Darío Basso: Le voyage de l’argonaute

(Text to exhibition A85 from 12.9. until 14.11.2009)

Apart from the proverbial exceptions, paintings in the Latin countries of the world – a cultural area that reaches beyond Europe to include the whole of South and Central America and perhaps a little more – are in every respect and on every level more colourful, more fiery, more direct, more emotional, and not infrequently lighter, freer and more joyful than their counterparts in the Germanic, Slavonic, Nordic and all the other non-Latin cultural regions of Europe.  The truth of this can be established simply by taking a glance at the exhibition catalogues and other publications from all of those countries that constitute the Latin cultural region of Europe, a vast region that is rapidly growing in strength and dynamism. All these many aspects, too, will be discovered by the visitor to this present exhibition of several important groups of works by Dario Basso, works that take us on an excursion through the contemporary art of Spain and its cultural environs.

DarĂ­o Álvarez Basso was born in Caracas in 1966 and grew up part of the time there and part of the time in the Galician town of Vigo in Spain, in the bosom of a family of intellectuals with strong leanings towards music and literature.  After a short foray into the rock and comic scene, Basso spent three months at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1984 before attending the Talleres de Arte Actual at the Circulo de Bellas Artes. Dario Villalba, Eduardo Arroyo and Frederic Amat were essential and instrumental figures in awakening his desire to become an artist and in introducing him to art and the art world.

At the age of twenty, and without any further artistic training, DarĂ­o Álvarez Basso began an oeuvre that today still testifies to a restless and untiring creative spirit, an oeuvre of works that all have their origin in an idea sketched or noted down in his "libreta", his sketchbook that accompanies him wherever he goes.  What began as a sketch executed in the most delicate of lines and most subtly nuanced washes might well evolve into a huge work on canvas measuring up to five metres in height and featuring the most powerful, most violent compositions in the thickest conceivable layers of paint or tar encrusted with countless collaged elements. To this end, DarĂ­o Álvarez Basso, virtually a self-taught artist despite his brief academic beginnings, uses entirely unconventional methods and materials, often painting, indeed pouring, his paintings on canvases that are laid flat on the ground outdoors and exposed to the environment and the weather and, directly or indirectly, to the genius loci of the region, to its mythology and/or its history.  Many of his works have been exposed to rainfalls and hailstorms and have even been washed in rivers.

In terms of content, too, Basso’s oeuvre is of great diversity and extreme geocultural and geopolitical universality.  From the very outset, Basso set himself the mission of merging in his art the cultures of the past and present, their histories, mythologies, religions, legends, literatures, philosophies and sciences, in particular those of the East and the West. In 2004, at the age of thirty-eight, Basso was able to mount a comprehensive itinerant exhibition of his works with the exemplary aid and support of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and its agencies in many countries of South America. The exhibition was accompanied by an extremely comprehensive catalogue.  At present, Basso’s installation "Algorithmi dixit", consisting of 23 desert tent tarpaulins measuring 4.3 x 2.5 m, painted in vertical format and paraphrasing Arabic ornamentation, is on its travels through the capitals of the Middle East.  The works of DarĂ­o Álvarez Basso are exhibited and collected primarily in Spain, Portugal, Venezuela, USA, Germany and Switzerland, the last-named country having made an early discovery of this painter thanks to the efforts of Othmar Triebold, who already began exhibiting Basso’s works in his gallery back in 1990.

Basso not only grew up in a cosmopolitan family in two cities, in two countries and on two continents but has also continued to be a "traveller between different worlds" right up until the present day – and artistically too, since he moves back and forth between the abstract and the figurative.  Until 1987 Basso was painting dark and powerful figures against a light-coloured ground, entirely in keeping with the spirit of the time, but then he spent two years in Paris, where his paintings, now executed on irregularly shaped, "found" canvases, were dominated rather by abstract, precisely segregated forms reminiscent of straight and circular saw blades, perhaps of the kind he had seen rusting away in Morocco, where he had just previously spent a brief sojourn. Despite their abstract forms, these paintings had very concrete titles and featured Arabic symbols and inscriptions.

While he was still in Paris, Basso harked back – via the Islamic-Christian conflict in mediaeval Spain – to the even earlier one between Carthage and Rome, the critical centre of which was likewise Spain, for it was from there that the Carthaginian general Hannibal started out on his campaign against Rome. Indeed, Hannibal’s campaign was the only one to have seriously jeopardized the development of the Roman Empire.  Even this merciless, interminable and by no means clearly won or lost struggle for power already constituted a conflict between East and West, between two completely different cultures, for the Carthaginians came from the East and the Roman Empire was, after all said and done, the very cradle of our so-called western culture.  A scholarship from the Spanish Academy in Rome in 1989/90 and a photograph of half of the Pantheon Vault led to his compositions on the Hannibal theme that were henceforth to accompany his oeuvre.

Back in Paris in 1990/91, Basso concerned himself even more with the political and social problems of the world, expressing his concern in his paintings of the world’s continents.  In 1991/92, after a brief sojourn in Senegal, he was working again in Italy, where he installed his studio in an abandoned church in the small Umbrian town of Pissignano, the still visible frescoes of which being a constant reminder of the art history of the entire region and of the spirituality that had been its foundation. They inspired Basso’s series of "seeing" paintings that looked back at the viewer.

