep and dull colors. In these works is the tension between the geometric sobriety of a Poliakoff -in painting- and the taste for the archaic and prehistoric that Moore, Giacometti or Germaine Richier imposed on the sculptures of that period.

Perhaps these paintings of the early 60s represent, better than any other collection of his works, the moment in which Ramón Lapayese, feeling sure of himself as a painter and far from his country, develops a language completely coherent with the works of his contemporaries. His style is built on these paintings; it is the symbiosis between what could seem to us to be sculptural forms and a taste for painting, color and matter, which characterizes Lapayese the painter: his manipulations of anatomy and volume, those distortions of space characteristic of the sculptural language that Ramón unconsciously incorporated into his painting, make it unique, always surprising, refined and alive. Also notable are his etchings, done in the École des Beaux Arts.

In 1968 he presents his works for the first time in the Kreisler gallery of Madrid, a place he would maintain a relationship with until the beginning of the 1980s. (...) Critics discover him then as a painter, dedicating to him commentaries full of praise. In this way his long and productive period in Madrid begins. But if we have placed special emphasis on the formation period of the language and style of Ramón Lapayese, it has been for a specific reason: we believe that the work of this artist -and, especially the collection of paintings, sculptures, etchings and drawings that Lapayese completes from his return to Madrid in 1963 until his last trip to Miami in 1984- can not in any case be studied from a chronological point of view or, in other words, focusing on the possible evolution of the stylistic features that characterize it.

Lapayese was a remarkable artist who remained faithful to several premises for most of his life. Not only did his language not change (it is possible to find something new in each work, but always with an unmistakable and unchanging style): in addition, he frequently alternates between discoveries and revisions, constantly advancing into new territory and returning to the familiar.

If we concentrate on his sculptures, we can observe a permanent preoccupation, one single subject matter: Lapayese focuses on the human figure, expression, movement, feeling, action... He studied its anatomy from multiple perspectives, he explored it at times from a classicist rigour and other times he transformed it into an abstract ode to movement. But these changes do not constitute "periods" but rather "moments" that we find throughout his whole life. And in these anatomies, of humans as well as animals, we will always find these basic structures, the "skeleton" or "backbone" for which he is indebted to the rediscovery of cave art, and which constituted the motif of his abstract paintings and sculptures.
On the other hand, we often find the same motif, the same pose in a painting of Lapayese and in one of his sculptures: both facets of his work were carried out at the same time, both are indissoluble and many critics express their preference for one of the two aspect of his creativity.

His works can thus be grouped by subject matter: his splendid bullfights, peculiar with Lapayese's typical bull, seen from above and exaggeratedly large, it has an almost architectonic character, totemic features, which transpires solidness and potential. (...) In this way all the sensitivity of Lapayese unfolds before us, we can perceive all the tenderness that emanates from his works; delicate and fragile figures that seem to hide their faces modestly; anonymous and speechless, they express themselves through the peculiar transformations of their anatomies, through the lengthening or widening of their extremities, through their clothes that are always rich in texture and matter, through their trembling profiles.

The commissioned works that Lapayese completed in these years are incredible, but we prefer to focus on what he produced for the more than fifty individual exhibitions carried out in different cities of Spain, Europe and the United States, and his more than one hundred collective exhibitions. The Special Gold Medal in the Biennial of Zaragoza in 1963 and the II National Award of sculpture, which he obtained in 1970, are among his most important awards.

Ramón Lapayese perhaps worked more according to his impulses than guided by a desire for coherence; this may also explain the extremely vast collection that he has left us. It is true that Ramón did several works on "whims" or "for fun" which perhaps helped him to "escape" from his workshop, where commissioned jobs accumulated and there were always many apprentices working. Upon these works, so necessary and at the same time so unconventional, Lapayese built the singular artwork that we present here.
Javier Rubio Nomblot
Madrid, 1999
Translation: Lisa Twomey

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