Copper, cobalt and lead are metals used in ceramics in the form of oxide; copper turns into green, cobalt turns into blue and lead gives the piece a crystal transparent finish after boiled. They are essential metals, among others, for the development of the technological progress. From the beginning, this exhibition is named after a material, but also after an attitude before it. This exhibition invites us to consider the way mankind is related to the world surrounding it and containing it, and by virtue of what it initiates transformation processes with it, against it or despite it. It would be a simple but doubly formulated proposal: on the one hand, the handcrafted ceramic work that Antonio Ballester shows for the first time, and on the other hand, the pictorial work of a decisively transformed impulse in connection with the career and style of the artist.
The literality of the exhibition’s name depicts a reduction or simplification process that Antonio Ballester develops at different stages: a sympathy towards craftwork and its procedures rather than towards Art and its production systems; a formal purification, even reduction, of elements, theme or idea rather than its exhibiting clarity or its mere geometrical density; and a fundamental development of color. This simplification lends the work a certainly fertile semantic clarity, so that thoughts may rise up. Thus, from Earth, from mud or from a tree coming out, one can manage to see a mountain range, an opening sky, and a bird going back and forth, he who is aware of both from its inception, half alive and half dead as if it were the soul of an Etruscan. A bird’s flight, warns Rilke, dismayed before the open space as it, which comes from a closed one, also has to fly.
Ceramics – and craftwork in general – shows that in art exist a time and a practice in which mankind dreams of itself differently, dreams for itself a time in which the world is another world. Craftwork shows that copper and lead properties – as well as those of any other “raw material”- are not only the material pretext that feeds the great dream of progress, that brought some bland modern comforts along with much more miseries and also more tragedies. When it comes down to it, lead and copper could, as any other natural form, serve a better mankind, a better experience of the world, not ignoring anymore that we cannot have the Earth at our disposal without having ourselves at our own disposal too. How do we live and how could we live? Wondered William Morris in the 19th Century, and he answered himself: revolutionary socialism, but also restoring a beauty resulting only from a material, specific and passionate human work, with the power to become collective.
Craftwork nowadays does not suggest the soothing primitive Paradise, but insists on criticizing each gesture that may become condescending with a technical and instrumental reasoning that, in alliance with capitalism and the faith in progress of many, seems to have declared the war on every life professing to be free and egalitarian. If an artist utters craftwork! nowadays, he is asking himself and us about the human tendency and impulse to perform a task properly. It is the primary quality that presents Sennett in his book about the craftsman: the will of simply making a proper work. There is an artistic sensibility laid upon the handcrafted object that confines it to the everyday life – the experience shared by everyone, the common one – and at the same time it takes it into the extraordinary. A second quality, qualitative indeed: the craftsman needs to keep a continuous balance between specific practices and thoughts. The night of the craftsman may be also the night of the poet, in which the hand dreams of the idea and the idea dreams of the hand, without any possible divorce. When the opposite takes place, it is possible to be suspicious about any communication, about any expression, but it is difficult to be suspicious about a cattail chair, or a winter jumper, or a clay jar. An engagement is acquired through practice, and the engagement can only be accepted with practice. Ethical condition of the artisan, condition of the entire mankind, but a minor condition: the discrete aspiration that there is nothing in our homes – nor in our lives, we dare add to Wilde’s quote – not bringing pleasure to the man who made it and the man who uses it.
The pieces of Antonio Ballester reveal a singular beauty. Fresh, young, sensual, stained with mud or primed with color. Categorical and massive in this occasion too, but let’s say it is a beauty getting more and more thoughtful but far from melancholic. Noble. A childhood getting seriously younger and younger. The frame of the images is known in advance as an assembly and construction work. A beauty much aware of the image taking place, considering looks as a work itself: images that territorialize upwards and downwards, ancient and secret alliance of the horizontal. Forms showing that the world exists and that it is essential to take care of the way we look at it, because it will come back to us the same way later. Exuberant beauty of austere shapes; birds, trees, bunch of summits announcing springs. Images that Antonio Ballester spreads as a challenging invitation to experiment in our time what others are not concerned about, but always under a possible alliance; nature that will finally come to turn our mouths shut.
Rafael Sánchez-Mateos Paniagua – Madrid – May 2013