The Shapes of Light

Watercolors for the Stained Glass of the Sagrada Família

19.10.2017 - 03.12.2017

In 1999 Joan Vila Grau was commissioned to project stained glass for the Sagrada Familia temple. The fact is that the painter himself, in addition to being one of the most notable scholars in the history of stained glass, had long experience in the practice of this procedure as a creator. After 18 years, devoted to this task, Vila Grau has concluded the stained glass windows of the cruise ship and the apse and the nave.

In different interviews, the same artist has explained how he has faced this work. Among others, there is one very important aspect that we would like to emphasize. His intention was to create an atmosphere of spirituality. Vila Grau explains that this state occurs in very unique places and in certain circumstances. “I remember the impression that I had when entering the Mosque of Cordoba, you perceive that this is an out of the ordinary space, a non-historical, mystical, impressive space.” This spiritual dimension is therefore associated with a space outside all contingency, outside time, in another dimension, as suspended and weightless in infinity … Moreover, it is not something rational that can be explained, but one emotional state that feels inwardly. Needless to say, Gaudi’s architecture by itself has this spiritual quality, but the stained-glass window contributes to it in a decisive way. When during World War II they went to dismantle the stained glass of the cathedral of Chartres for conservation reasons, the perception of the church changed completely. It was realized that the colored crystals gave form and life to the space. Vila Grau is linked to a medieval tradition, the mystique of glass, in which filtered light produces an atmosphere full of spirituality and symbolism.

The stained-glass windows of Vila Grau, however, are abstract. He himself states that he neglects traditional iconographic programs to adopt a chromatic program, a symphony of color. It may be said that there is a tradition – Robert Rosenblum speaks of Nordic Romanticism – which, unlike the Catholic world, chose to express transcendent content through immaterial images. The dissolution of form, according to Rosenblum, makes it possible to convey deep contents: the sublime, the visionary, the mystery of life, the supernatural … The absence of representation is not an absence of content; on the contrary, abstraction is a language that evokes a transcendent experience and induces a recollection, a kind of intimate dialogue with the supernatural fact. Kandinsky or Mondrian are abstract languages ​​that purify the material to make the spiritual world flourish.

It is worth remembering Rothko, the painter of the color planes, with the paintings that built an interconfessional chapel in Houston in 1971. In this case, the paintings replaced conventional religious images. Thus it follows from the very words of Rothko, who claimed a spiritual dimension in his work:

“I’m not interested in relationships of color or form or anything else (…). I am interested only express basic human emotions -tragedia, ecstasy, melancholy, and others, and the fact that many people ‘ I can communicate with these basic human emotions.The people who cry before my paintings are having the same religious experience that I had when I painted them … ”

Abstraction – and, in particular, color – has a metaphysical dimension, is a language of the spirit. But also light, which is immaterial, possesses a mystical quality. Likewise glass, a very particular matter, which has density and weight, but is translucent … This is the universe of Vila Grau.

The exhibition we present has a special singularity: it is the preparatory works, the reflections, the trials, the tests of the stained glass of the Holy Family. In short, it is the designs or “first lights” that will later be translated into glass and lead and placed in the temple. It is, therefore, a kind of privilege to contemplate: means enter into the intimacy of creation, knowing the side of things usually hidden subtract, how it was done and why this marvel of colors that fills the temple.

Imagine Gaudí solitary in the dark crypt, like the bottom of a cave, like an alchemist of the stone trying to sublimate matter into spirit. So also Vila Grau. In his case it is light, light as a kind of breath that gives a soul to matter. We are interested in highlighting, in this sense, what is the starting point of these stained glass windows, the first sketches: these are color studies, worked with watercolor. The watercolor – these thin layers of water-diluted paint that glimpses the white of the paper – is the equivalent of light, of the stained glass. The sketches are like the morning star announcing the birth of a new day, the very act of creation.

The preparatory studies also suggest the link between the trades of jewelers, goldsmiths and glaziers. Stained glass is like precious stones, minerals that contain light. Light as the spirit that animates inert matter.

Jaume Vidal Oliveras

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