When I first visited Alejandro Campins in his studio some ten years ago, we had difficulty just viewing his latest, recently completed paintings, all of them giant formats: he had to struggle to roll them out on his far too small studio floor so that I could try to imagine what they might look like from a distance of 15 meters in a white exhibition space. Not to mention his conditions for production, which had certainly required enormous imagination from him …
A Cuban landscape painter
Even then I immediately realized that the young man in front of me was an exceptional painter. A landscape painter, too, a Cuban landscape painter! And not at all one of the antiquated styles either, quite the contrary! One who ventured to present daredevil compositions and bold color combinations having, at least superficially, nothing in the least to do with Cuba, which I found extremely agreeable. I was quickly aware that behind his paintings was a clear, organizing hand, for he would never have been able to paint these jumbos on coarse burlap sacks without having a rigorous conceptual framework. Where he was heading in terms of his artistic development was of course still an open matter then. And fortunately, Campins has retained this openness until today; his creations surprising us over and over again.
City of the Dead
After a rather cheerily colorful start in the first years of his career as painter, his palette paled noticeably. Somber colors immerse his subjects in a sallow light, casting a deeply dismal quality on his paintings, quite as if Campins had lost his lust for colors. The title of his series «City of the Dead» (2014-15) refers to the name of the cemetery in Cairo that forms an entire urban district, which he had previously visited and where many thousands of people live on the premises of the necropolis. In the paintings, however, there is no trace of human bustle. The viewer is rather confronted with nearly abstract geometric compositions of shapes from which the colors have been extracted. His Cuban landscapes, “Paisajes cubanos” and “Declaración pública”, which—much like archaeological sites—still carry a poetic breath of their former significance, are similarly drained of color. The numinous quality of these historical locations is still palpable; political and theatrical spectacles presumably took place here, but now they seem dead and deserted, as if an atomic wind had passed through them.
Metaphysical dream architectures
The models for Campins’s subjects are truly existing, real architectures and cultural landscape set pieces. By his style of painting, however, they are transformed into something completely different; into theatrical gestures of something no longer existent; into marks of a no longer traceable past. They do not turn into nightmares, though, but rather remain in a conceptual and minimalist freeze. Their silent latency weighs heavier than their potential accusation of mysterious acts that supposedly took place at these hermetic non-locations. Time seems to be frozen in these calm and gloomy snapshots of an elegiac, dream-permeated romanticism.
Fear of Death is Fear of Truth (Miedo a la muerte es miedo a la verdad)
This is the title of one of Campins’s latest exhibitions, which deals with bunkers and their possible functions. The subjects of his paintings are monstrous and huge, massive air-raid shelters from World War II and the Cold War, which he invests with more colors this time. The bunker as a structure of defense, calm, monumental, and majestic, serves the artist to symbolically illustrate a basic human fear, as Campins told me personally:
“I’m referring to our fear of change, of losing what we’ve clung to. And this fear leads us to constantly build mental and physical structures as a system of protection against that truth—for me absolute—which is impermanence.”