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Fragment from the book “Female Fascination”

Dr. Helmut Orpel, art historian
Fragment from the book “Female Fascination” year 2000

Ramon Lombarte and the beauty of the moment

Painters who align themselves with art-historical traditions and draw on models from other artistic eras tend to be easily overlooked in the bustle of the art markets. But far from the concourses of major art fairs such artists can often book major successes. It seems that painters with talent, ability and a highly developed painterly culture find especial favour in the Latin countries -in France,
Italy and Spain -but also in Great Britain and the
USA. At least they are more in trend there than in
Germany, where for a long time it seemed as if the most important thing in art was the originality of the material, and sometimes even a cheap use of effect. This statement might seem overly generalised, and indeed perhaps it is.
Nevertheless, it is not my aim to nourish cultural conservatism but merely to point out a discrepancy often evident in generally propagated views of art. But today, at the start of the third millennium, this trend seems to have been reversed once more…
How often, in the years between 1968 and 1990, was the demise of easel painting announced?

Despite this, a stroll through today’s large international art fairs will reveal many stands that are once again exhibiting modern painting: figurative, informal and abstract, where good craftsmanship fitting
the intellectual content of the picture is seen as an important quality criterion. And there are still collectors who have retained a taste for the beauty of this painting and who appreciate it when a painter shows his tradition-schooled ability on contemporary subjects. The continuation of the painterly tradition thus has an appeal for many art collectors. A particularly highly regarded artist in this group, who enjoys worldwide success with his work, is the Spanish painter Ramon Lombarte. He was born in Barcelona on 2 May 1956 and studied there at the renowned Massana School of Fine Arts.

I was first struck by Lombarte in 1996, at the Art
Multiple in Dusseldorf where his lithographs were being exhibited on the stand of a Dutch gallery.
At that time his originals had already been shown at important exhibitions in the USA.
Since this first encounter I have visited Lombarte in Barcelona several times. On each visit I was surprised by the further development of his work.
Such development is only possible when an artist lives with his work and avoids every repetition.
This is the case with Lombarte. The cycle of works known as “Juegos” (Games) is now complete. It comprises a series of very good works featuring a unique quality. Highly erotic scenes of a relationship between a pair; images that come alive through hints and implications and through an interaction between the revealed and the hidden, between a statement and the possibilities of interpretation. If one searches for comparisons between Lombarte’s painting and other works of
Spanish culture, one thinks of the poems of Garcia
Lorca, the films of Carlos Saura and of dance, the flamenco from the south of the peninsula.
On the other hand his work continues to grow and develop, as 1 discovered during my most recent visit to Barcelona. Lombarte’s latest series is entitled “Molino”. The Molino was a variety theatre in Barcelona -a theatre in the old style comparable to the “Moulin Rouge” in Paris. But in contrast to the latter establishment it did not adopt the American style of stage shows, but instead remained true to its own traditions. Ignoring and ignored by the new fashions in evening entertainment, this Barcelona theatre led a shadowy existence until it went bankrupt and was closed down in 1999. It took with it some of the life and cultural history of the city of
Barcelona.

Ramon Lombarte has recorded the final days of this theatre, has painted the people -performers and public -who lived for the theatre. In the last years there were only a few who still sat in the darkness to watch the scantily dressed dancers.
One senses an atmosphere of melancholy on regarding the pictures from the Molino series.
But it is not only the past that breathes in these images: one also senses a last resurgence of female eroticism in opposition to the tristesse and boredom of the superficial ‘fun society’ with its fastfood options. It is precisely the contrast between the rosily illuminated bodies on the stage and the scattered grey men in the near-empty auditorium which creates a tension and says more about the spirit of the place than a thousand words.
In terms of painting Ramon Lombarte makes conscious reference to the tradition of Catalan painting around 1900, and in the “Molino Cycle” this even extends to the subject. Painters of the
Catalan “Renacimiento” such as Ramon Casas and
Santiago Rusinol, world-famous in their day, were regular night birds and, as their paintings show, liked to visit variety theatres. The major difference however is that then these establishments were in their prime, while the situations and atmospheres painted by Lombarte show the final decline of this type of evening entertainment.

Lombarte is interested in portraying atmosphere, the “energy” exuded by a scene. If one follows
Lombarte’s work over the years one can identify a true artistic strategy which he has developed in order to make this tension accessible to the viewer.
This has only been possible thanks to the disciplined training he underwent at the Massana art academy; he started working with models early in his career.
A book published in Spain in 1986, and containing an impressive dedication by Andres Segovia, clearly illustrates this method: many studio photos and sketches show that the artist always worked with models in his first years as a professional artist.
This reliance on models continues to the present day. But the pictures also reveal that he now uses models differently than in the early years: Today he is less interested in depicting a sensual female body: the erotic energy is now contained more in the context in which his figures are embedded, in the glances they give each other, in the hardly visible touches, in the gestures, poses and movements. It is through such precise observations that he charges his pictures with erotic energy -an energy that can even be sensed in the colours, whose contrasts he coordinates with great care.
It says much about Ramon Lombarte that he does not work directly from his imagination, but instead requires theatrical scenes created by his models. His imagination is ignited by these scenes and then blossoms further in the process of painting itself.

Dr. Helmut Orpel, art historian
Fragment from the book “Female Fascination” year 2000.