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Essay about pictures of Rooms VII y VIII

From Photomontage To Encyclopedism

 Carmelo Hernando, both an artist and a craftsman. That is probably one of the descriptions he might find most pleasing, particularly now that he is championing the salvaging of themes and methods from past times which open a wide range of possibilities for him.

 Nevertheless, his dual craftsman-artist dimension will be the conclusion of this reflection. Let us look back onto the eighties. Carmelo Hernando is synonym with graphic design and especially photomontage, a field in which he has been widely recognised as one the major authors in Spain[1] by the press and comic book industries.

 In the history of graphic arts there was a first stage that lasted for nearly five centuries during which the printing of any image required an actual, tangible mould of some sort (xylographic, typographic, lithographic, etc.), which was handmade by an expert and allowed the production of a notably high number of copies. In the subsequent second stage, the master copy became a virtual, intangible entity that could be reproduced. This intangibility —which is not without a tad of magic— was born out of photosetting techniques and today has attained a virtual quality with the fast, relentless evolution of computers.

 Starting from this technology-enabled proposition, Carmelo Hernando has been able to produce works of art in which there is no more an original from which a second reproduction could be made. This artistic oxymoron provides an unicum —a monotype of sorts, in engraving terms— even if it is the result of the most complex reproduction tools. In effect, a one-copy-only reproduction. The artist Hernando uses one of a range of methods to meet his goal: to bring his original conception into being. The target is therefore to endow the reproduction techniques with a new meaning, having assumed that the series can be just as valuable as the unique work. It is one step beyond—a closing of the circle through the opposite end.

 Carmelo Hernando is constantly improving upon himself, upon that photomontage artist who used abundant graphic material mostly from magazines and newspapers, which was a major factor in the end result (color, etc.). Obsessed with images, he postulates his own universe boldly using the most sophisticated techniques in the current graphics technology. His career appears in conceptual terms as a synthesis of a graphic reproduction process that is over six centuries old.

 And not only that, because in this stage a new Hernando has arisen—a painter that often recreates iconographic themes from his former output and avails himself of a very special procedure: painting on photography. On top of a photographic emulsion printed on canvas, Hernando puts the traditional painting techniques into work with the acrylic. The photograph is not regarded according to its documental value anymore, for it has become fully part of the piece of artwork. This stage, however, is still a recreation of his former evolution, since his next step is even more innovating: towards 1985 he starts focusing on painting on the industry-standard 4-color CMYK process.

 The goal involves now factorizing the color and reinterpreting an image from the established four-tone industrial photosetting. Hernando proceeds here as a new impressionist whose hand goes beyond the reach of our sight and our intellect, working right on the inner structure that allows humans to master the world of images. At the same time, this process takes an increasingly virtual approach on account of his tireless research into graphics technology.

 On top of all these procedures, the late eighties set the stage for a new Hernandoan way. Almost as a revelation, although chances are that it resulted from a long, careful distillation, Carmelo Hernando starts digging into a personal analysis of the culture of the past, a fact he often relates to his own special "meeting" with Diderot and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie. Just as the French encyclopaedists —still insufficiently valued from a technical-artistic perspective, even if they have been highly appraised from a philosophical point of view— Hernando sets out to analyse the procedures and systems that have been used along the centuries in the West to produce all kinds of objects and/or projects to meet the so-called cultural needs of our society.

 The most original section in the Encyclopédie was undoubtedly that of the mechanic arts, in which D’Alembert worked with the utmost rigour. In his Preliminary Address he postulated the double target of this great work: as an encyclopaedia it was to put forward the order of human knowledge, and as a dictionary it would hold the most complete and useful information about everything. In order to meet these objectives, it was necessary to look to the sources; in the field of mechanical arts —in which Hernando is presently so interested— that meant going to the craftsmen, since up until then nobody had taken to write about them in depth. The ignorance about these matters among the learned encyclopaedists was such that their only option was turning to the leading characters in the field. This is one of the greatest contributions of the Encyclopédie because its text and detailed illustrations allow us to learn about the works of a great number of crafts.

 With D’Alembert’s spirit, today Hernando is giving a new lease of life to methods and techniques from the past, some of which have nearly or entirely vanished from the current world. His goal—producing quality works and keeping alive these skills that, being rendered obsolete by a certain anonymous, massive serialization, have been decimated or even annihilated. Moreover, his work combines an intention that I dare to label as technical in an etymological sense (Téchne=art) with a cultural curiosity originated in the knowledge of facts, in science. His vocation is undoubtedly encyclopaedic, since it includes the two branches of knowledge —téchne and epistéme— merged for the first time in the great Encyclopédie.

Carmelo Hernando’s output during the nineties is packed with memories from the past that have been adjusted to our turn-of-the-century needs. It is not a copy but a reinterpretation and/or technical adaptation associated to a historical, cultural background. It could be said that he sublimates the past and turns it into a restricted work that only an elite can benefit from. And yet his aim is different. His selected apparently selective retrieval of past crafts intends to offer a product to enrich both his life and his potential public’s. That is why his works, from the intimist pieces to the best known ones, reveal tat spirit[2].

On the other hand, Hernando’s encyclopaedist effort is not an obstacle to stand both as an artist and a craftsman, or a craftsman and an artist. Just as in this occasion he is honoured in his exhibition and anthological catalogue, he is also able to put his intellectual discourse and object design to work for other ends or artists. Today his vocation is, thus, that of the encyclopaedist. Which is by no means shocking, for his process is a reaction to the realities of the last decades. While the photomontages derived from a particular social-cultural age, his current work results from an observation of the present. The society is evolving in new ways and areas at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

As I stated at the start, Carmelo Hernando is ultimately an artist and a craftsman. His encyclopaedist vocation proves it, and his work is consolidating him in this dual condition.



©Pilar Vélez Vicente

© Fundación Caja Rioja

I.S.B.N. 84-89740-13-5

D.L. LR-247-198


©Pilar Vélez Vicente

©Caja Astur

I.S.B.N. 84-89740-13-5

D.L. AS-2259-2000

[1]  Other authors in this catalog will discuss this aspect in detail.

[2] For more on this, see his recent book Libro de Mercaderías.