The bench for visitors to sit on is unlike those usually found in museums. It is extraordinarily close to the painting, just a step away. From there, one loses the perspective of the image but the colour seems more powerful, the brush-strokes superimposed and the fingerprints of the artist are visible. That's what Jorge Rando wanted.
"Because that's how I paint. The picture consumes me as I do it," he explains, while Brahms' German requiem plays in the background. It is loud, so he has to raise his voice to be heard, and that isn't coincidental: it's the volume he played it at while painting his own lament for humanity. Ein Ukrainisches Requiem (A Ukrainian requiem) is the central piece of the new exhibition at the Museum Jorge Rando, an immersion into the "Young years of an old master", which ends with his latest creation.
"While I paint I don't have time to get old," says Rando, who will be 81 next month. He always has something in mind, some work to do, a challenge to face, like this one which he only finished four weeks previously: "I thought that if Brahms could play a requiem for Germany, why couldn't I paint one for Ukraine?" he says. Not just for the barbarities of the war, but "the lies, the rapes, the effects on the economy".
The text that accompanies the painting asks "Is humanity committing suicide?". During these months of being bombarded with news, he interiorised what was happening and transferred it to the canvas, almost compulsively. "I didn't stop, or rest, I ate very little and slept even less," he says.
The result is a large painting, the culmination of his tetralogy of butterflies, where there are unseen trenches and a war without soldiers. He doesn't want to give lectures, he just creates the conditions to make things easier for the spectator: "I don't ask them to reflect on anything, just to look at the work," he says.
It is a painting which has been thought out and meditated to the last millimetre, with five brushstrokes in some places and 30 in others. The red, green and thick black strokes on the lower part give way to a range of colours unknown in his works, with yellows, oranges and blues projecting light from the upper area. A message of hope, but nuanced: "We can't live in hope. We have to do something to make it the reality we want," he says.
The exhibition, which runs until 26 September, includes works from all periods of his career, starting with works from his early days, when he went to Germany in the 1960s to discover his artistic language. He lived in the centre of Cologne during those turbulent years, alongside prostitutes and beggars, and began many of the series for which he is well-known: exiles, wars, poverty and women.
His works are never completely finished. "The final brushstroke is made by the person who looks at my works of art. The gaze of everyone who looks at them is what finishes them," he says.