Martín y Sicilia / Cromaterra


DEC, 15, 2023 - JAN, 27, 2023

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Props… It’s all just props

(A note on the recent work of Martin & Sicilia)

“…I believed or wanted to be able to turn his figure around,

and you can only turn a body around. Literally

it was an enveloping, tactile, encompassing gaze.

You needed to be able to get behind it.”

Georges Didi-Huberman

Painting incarnate.

One of the works of art that I personally believe best and most clearly define the “post-modern spirit” is the 1987 painting by Californian Mark Tansey, Triumph Over Mastery II . A piece which, incidentally, has just been auctioned at Sotheby’s and sold for 11.8 million dollars at a night auction of the prestigious Emily Fischer Landau Collection, a performance that was livestreamed to all of us who follow the auction house on social media. And this performance of the virtual experience of apparent repetitive simultaneity may be one of the best symptoms that expose the exhibitionist and speculative nature of the times in which we live in the contemporaneity that surrounds us.


So I have to say, when I first saw the installation Dele color al difunto (Rosy cheeks for the deceased) from the year 2013, by the duo of artists from Tenerife Martín & Sicilia, at Galería Artizar, I honestly thought they were paying tribute to Tansey. A decade ago, the artistic duo composed of José Arturo Martín and Javier Sicilia took a step further in their meanderings around how to dismember the pictorial exercise or practice, that is, the act of painting itself, into planes; this time or once again into spatial planes. And I say “a step further” because they had already displaced the two-dimensional object of painting into sculptural installations in which cut-out and painted figures intertwined in planes that deconstructed the figure-background relationship, sometimes encapsulated within a planimetric spatiality and others as mere wandering objects in the exhibition space; but this time, the space was painted and re-painted in a kind of automatic, restorative Tachism, in which they destabilised notions about themselves, pivoting from artistic painters to painter-decorators, with which their figures interacted, creating a rounded story, perfectly post-modern, summoning, burlesque, casual but culterano for its referential charisma to the history of art, to the old ways in which painting manifested itself as a thing, a fact and now a place where reality was and is, or is called into question. Not surprisingly, this gesture of erasure, where the practicality of the painter-decorator overrides the mastery of the fine art painter, was the starting point of our first curatorial project [an interval] -works in progress-, at CEART in the summer of 2019. An exhibition where, as art curator, we posed the question of where their artistic practice was heading after overcoming the dividing line of the Mid Carrier, following a grand retrospective with a title reminiscent of a soap opera, Forgive me for the things I told you in winter, which travelled around several exhibition spaces on the islands, under the curatorial gaze of Fernando Gómez de la Cuesta, and they were both finishing their doctorate studies in Fine Arts, at the University of La Laguna, where they had graduated years before.

At that time, I realised that what I considered a finding, was an epistemology, a habitual methodology in the work of Martín & Sicilia, from the get-go. Focusing their critical gaze squarely on painting, in dialogue with how we perceive the narratives of their contemporaneity. At times that dialogic relationship was a debate, at others a talk, others a loud scream, and at other times still two non-antagonistic opposite numbers sitting face to face talking cordially, sometimes while dancing, through grimaces, body language, looks, simple mute gestures. They have always established their work from what critical discourse calls an ideo-aesthetic line of enquiry around the evolutions of pictorial language. Those questions of: How should I paint today? Why should I paint now? What should I paint on (in the material sense and in the conceptual thematic sense)? have always been at the very core of their foundations.


For this reason, their latest project at Galería Artizar, entitled Cromaterra, ‘naturally’ – in terms of evolution- picks up the glove thrown down to painting in some of the duels they have fought along the way over the past three decades.


In these three decades, Martín & Sicilia have worked on the development of pictorial language within the genre of portrait and self-portrait, in resonance with how we self-represent in certain contexts (landscapes) and situations (stories); contexts and situations that from the outset question stereotypes such as the identity of the local in a global world, the construction of masculinity, authorship, and authority therefore; in these times in which we live immersed in an exacerbated narcissism, “sick” to use a term from  Byung-Chul Han, the author of The expulsion of the other and The disappearance of rituals; they have been talking for years about how this disguise, how this repetitive pantomime, somehow reveals our secrets.

Only, whereas in previous years many of their creations were expanded into sculptural installations, in which their figures have been separated out from their backgrounds, some of their installations of cut-out figures change radically not only depending on the exhibition space, but also the wider place where they are exhibited: city, country, culture. Johannesburg is not the same as Mexico City or Havana as Palma de Mallorca. But now, after the shrinkage endured by humanity through the trauma of a global pandemic, where virtuality was so decisive, in this process of detachment from context, where the background metaphorises the dislocation of the subject; chroma keying or greenscreening solves any sequential gaps in any narrative we want. Therefore, from the expansive, their work has been confined to the spatiality of one of the domains they best control, the domestic sphere. Or more than the domestic sphere, its theatricalisation.


There are very few things as domestic in the 21st century than a TV screen to which gaming, media or internet connected devices are linked. They, who have always made fun of the solemnity of authorship, have invited graphic programmer Diego B. Brito, their former classmate at the University of La Laguna, to collaborate under their instructions in an audiovisual work that has two viewing options: 1 as an interactive video game, 2 as video art. A work that recreates stations of their previous pictorial work, turning them into scenarios where the fiction of two digital avatars -of themselves- can be deployed. Even responding to Didi-Huberman and his need to surround the pictorial object or event from behind, through theatrical rigging.


A funnel piece, which filters, through itself, everything outlined in the triptych, where the painting of the greenscreen triumphs over the mastery of the twentieth century avant-garde, in that delicate nod to Tansey, that only “a few enthusiasts” will see, or the solitary flirtation with black and white that refers to the film Sherlock Jr. by Buster Keaton, where the expressive capacity of their formal resources is also extended towards the drawing tradition of watercolour, just as playful as those pictures where the figure does not pose, but moves, petrifies instantly before a gaze, where everything is performative (that highly millennial attitude); even knowing that if there is no pleasure, the process does not make sense. But the pleasurable and rewarding freedom that art continues to offer them, even if only as a playful memory, as a fetish-recording of a ritualised sequence that repeats itself, is endorsement enough.


After all, if this exorbitant regeneration of visual fictions where the subject is diluted merely confirms that our “life is pure theatre”, and figures can be manipulated in their backgrounds (greenscreen or otherwise), everything else is props… It’s all just props.

Omar-Pascual Castillo


Video game of the walking simulator genre by Martín and Sicilia, developed by Diego B. Brito and with music by Pablo Sicilia.



Featured in the program Buenos días Canarias of Televisión Canaria.


Destacado en el programa Somos Gente Fantástica de Televisión Canaria

Written press

EL Día

Article in the newspaper El Día - December 17, 2023

diario de avisos

Article in Diario de Avisos newspaper - December 14, 2023

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