A Fulbright scholarship brought him to New York in 1992-94, and very much into the present and into contact with the human being, whom he treated in his entirety in his "libretas" but then reduced him to a "middle spinal column" in his larger paintings.  From 1995 until 1998 Basso was again in Madrid. Taking stock of things so far, he decided to walk the Pilgrim’s Way of St. James, along which he was particularly impressed by the excavated human remains of predecessors of the Neanderthal Man in Atapuerca.  For the first time in his career, Basso put together, on several walls, a good fifty of his canvases and his photographs and reproductions of inspiring objects, views and details for an exhibition entitled "Antropogeografias".

Meanwhile Basso was producing an increasing number of collages incorporating leaves of exotic plants, a process that finally led, in the years between 1999 and 2001, to his "open air studios" in the rain forests of Venezuela and the forests of the Dominican Republic.  He was fascinated above all by the huge leaves of the banana trees and palm trees, which he utilized singly in vertical format, above all in his "Humboldt" series, and in star-shaped configurations for his "Flowers to Andy" series.  During the years from 2002 until 2004, while in Madrid, he again took stock of his past experiences, involved himself increasingly in photography, including underwater photography, the results of which he would then serialize in every conceivable variation.

The present exhibition shows groups of works from the "spinal column" paintings, the "Humboldt" vertical-format, single-leaf paintings, the "Hannibal-Pantheon" paintings, the star-leaved "Flowers to Andy" paintings, a series of more recent square (1x1m) paintings representing vegetal motifs and, finally, the latest and most intensively coloured, expressively abstract "poured" colour reliefs of large format, produced in 2008, and two serial projects for Basso’s photographic works, put together in the same way as for his "Antropogeografias".

DarĂ­o Álvarez Basso chose the title "Le Voyage de l’Argonaute" ("The Voyage of the Argonaut") for this exhibition. It stands for his own adventurous voyage, and what the exhibition shows is the Golden Fleece he has brought back with him after all his arduous and not unhazardous travels.  Indeed, perhaps his last large colour reliefs at the end of the exhibition are meant precisely to represent the Golden Fleece. Their radiance would certainly make us think so.  We can follow this serial voyage, episode for episode, on the walls of the high-ceilinged hall of the Project Room of our Kunst-Depot or view each of these fierily colourful paintings, some of them measuring up to three metres in height or width, as independent works in their own right.      

Ingeborg Henze-Ketterer and Wolfgang Henze

This text accompanies the exhibition at the Henze & Ketterer Gallery, Wichtrach/Berne, from 12th September until 14th November 2009.  A complete list of the exhibited works complete with illustrations, our so-called "Mini-Catalogue", is available on request.


DarĂ­o Basso - AZIMUTH

(Text to Exhibition from 8th November 2008 until 31st January 2009)

Strong, bright colours, rich in contrasts, coupled with a dynamic use of form are the distinguishing features of the works of the Spanish artist DarĂ­o Basso to be exhibited in our gallery in Riehen. Commencing 8th November 2008, the forthcoming exhibition "Azimuth" will combine and conjoin existing works from DarĂ­o Basso's oeuvre and also include new artistic developments manifesting a completely new treatment of form and content.

Remaining true to his typical material aesthetic, the artist uses not only thickly applied acrylic and oil paints but also dried leaves, heightening the impression of depth still further. The optical effect of the roughened, in parts almost furrowed surfaces of the paintings is strengthened through the addition of marble sand.

Purely in terms of form and colour, the artist harks back to past motifs, such as the dried palm and banana leaves embedded in colour, the Pantheon motif from his series "Annibale contro Roma", for example, and combines them in a fascinatingly casual manner. Further developments of his series "Flowers to Andy" likewise testify to a much freer, more spontaneous treatment of this motif than hitherto. The leaves, arranged in star formation, are not only more slender in form but also curled and bent, making for an incredible heightening of the dynamism already typical of DarĂ­o Basso's work. The flowers seem to have metamorphosed into starfish, their arms seeming to move, even reaching beyond the edges of the canvas.

DarĂ­o Basso's most recent works are different. They are characterized by very luminous, clearly demarcated colours. While in the first versions of these new works, which we were able to show in DarĂ­o Basso's last exhibition in 2005, the broad stripes of colour ran straight down or rose straight up, like stalactites and stalagmites, they are now bundled together into floral or semi-circular formations.

The title of the exhibition, "Azimuth", stands for the direct and indirect influence of nature on these paintings, all of which DarĂ­o Basso creates outdoors. Exposed in this way to the elements, Basso's paintings are the result of a collaboration between the artist and extraneous influences: animals, wind, rain and sunshine have all left their mark on his canvases, just as much as his paintbrush and his palette knife. "Azimuth" refers not least to the weather-determining North, whence most of the rainstorms and thunderstorms descend upon the artist's "outdoor studio".

All in all, these new works mark a further development in the artist's oeuvre. DarĂ­o Basso has translated, in a summarizing way, his earlier works into an entirely new, freer and more dynamic form, combining and composing past motifs anew while at the same time considerably widening his colour palette. The latter dominates in his most recent series of works, a series in which colour and form become more and more independent.

Alexandra Michael Henze

Translated by John Brogden, Dortmund


Galerie Henze & Ketterer
Kirchstrasse 26, CH 3114 Wichtrach
Tel. +41 (0)31 781 06 01
modernart (at) henze-ketterer.com
Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold
Wettsteinstrasse 4, CH 4125 Riehen
Tel. +41 (0)61 641 77 77
ghkt (at) artgalleries.ch