As you walk out of Paula Varona’s studio there’s a phrase in your mind: “Paula in the Happy City.” Her studio is like an island among a bunch of large buildings which have made even smaller a tribe of alleyways and lanes that resemble the Madrid of El Verdugo (Not On Your Life, L. G. Berlanga), a wretched city which ended right there, before becoming a wasteland that was part of the breadth of Castille.
Here is Paula, in her studio, surrounded by a joy of landscapes, colours, of people walking, eating ice cream, caressing each other despite the cold or the snow, people who love even under the scorching heat that turns Madrid in the summer into a sharp shadow. She has painted all this as if she had learnt it by heart, like a restless photograph which had already become part of her nature. Her nature. Why is Paula Varona so happy? What happens is not good; what has already happened isn’t good either. Her painting is about Madrid, the city that the poet Dámaso Alonso wrote about… this was the devastated city.
Madrid, however, was reborn. Paula, who is the same age as hope… Paula portrays the landscape of the joyful soul of a confident city. It’s a pleasure to vvatch her watch. She has walked into many buildings, large and small, solemn and poor, and she has climbed up to the rooftops; like a lively bird she has looked from aboye and depicted the domes, but she has also descended into the parles to find flowers and plants, and even shavings, these remains of time which make the city complete, shavings not only of works or deeds, but of the souls of men, however brief their lives, who leave the imprint of their souls in their sighs.
This happiness is also encouraged by memory. The city is memory, and it would be nothing without it. Paula has portrayed it as it wakes up, while it sleeps, in daylight and at night; her brush has a gift for the minute but it is also the brush of metaphor; when it expresses snow it doesn’t mean cold, its intention is to affirm the city’s capacity for wrapping up warm. And when it expresses day it not only means street life, markets, traffic. There is, in the Madrid day as portrayed by Paula Varona, the calm cry of the everyday expressing unabashedly that it is happy to exist. And in the night of Madrid, in the reverse of the world she tells us about, the city denotes a similar enthusiasm for living and for relating to a different reality, one in which men and women seek the pleasure of colour or caress. There, in Madrid at night time, there’s dolce vita, what we believed was happiness when Spain’s political Spring began, founded in Madrid under the narre of the movida. From that era is Paula’s youth, so it is no surprise that now, in these paintings, we can find the emanations which, to those of us who are over fifty years old, convey a certain melancholy or at least the pleasure of having lived.
Guillermo Cabrera Infante´s widow says he wrote his novel of Havanna (La Havanna para un Infante Difunto; English title: Infante´s Inferno) covering a detailed map of the lost city of his childhood. He did this in London, over a huge desk. Imagine Paula varona imagining her city; in a situation far less dramatic than that of the Cuban exile, Paula has thoroughtly covered a mapof the soul of Madrid, with the perseverance and fidelity which are the artist´s stamp, but also a consequence of her commitment to the spirit of the place she portrays. Madrid is no a small thing; it is a city of rooftops and sewers; virtue is in the middle, and although Paula has painted both rooftops and sewers what she leaves us for us to look at is much more than a landscape containing the ups and downs of cities; she leaves us with the obligation of looking at Madrid through her eyes which are sometimes red or lilac or snow white or stone, but in every case luminous eyes; to illuminate us and make us walk out from her paintings as if we saw the city for the first time, a city which before Paula seemed (to me, to those of us who want to see it through her eyes) a shadow of what it now is.
As I walked out Paula told me that over her work fell, like a beneficial shadow, the spirit of Van Gogh and of the impressionists. From the moment I saw them, my own contemplation of Madrid is related to her paintings: now I look at corners and balconies, and at those lonely winter trees, and the empty parks, and the sidewalks with dark pedestrians, or people poisoned with haste, or joyful with serenity, or walking at night, and I imagine Paula making movement immortal. Perhaps she imagines Van Gogh´s fields coming alight under those brushes which seem to give shape to madness.
Madrid as seen by Paula. What a happy experience.
Madrid, February 2010