Pliny, the Elder (23/24- 79 A.D.) wrote, in his Naturalis Historia, XXXV.15, that painting was invented by the daughter of a man named Butades, who so loved a young man about to leave on a trip that she drew his face in outline so that she could remember him, using a light that shone causing his shadow to be visible on a wall, in such a way that she was able to trace the outline and so the art of drawing, the foundation for painting began - umbram ex facie eius ad lucernam in pariete lineis circumscripsit.“
On Day 4, in (El Origen del Dibujo – The Origins of Drawing), art emerged in Geandy’s thoughts. With Imara as the model, Geandy enacted the role of the girl, so in love, that to retain the actuality of her lover in an image, she created drawing as the foundation of painting. On Day 5 of “Quarantine,” Geandy turned to art as a subject, or, more specifically he turned to the reconceptualization of the thematic content and compositional forms of art recontextualized into a trajectory of meditation focused on the history of art.
Geandy’s meditations on art, given form in the photographs he and Imara produced, needs to be understood not within a content of recreation but in a context of reinterpretation and linkage to the themes that concerned him during the lockdown. These photographs are not pantomime enactments of “great works” but are part of his creative process externalized so that others can follow how and why he thinks about the correlate interaction between the history of art and the work he creates as a contemporary artist. Because life is short and fame is fleeting and wealth is an illusion, in a time of plague, the contemplation of death is a given. Plague can take the young, the old, the healthy and the sick, the wealthy and the poor, the beautiful and the ugly because plague and death are the great equalizers before which the powerful and the powerless drop.
The theme of Vanitas, of the passage of life, of the foolishness of thinking that material possessions, occupations, knowledge or human experience can triumph over death was expressed in its innate futility already in the Ancient World, where skeletons and skulls appear in floor mosaics. On Day 12 (Vanitas), Geandy thought about death, about its possibility, about its existence, about its nearness and about the separation from life death brings. Geandy gave Death form, by placing Imara’s head in the eye of a skull, separated from the space where he leaned against a wall – a spatial separation but also one created through differences in color, light and depth. In so doing, he continued a thematic tradition most associated with Dutch, Seventeenth-Century, Baroque still-life painting. Geandy’s preoccupation with the history of art has been with him since he first began to make art and he, early in his artistic trajectory, painted enactments of the imagery of Pieter Brueghel, the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch. Vermeer, Holbein and Pieter Claesz are artists Geandy has studied for the lessons they offer in technique and in their rendition of the themes of mortality and human endeavor as resistance to the reality of death and their influence is reflected in his Vanitas.
On Day 13 (Pietá), Geandy continued his meditation on death bringing this Medieval and Renaissance subject, the moment where the Virgin Mary holds her dead Son, to pertinent life for a time of Covid. Here, Imara, is in the role of the Virgin Mary, holding the body of her dead son, Geandy. Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s Pietá is perhaps the best-known, European representation of the theme of the death of Jesus Christ, but the subject was ubiquitous in Northern and Southern Europe. In the stark rendition of a dead body that forms the severe and realistic aesthetic presentation of Geandy and Imara’s enactment of this event, there is a marked kinship to the art of Fifteenth Century Northern Europe and with the art of Spain in that Century. The visual associations blend different traditions into one contemporary image that in its context brings the pain of the Virgin in connection with that of those who are losing their loved ones to Covid.
Linked to the long tradition of the moment when the Virgin beholds the body of her dead Son, the Pietá of “Quarantine” brings the inherent subject of the death of a loved one to contemporary realities, as Imara wears a mask. This Pietá is a linked pair with Vanitas, in this series, as in each work, Geandy and Imara confront the reality of the possible death of the other from Covid, expressed through the language of figuration that is the continuum of life and art that links artists through time and place.
Death, linked to other themes found in the history of art, recurred on Day 15 (Salome), Day 16 (Retrato de Charlotte Corday/Marat), Day 24 (Ofelia) and Day 26 (Quarantine: Perseus), where Geandy and Imara consider death from a range of perspectives and for a variety of reasons. Salome, who loved and was rejected by John, the Baptist, asked for his head on a charger (Gospel of Mark – 6:21-29). Geandy’s head in a turkey-basting, aluminum, disposable pan that Imara holds, as she stands by her kitchen sink, is as powerful, in its delivery of John’s death, as was the image Titian rendered in paint.
