The minimalist and surreal art by Manss Aval: an interior journey through Nature and Life
In the same way as other artists, Manss Aval – a Californian lover of nature, Life and its varied possibilities of transformation and change – is both a painter and a photographer. However, the photographer in him strongly prevails.
As we know from the end of the 1960’s, photography was supplanted by an objective documentation of reality, first with television and then computers. So with its vocation resized, in a certain sense, photography retreated into itself – the same occurred for painting at the end of the nineteenth century – to become almost self-referential. As Giulio Argan rightly remarked as early as 1989, “it was through the confrontation with photography, that art gradually broke away to differentiate itself from the classic concept of mimesis and to form its own morphology and lexicon, without naturalistic roots. But the division did not last, photography entered that domain too: it presented itself as a more conceptual than technical action, potentially as creative as art and even more so.” So photography and the enjoyment of it became purely conceptual, so much so that this technique definitively entered the universe of Art and i t was possible to see clear similarities in the various currents of contemporary art of the time, such as Informel, Lyrical abstraction, French Nouveau Réalisme, New Dada and Minimalism.
Throughout his professional life, Manss Aval has favored two clearly-documented paths that are seemingly contradictory but which actually complement his personality. On the one hand, we see geometric dynamism made up of symmetries – chromatic or even veering towards an icy black and white (see the Symmetries-monochrome series) – in his digital shots, surreally inspired by futuristic photography, which emanate evanescent fluids that in turn recall optical and kinetic art. On the other, we witness the rigor of a pure and essential shot, again in color or black and white, but one that is figurative, taken from the world that we observe every day (an elderly man sitting on a bench, a dead leaf in Still Moments, a flight of birds or a waterfall). Interestingly, Manss Aval may experiment with the same shot – with its formal analogies both to traditional photography or manipulated with a post-production elaboration – either in a black and white or a color version, the latter then sometimes finding its pictorial evolution in an oil painting on canvas. Undoubtedly, there are two main factors that have influenced Manss Aval and these experiments: Minimalism and lyrical, broadly symbolic, suggestions.
“Nothing more than is necessary” could summarize the first genre of works, where everything is seen through geometrized details (see Hexangles or Rising Cones) and ‘designed’ using light, in an absolute contrast between conflicting colors or between black and white, where the surfaces are personalized by just a few elements and shards of light filter through to open up and reveal the world to the viewer. His minimalist photographs are sometimes in monochrome, often as a sketch on a grid or a matrix of mathematical origin, yet they are always able to evoke the sense of the sublime, existential states and inner depths. Manss Aval’s photographic minimalism lies in the last of these accepted meanings. His photos in this group have clear references to works by Frank Stella in his famous Black Series or Black Paintings, frameless paintings made up of parallel black stripes, divided by thin white lines. These works by Stella do not seem to have any allusive or symbolic reference, but are presented to the observer as objects having a simple value. In Manss Aval, however, we can go further, to take ‘genetic-evolutionary’ allusions, with
reference to the DNA manipulations and his dynamic geometric spirals (see the series More Abstract and Monochrome, with comparable images among them in their chromatic or black and white expression). In this way, photography can be seen to be the most suitable instrument for the creation of conceptual meanings and in this way, representation borders on geometric abstraction, kinetically blocked like some of the formal ‘meanders’ that can be seen in the work by Italian painter, Piero Dorazio. A kind of classical abstract experimentation (that has to be searched for in his works) that derives from the geometries of Mondrian, Kandinsky and Klee, but which is sometimes reduced to the two-color, philosophical absolute of black and white through the countless shades in gray. They are calligraphically drawn or ‘written’ (see Caligraphy) through an abstraction that is modernized and updated with the strictly relevant influences of photo manipulation, video and videogames.
In the second genre we can observe nature and man who, while not appearing almost ever as an actual figure, is the absent protagonist of fragments of theatrical scenes. They are simple and once again, very minimalist images that seem to encapsulate an entire life, a life that could have been seen in a production by theatre director, Giorgio Strehler. Manss Aval strives for both evocation and synthesis in his photographs, especially those in black and white: from the street photos (details of nature and landscapes) to the icy and rationalist lyricism of architecture, to fragments of cities or interiors that present an almost Bauhaus-like brightness. But also in the oneliness of an elderly man, the fragile transience of a leaf or the essence of a woman (see Essence).
Moreover, we find a perplexed wonder in front of nature and landscape, caught by the camera shot or by the paintbrush (see the series Alternate Realities, the oil painting entitled Moonlight Seduction or the other series of Landscapes). In the latter example, his paintings can surprisingly go from figurative expressionism to lyrical informel, where the only element of color is the soul of nature (as in the Abstracts series, Mirage de la Mer and Meaning of Life). Flickering refractions with their bold colors that are both real-unreal, fleeting and impalpable, spread through the poetics of the Fluid Moments series, wisely blending between the reality of one shot and the technical and conceptual manipulation. The great interest in genetics and evolution is also clearly present in pseudo-real images of twisted, fantastic and hallucinatory Genetic Possibilities, with ‘swollen’ trees that spread out their branches toward the skies that are dotted by a lacework of clouds.
