“You must forget everything”. This is what a mysterious man, with a wide skull and small mouth, told Betty and Barney Hill to prevent them from understanding what had just that happened. The incident took place in 1961 near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and its considered the first documented case of a purported alien abduction. It is also one of the many press clippings we can find in the personal collection of Armando Suárez (Gijón 1928-2002). An article whose title poses the necessary question: “History or Fantasy?”
The story of plain Armando, as he used to sign, is the one of a self-taught painter and an electrical engineer that was, however, connected to the art world through his brother’s gallery. A story so rare that gives us the opportunity to question the limits of the real and the fantastic, while revisiting the horizon of our recent art history.
From an early age Armando was diagnosed with what was then called persecution complex, due to his tendency to distort facts and events into suspicions. This condition developed later on into a psychotic episode of paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 28, which he himself attributed in his notes to a surgical procedure for an inguinal hernia. The beginning of “a whole process of torture” that would last the rest of his life.
Ignoring the recommendation of his psychiatrist, Armando sought refuge in art between the 1950s and late-90s, giving rise to an astounding body of work. A collection of landscapes that speaks to an unforeseen coalescence between peaceful provincial life in Asturias, the science fiction of UFOs, climate change, ecology, or the religious conditioning of a time that could not understand painting as a form of therapy.
This extremely multifarious vision cannot be simply written off as the whimsy of an isolated individual. Armando’s imaginary is developing in parallel to the crisis in representation and in technological progress that was taking place all over the world in the 1960s and 70s. And even when we are unable to affirm that he was fully conscious of the aesthetic and political content of his images, what is beyond doubt is that Armando was driven by the need to bring everything into question: a need to reconstruct his own political, moral and religious identity through a new scientific beyond.
In line with this historical revisionism, and honoring his rare inclusion in recent Spanish painting, this first solo exhibition of the artist in Madrid presents his work in inverse linearity, starting with paintings from his final period. A selection of works notable for the humility in the use of oil on board and for a certain technical laxity that evinces the prevalence of the symbolic over the painterly. To a certain extent, we must understand the figure of Armando not so much as a precise formally trained painter, but as an artist who materializes an original, atypical imagination through painting.
Over the span of more than four decades, oblivious to all historiography, his images of flying saucers have hovered like a strange, ambiguous phenomenon; like an unidentified object. A phenomenon that, like all good works of art, pushes the envelope of our categories and responds to the duality of the question “History or Fantasy?” with an unequivocal “both”.
This interpretative freedom allow us to fantasize with his connection to artists he never got to know, like Milton Avery, Ballester Moreno or the formal simplicity of Lebanese artist Etel Adnan. Impossible echoes that become even more evident in his solar landscapes, resonating with the most intimate work of Miró while bringing back memories of pop photography, overturning our historical line even further and disorienting us geographically and temporally.
It is precisely this incapacity to identify the ‘what’ and the ‘when’ of his images that makes his figure so meaningful today, adding a new dimension to the debate on the identity of subjectivities which have been historically marginalized. Only in this way can we manage to situate, in the 1960s and in the grip of Franco’s dictatorship, these celestial landscapes of Asturias halfway between geometric abstraction and American symbolism; only in this way can we grasp a painter whose work does not conform to the myths of Spanish painting, but rather are aligned with international mass-media counterculture.
Armando is not just an outsider artist, nor a Pop painter, or a landscapist overlooked because of his psychiatric record. Armando is all of them at once.
“Ignoring the recommendation of his psychiatrist, Armando sought refuge in art between the 1950s and late-90s, giving rise to an astounding body of work. A collection of landscapes that speaks to an unforeseen coalescence between peaceful provincial life in Asturias, the science fiction of UFOs, climate change, ecology, or the religious conditioning of a time that could not understand painting as a form of therapy”.