On Day 16 (Retrato de Charlotte Corday/Marat), Imara performs Charlotte Corday to Geandy’s Jean-Paul Marat, slain in his bathtub by Corday and memorably rendered by Edvard Munch, in his 1907 painting, The Death of Marat II, that unflinchingly presented both protagonists. Corday killed Marat to prevent the terrorism inflicted by the radical elements in the French Revolution (1789-1799), which resulted in the executions by guillotine and the repressive regime that followed the initial call for freedom from the monarchic rule of Louis XVI. This is a cautionary tale against those who seek too much reform without temperance, while reflecting on the impact that revolutions gone wrong have had on global politics.
Imara became William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) Ophelia on Day 24 (Ofelia). On this day, Imara appeared, in a bathtub, much as Shakespeare’s unloved-by-Hamlet-would-bride was painted by Sir John Everett Millais. Millais’s idealistic version of Ofelia’s death, was created when he posed his model, Elizabeth Siddall, in a bathtub. Siddall’s appearance in the bathtub was then combined with an idealized landscape he had drawn separately. The anecdote about how Millais posed Siddall is humorously referenced in Geandy and Imara’s enactment of the death of poor, drowned, heartbroken Ophelia. Imara’s Ophelia is very clearly in her bathtub, where she floats, surrounded by flowers. On the side of the tub, there floats an ashtray with cigarette butts, the indication that this Ophelia either smoked or she had a visitor. The ashtray breaks the mood of Shakespeare’s tragedy and signals that what we see is art made from art that in life necessitates artifice to create the illusion of reality that can be so easily shattered by the misplacement of one object in an image.
On Day 26 (Perseus) Geandy and Imara returned to the theme of Perseus and Medusa, which first emerged on Day 3 (Perseus and Medusa), referencing the paintings of the Baroque artist, Michelangelo da Caravaggio. Caravaggio was the painter, who brought a heightened, almost photographic realism to painting, which initiated the Baroque trajectory of detailed depictions of illusionistic scenes, which brought an unprecedented quality of life to art. Thus did Geandy, on Day 26 become Perseus, as Imara became Medusa. The opposite of the roles they had played on Day 3. More specifically, Day 26’s Perseus is a direct reference to Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath, in the version now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Yet, unlike Caravaggio’s David, Geandy’s Perseus took a break to smoke a cigarette, perhaps one of those stubbed out in Ophelia’s bathtub?
The transcription of Caravaggio’s dramatic, painterly chiaroscuro into the photographic effect of the modular light and dark passages found in Day 26 (Perseus) reveal Pavón’s consummate understanding chiaroscuro’s three-dimensional effects. Produced by the light-modeling technique invented by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), which enabled the illusion of rounded forms that seemed to live, created by the manipulation of dark and light in a painting. Referencing Caravaggio, in a context of lockdown, evokes the manner in which Caravaggio’s life was marked by plague. In 1584, plague broke out in Milan, when Caravaggio was a child and the family fled but Caravaggio’s father had contracted the plague and he died. The tragedy altered Caravaggio’s life from one of privilege to one of poverty and violence, which eventually hastened his death. In 1610, Caravaggio died, fleeing from the consequences of a murder he had committed in Rome. He died after wandering in the hot sun for hours, looking for the ship on which he planned to escape and in which he had placed all of his possessions. The ship had left already and Caravaggio fell ill, perhaps from sunstroke, perhaps from the malarial plagues that routinely beset people in Southern Italy, complicated by the high levels of lead found in his bones, when his skeleton was scientifically examined in modern times. For an artist in lockdown, during a time of an epidemic, Caravaggio is a touchstone figure biographically and artistically and Day 26 (Perseus) incorporated in one image references Classical mythology, Baroque art and the life of the artist, who brought an intense realism to painting through the manipulation of darkness and light – so evident throughout the photographs of “Quarantine.”