Sometimes, these secondary anthropic spaces or social and urban wastes are revealed to the viewer by the photographer with the scrupulousness of a sharp engraving, in the essential photographic shots of those marginalized environments, or with an indirectly surreal effect, made up of evanescent, ethereal ocean mists. This can be seen in the esoteric black and white photographs of the Monochromes series and in the color photographs – pinkish gray or whitish light blue chromatic hues – of the Oceanscapes, where one perceives an existential and metaphysical journey, for example, through a corridor between wooden structures to reach a final, Neoplatonic light, beyond which humans may only pass in the after-life.
Lyricism always plays a discreet role and is broadly nostalgic of the twentieth-century avantgardes, with landscapes that become an entirely inner journey, made up of stimulated impressions and emotions. Perspective shots of streets or pillars recall the streets of Life. Objects, that in their minimalist simplicity, are the composition counterpoint and are almost geometrically abstract, around which a multitude of shades of gray arrange themselves, and through expert, gradual transitions, make the monochrome base solid, almost velvety.
I repeat, in this case too, the significance of the shot does not reside in the importance of the subject, but in the photographer’s ability to see the beauty – which is the value of the object – in what would normally go unnoticed or is actually absent. Yet it is a minimalism that has lyrical and almost monumental moments, for example in the architecture or the bright and strongly contrasted fragments of spaces, which suggest clear tributes to Pictorialism. We could say that Manss Aval finds “equilibrium of geometry and lines, in an overall of light and shadow”, as wellknown American photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and founder of the Photo-Secession movement once wrote.
In Manss Aval’s photographs, together with light, the shadow is the mistress and absolute queen, who holds – and wisely governs – the composition. Shadow designs, marks and shapes the photograph, recalling, with its ineffable, uncertain and changing ephemeral reality, the constant Freudian mutations of the human soul, which are comparable to those genetic mutations tested in laboratories, in a globalized and alienating society populated with robots and clones (see Duplicate Genes).
Both his photographs and paintings are formally impeccable, both when his landscapes are exposed with the radiant and zenithal light or in backlight and in chromatic fading, like watercolor-painted scenes, and where the artist depicts scenes, environments and figures that seem to be sculpted in their saturation of color. Through his camera lens, Manss Aval accentuates and enhances the natural comparison between the technical perception of the photograph and his constant creative intervention of the artistic interpretation.
Manss Aval’s photographs have certain distinctive features that can also be perceived in some of his paintings: the sinuous structures created by technology and by dynamic and fleeting lines of strength and power; regular shadows in a grid-like pattern with undefined backdrops; a bare, cold and solitary central prospective; and the bright lights like neons, which are transformed into white clear lines – in the same way as certain optical experiments carried out in the 1970’s – which divide the painting into seemingly broken landscapes.
In a world where art, following impulses, neuroses and disenchantment of the contemporary soul, has moved away from reality to follow – both in painting and photography – only informal mirages and more cerebrally conceptual abstractions, the admirably exposed shots by Manss Aval testify, on the other hand, that it is precisely in the objectivity of reality where the purest and deepest seed of the human emotion can be found and only in a second instance, can it be transformed into digitalized processing and into special effects that are reproduced in the
‘laboratory’ of the computer.
Already the first manifesto of Surrealism dating back to 1924, allowed us to illuminate the night’s eye with the light of the spirit, which was in constant captivity in a snare of existence. Normally we are not accustomed to looking at the world through this hyper-sensitive view, because our vision is always obscured and veiled by everyday life. But this everyday vision is superimposed by a surreal vision, which has been rightly described as a critical vision. This symbolically oneiric vision also guides Manss Aval towards positivity and negativity and towards the black holes of the soul (see Badyear).
His expressive vein swings between luministic certainties and restlessness, in a kind of geometric or figurative mirage, where dreams and reality blend into each other. The work by Manss Aval presents an almost hallucinatory tension, which makes his photographic world become both surreal and geometrically rational, as if produced under a microscope in a genetic laboratory. It is the revisiting and computerized manipulation of science fiction horizons. The reshaped and surrealist shot taken by Manss Aval becomes a virtual space where imagination and reality lose their borders and exchange their roles, to access a wonderful, oneiric and vital area of our conscience.
In the mechanistic intricacies of colors that have been expressionistically modified or achromatic visions, ultimately like images of nature and the environment – although it may seem at first a superficial, almost absurd view – it is Life that is the true subject of Manss Aval’s art, seen in a cell, a ray or a blade of light, a genetic chain, a leaf, an old man or in an (illusory?) aspiration to the transcendent other world in the mind-spirit of man.
About Prof. Giampaolo Trotta
Prof. Giampaolo Trotta, architect, art historian and critic of modern and contemporary art, author of nine books, collaborator of the magazine “Eco d’Arte Moderna” and of the television program “Incontro con l’Arte” (Toscana Tv), artistic manager of the National Biennial Festival of Sacred Art in Pistoia in 2006 and of “Spazio-incontri di Arte Contemporanea” to the Diocesan Museum of Sacred in Santo Stefano al Ponte, Florence, he arranged several exhibitions in Italy and in Romania and prestigious catalogs of art. He was the artistic manager of “Spazioevent i Orler”, Marcon (Venice), and adviser for the Modern Art Gallery “Modenarte” in Modena.