surinenglish

Chema Cobo in the labyrinth of Gerald Brenan

Chema Cobo in the courtyard at Casa Gerald Brenan, with his work South from Granada (Gerald Brenan).
Chema Cobo in the courtyard at Casa Gerald Brenan, with his work South from Granada (Gerald Brenan). / Salvador Salas
  • The artist, who now resides in Malaga, is exhibiting works of art which he did in New York 35 years ago with new ones based on the writings of the author, at the Casa Gerald Brenan

Some years ago he bought the book from a shop in the Cuesta de Moyano in Madrid. One of those editions from the other side of the pond at a time when it was thought in Spain that these things could not be - and should not be - read. Chema Cobo began reading The Face of Spain and was astonished by the perspicacity of Hispanist Gerald Brenan's view, which was from outside, but still able to approach with precision the situation of a country in ciaroscuro.

That marked the start of an intellectual idyll between artist and writer. Well, in reality it may have begun earlier, through their shared passion for mystical poetry and the "dark night of the soul" that loomed over a country that Cobo would abandon for long periods shortly afterwards.

One of his sojourns was in New York in the 1980s, where he showed his work at the city's Metropolitan Museum: scenes inherited from the black paintings of Goya and the torrential symbolism of William Blake.

These works have returned now, as if 35 years had not gone by, to the quiet rooms of the Casa Gerald Brenan, the writer's former home in Churriana, Malaga.

There, the artist has opened In The Twilight Kingdom. This enigmatic and delicious, subtle and powerful exhibition once again displays Cobo's work like a laminated surface that offers something new at each glance, an added significance, a wider vision than those before, superimposed but at the same time complementary. Each work opens like a fascinating labyrinth, whose existence has to be sought, like the reader of the pages of The Spanish Labyrinth by Brenan himself.

Detail from In The Twilight Kingdom (Gamel Woolsey), one of the watercolours created by Cobo for this display.

Detail from In The Twilight Kingdom (Gamel Woolsey), one of the watercolours created by Cobo for this display.

This display is like a fascinating game of mirrors in which the works of Cobo and Brenan are reflected, in space and also in time. In The Twilight Kingdom links with an astonishing naturalness his works from the 1980s with new ones for this exhibition; at the same time it links the creative moments of Cobo, first with the poetry of San Juan de la Cruz (about which Brenan did a paradigmatic study) and, afterwards, with Dora Carrington and Gamel Woolsey, women who are essential to understanding the hazardous life of the Hispanist.

The first room brings together Cobo's works from the 1980s with texts by Brenan on San Juan de la Cruz and the volume of complete works of Arthur Rimbaud which Brenan successfully annotated. This produces an interesting conjunction featuring the shared symbolism of the poets and the prints and drawings by the artist, whose works are in collections such as the Reina Sofía National Art Museum and the Met in New York.

To this, Cobo adds a new piece, in which a young Brenan travels the Andalusian desert landscape with the vocation of an anchorite, linking him to San Juan de la Cruz. This piece creates an imaginary bridge to the second room, where the impressive depth of Cobo's work detonates in a splendid and profound content. Because every watercolour unleashes a bouquet of references, metaphors and allusions which serve a succulent artistic and conceptual feast. From the kaleidoscopic portraits of Brenan and Woolsey, to the bombardment of the city, seen by Woolsey from the tower of the house which now features in the watercolours titled Death's Other Kingdom I and Death's Other Kingdom II, taken from T. S. Eliot's poem The Hollow Men.

Each image says more than it appears to and combines with the one next to it. Each piece is in dialogue with the one next to it, to create a lucid, ironic and free labyrinth. The labyrinth of Cobo in the Casa de Brenan. And also viceversa.