The Pathway to Creation
by Pierre-Henri Deleau
Deeply rooted in his Basque heritage, a rebel against all authority, having even worked as a smuggler in his youth, a fiery Republican and confirmed democrat, Jose Antonio Sistiaga is first and foremost an independent artist. The portrait presented to us by Manuel Sorto, with the help of his collaborator Camilo Sorto-Cazaux, on the occasion of an exhibition of the painter’s work, evokes the life and inspiration of this atypical creator, who — independent of all influences, passing fashions or worldliness — carries on regardless with his work and his artistic experiments. José Antonio Sistiaga draws inspiration for his his work essentially on what he sees or what he experiences. Indispensable ingredients are nature and, more specifically, the sea. He does not pretend to understand the inner workings of nature, but rather internalizes and paints what he sees beyond the subject itself. Would that be abstract painting? Not exactly. Better said, Sistiaga strives to capture the hidden side of a cosmos in perpetual evolution, showing just one of its fleeting moments. Manuel Sorto‘s great merit has been to portray the artist’s search for the absolute, a search based on intuition and that inward-turning gaze that governs his artistic expression.
Just as José Antonio Sistiaga listens to what he sees, Manuel Sorto makes no comment, but merely listens to him and shows him as he is, in his explorations and in his life, which are, after all, one and the same. His defenses down, Sistiaga recounts his life, holding nothing back, not even the deep wounds and cruel memories of the years his father spent in Franco’s dungeons. As he tells his story, he emerges as a figure of simplicity and greatness, fury and generosity, alive, tremendously alive. One artist confronting the world, universal and alone.
by Lucie Miramont
Tortoiseshell spectacles and hesitant of speech. José Antonio Sistiaga strolls through the labyrinth of exhibition rooms, the walls of which are soon to be covered with his work. He delegates, leaving administrative details to the exhibition curator. The painter is not completely at ease.
Even slightly remote.
His work is done: colors on top of sensations, shapes over memories, patches of paint over ideas. He juggles materials and forms. The camera follows him as he ambles around this unfinished space, exchanging questions and answers. Should this one be more to the right? We could hang these together … don’t you think? His work is varied, surprising, making a havoc of the classic processes of exhibition hanging. Yes indeed, Sistiaga paints. But he also paints films. The juxtaposition of his meticulously hand painted celluloids, exhibited in immaculate showcases neon lit to imprint the colors onto the spectator’s retina, and the projection of his films — is indeed extraordinary.
Little by little we learn more about the painter’s background as narrated during shared car journeys and in reply to Manuel Sorto’s questionings. A different kind of work is being created around the artist: should we call it a documentary, testimonial, presentation … fiction? The epithet is unimportant, the essential ingredient, here too, is creation. The images interconnect, seeming to follow a delicately written score, interchanging spaces and environments. Thus we go from public events, exhibitions or commemorations, to the intimacy of the artist; organized in such a way that the film unfolding before our eyes matches the evolution of the painter’s work.
In a procedure evocative of Chinese boxes, a construction in spiral, a double creative movement or the dialectics of genesis, the “documentary” comes to life as Sistiaga reveals his thought patterns and his work methods. A propos de work methods, many of his latest works never saw the use of a paintbrush.
The painter does not paint, he projects.
Projection would seem to be the key word in the fragmented material I am observing. A film is projected in which an artist projects his film on a screen, just as he projects paint onto a surface. But the parallel construction does not stop here. The symbiosis is so strong here that the film strongly resembles Sistiaga’s own creative process. As a principle of communicating vessels, the metaphor is even stronger.
Thanks to a form of dialog set in motion as it evolves, this collection of images seems in a way to take the painter’s place, allowing him to make a halt, install his exhibition and talk about his life, before going back to his pens and paintbrushes.
Circularity, suitability, there it is. It works. These are the words that come to mind. “Concentric circles,” I say to myself. Exactly. Circles formed as one walks around the installation of the exhibition, a painter’s work, a painter’s life. A circular fragmentation around an indivisible unit, the backbone of this collection of memories, landscapes, phrases, colors: creation.
The film is a set of Russian dolls.
A dialog with creation, through creation. The film is a catalyst. It plays, touches, nibbles at the artist’s work, never stealing its stardom.
Stardom it already has.