No one can remain impassive in the face of José Manuel Velasco’s latest work. The observer simply gets involved in it in a way that is subtle and mysterious and, we might add, inexplicable. We know that the colors, the abstract but deeply expressive forms that reach us, demand not only our admiration of their disturbing beauty but instead a type of support that goes beyond reason. That ineffable mystery alone distinguishes the work of art from mere and academic representation of a style, of a school or of a tendency.

The ultimate reason for this witness is the artist’s desire to convey to us an enormous sense of powerlessness in the face of the disasters of today’s world. That savage and unsettling feeling, that inconvenient truth, that unsuitable reality that he shows us and that is a form of denunciation, startles us and at the same time strikes most deeply our solidarity with the universe. It is also solidarity in the face of what is now a personal reality, individual and verifiable. The Earth is suffering, is hurting, is sick (we do not know whether in an irremediable way) because of the very action of man’s hand. The carbon emissions, the toxic gases with which people contaminate their environment are no longer the apocalyptic visions of prophets of doom and gloom. The poles are thawing, the climate is changing, the Earth is overheating, natural phenomena are becoming more catastrophic by the day, waves of heat, cold drops, cyclones that destroy coasts and entire cities, gigantic tsunamis, once-rare storms, already are a part of our daily news.

An Inconvenient Truth is the name given by Al Gore, the former US Vice President who has become an extraordinary ambassador of the disaster to come, to the documentary with which he travels throughout the world attempting to make humanity aware of what could still be avoided if the current generation takes note and implements a plan to avoid what already appears to be a tragedy of incalculable dimensions. The latest work of José Manuel Velasco could well form part of that terrifying documentary in which monumental disasters and environmental catastrophes that threaten planet Earth are shown with deliberate cruelty. Unthinkable death and destruction. The blue planet that we fill each day with rubbish and shit. The blue planet that is no longer blue but rather a dark and sinister place full of dreadful omens. The atmosphere has turned into an immense, unbreathable garbage dump that imposes a death sentence on millions of species and condemns the Third and Fourth Worlds to migratory movements, a destiny of famine and extinction.

José Manuel Velasco has become aware of this tragedy that is threatening humanity and he denounces it vehemently in his paintings. The master Jorge Luis Borges used to say that “whoever observes without passion does not observe.” Therefore his is a denunciation that goes beyond the real. A step beyond what is purely the exercise of an artist who is engaged with his world and with his moment in history. By means of forms that resist being obvious but that, if we observe his paintings carefully, we find in the depths of the violence and in the strength of his colors, in the deepest part of his message in which nothing is gratuitous and nothing is apparent. The enormous strength of the paintings that Velasco is doing now has its origin in the heart and mind of a human being who understands the desperate vision of those species which will be annihilated, of those seas that will go off course, of those huge segments of the planet who will see their lives and livelihood altered if we do not listen to the voice of those who are warning that we still have time to make repairs.

It has long been believed that artists’ social and political engagement is best reflected in their work in the most realistic manner possible. Indeed many of the movements that a few decades ago attempted to reflect their creators’ concerns about their historical, social and political environment were grouped together in what is known as social realism. Numerous creators in all artistic forms, be it hyperrealism, neorealism or gritty literary realism, have desired to strip away what was accessory to leave only the essential. José Manuel Velasco, therefore, who has evolved from a figurative and architectural expressionism to arrive at this disintegration of subject that is this abstract expressionism, deeply poetic, that he now presents to us, has attempted to order his artistic priorities by means of the new freedom that he gives to the materials that he uses. Color and stroke that wreck and refine the ultimate message of his instincts, of his concerns and of his prophetic visions of a world being destroyed.

The viewer will not find in this latest work by José Manuel Velasco the countenances, the blurry and indistinct architecture, the cathedrals full of secrets and of mysteries that not long ago he drew with confidence and skill. Now we shall have to find the definitive reason for his dialogue with a nature that is being destroyed and with a dispirited world. But I am certain that those strange birds that pass through his paintings, moribund and injured, can be a migrating hummingbird, a fleeing dove of peace, a fugitive lark, or a fish in the throes of death at the bottom of an ocean condemned to extinction. An inconvenient truth that puts us, in short, on alert.

And what else can an artist do? Only that which we find here, in the work of José Manuel Velasco. The transfer of his own feelings of desolation, of anguish and of dejection into color and form. Those black harbingers, hidden in the background of his paintings, that inform us that our world is in danger. His dedication to beauty, alone, can warn us of an uneasy present and an uncertain future.

José Infante

Translated by George W. Startz