Jorge de la Vega went through different phases in his artistic development until becoming established as the author of a production that would characterize him as one of the most important Argentinean artists from the latter half of the 20th Century. His informalist figuration from 1960-62 (works with dark backgrounds and light backgrounds) gave way to his Bestiario (Bestiary, 1963-1966) and then to his pop-psychedelic works in black and white (1966-1971). From 1961 to 1965 he formed part of the Nueva Figuración group, and after its dissolution he changed direction not only in his pictorial modality, but also by incorporating composing, song-writing and performing his songs in parallel to his work as a visual artist.
Intimidad de un tímido (A Timid Person’s Intimacy, 1963) pertains to the first year of his work on the Bestiario series. The year 1963 was an important year for the entire Nueva Figuración group; each member merged capability and expressive eloquence to lend greater potency to their respectively emerging discourses, each of which was characterized by its singularity as well as its contribution to the collective proposal as a whole. De la Vega began his Bestiario series at that time, one of the artistic proposals that marked his uniqueness. The series was complex and multiple, a point of culmination in a gradual process where traditional art objects were losing their identity and the beginning of what was referred to locally as the “death of art” phenomenon, a transition that different artists jointly contributed to forging.
As a child, de la Vega had begun to paint alongside his father, a landscape painter. When he reached twenty years of age he had already held his first individual exhibition and was painting still-lives and portraits. In 1953 he began to produce non-figurative works along geometric lines, and he continued to do so until 1959, in accordance with the modalities practiced by various artists throughout the decade, following the strong lead of constructivist avant-garde movements from the forties. As a result of his close ties with Noé, Greco and Macció, in 1960 de la Vega adopted the informalists’ experience—material, drips and stains—but including the human figure. This tendency was neo-avant-garde and neo-dada in nature, and it began to provoke an internal revolution in art as an institution. Although de la Vega adhered to this pictorial modality, his most radical questioning of existing conventions was yet to come.
The aim of the Nueva Figuración group—together since 1961—was the search for a new image of human beings’ relationship with their context, which also entailed breaking away from any existing paradigm or form of figuration in force at the time.
Between 1961 and 1962 de la Vega began to prefigure his compositional approach for the future Bestiario series in works like Vacío (Void, 1962): he lightened the background tone and accumulated figurative elements—stains and open lines—in certain areas of the canvas. The meaning of the work’s title is symbolic, related to the action of rupture and questioning that he and Noé were carrying out together in 1962, and it foreshadowed the concept of space that would appear in the series. Following the success of the Otra figuración (1961) exhibition, Noé and de la Vega planted the seeds of a structural rupture that the former would later call “broken vision”, thus launching their powerful attack against the “institution of painting”. Once they arrived in Paris in 1962, de la Vega composed his Formas liberadas (Liberated Forms) and Noé, the work titled Mambo. De la Vega’s works, which explicitly excluded gesture, consisted of taking the canvas off the stretcher, breaking the wooden structure, cutting up the canvas and wrapping up the fractured pieces of wood. None of these ephemeral experiences has been conserved. With this gesture, de la Vega was inaugurating a new way of conceiving of works with a leap into the void that was not limited to the experience of Formas liberadas, but instead made up the spatial foundation for Bestiario, in which the traditional pictorial rectangle wound up being virtually abolished. As is the case in Intimidad de un tímido, the protagonists in his Bestiario are conceptually suspended “in a void”. The artist began work on the series on the basis of this premise, among others, defining it as follows: “I used to paint chimerical animals that were floating in sidereal space”. This body of work comprises a unique iconography of monsters constructed out of elements with traces of childhood remembrance—in its strokes, design, procedures and spatial concepts—which was an elliptical way of referring to the human condition in its existential, dubitative or ambiguous dimension, or, in its plenitude, exhibiting its vulnerability as well as its capacity for transformation. Intimidad de un tímido is a representative piece from this series, as is a smaller piece titled Urano en Casa IV (Uranus at Home IV, 1963, inv. 7215, MNBA). In both Intimidad… and Urano…, new iconography has been incorporated—in this case, felines, other unidentifiable figures and an elephant—in addition to a new form of construction based largely on collage—using an infinite variety of elements along with gestural painting and open forms—all added to this series’ initial foundations. Another singular trait found in Intimidad de un tímido’s execution is the use of rubberized, folded or crumpled fabrics that add to the expressiveness and characterization of different “states of mind” in this half-animal half-human figuration. In this case, the timid protagonist is the figure on the right, constrained by the painted monster figures, containing a multitude of little folds that converge in the artist’s intention to depict an introverted, timid nature. On the other hand, the pleated figure in the upper part of the canvas suggests a state of greater liberation in its aerial attitude.
De la Vega not only joined other artists who were forging a paradigm change in the terrain of art, but his work also reflected the changes that were taking place in other spheres, such as social habits, psychology applied to everyday life, and the flexibilization of different components of the personality, among other things. He would focus more closely on these traits later on in his song lyrics.Mercedes Casanegra
1991. CASANEGRA, Mercedes, Jorge de la Vega. Buenos Aires, Alba, reprod. color p. 142 (fechado de manera errónea).
2003. AA.VV., Jorge de la Vega. Un artista contemporáneo. Buenos Aires, El Ateneo, reprod. color p. 115 (fechado de manera errónea).