The Landscape Is a Way of Thinking
As Núria Duran was cleaning paint from her brushes and hands at the end of a work session during her studies in the 1990s, she had an odd feeling. She loved the texture, the odour, like an adult inhaling the scent of a newborn baby. But the seduction felt strange to her, as if the time had come to change perfumes. Despite her love of painting, in her artistic adolescence she felt she needed to fly away from the paternal nest of painting and embark on new ventures which would lead her to create her own life. In her first creative youth, Núria Duran was at a turning point.
Drawing was reclaiming its foundational role and yearned to come out from the shadow of painting, which in the 1980s had been vindicated when it was believed – erroneously – that conceptual art would act as a dissolvent of matter and objects. In the early 1990s digital technology began to be within everyone’s reach. Artists discovered new tools and it seemed that computers would replace the painter’s palette. Núria Duran, as a child of her time, participated in this current and tried to combine the technical possibilities within her reach. For instance, in the installation “Mobile Landscape”, she incorporated objects, sound and cartoons. The work was presented in the context of the “Doodles” exhibition (Galeria Ramon Sicart, Vilafranca del Penedès), dedicated to the investigation into new paths for contemporary drawing. This bold endeavour did not convince her completely. She heard the siren call of painting. Gradually, Núria Duran realised that by abandoning her pictorial roots, she had not broken with the past, she had betrayed it. With a desperate impulse, she wanted to start afresh, to return to what she believed was the essential. She turned to academia as a source for learning and as a means to find a response to her longings. Once again she dove into technique without realising that, whereas previously she had neglected her hands, this time she was putting aside thought. Núria Duran continued to move within a contradictory territory in which her painter’s spirit battled with her desire to experience art in a modern way. After an intense immersion in learning artistic conventions – from which she now reaps the rewards as an excellent conductor of artistic talents – Duran began her journey towards finding answers through work. Lots of work. Lots of painting. Lots of hours in the studio. Lots of silences. Lots of doubts.
And it was the hours spent in the studio that marked which path she would follow.
She continued to paint landscapes, a genre considered to be very traditional. But she never quite believed that her landscapes were not a nineteenth-century convention. That the landscapes she painted were moods and sensations. Territories of a sensitive geography, of a state of mind and heart. She wasn’t even sufficiently aware that those first installations were also a variation on landscape painting.
Carrying a pictorial tradition not her own – almost branded on her skin with a red-hot iron – was a burden of which she has gradually rid herself.
It is a weight, though, which is not only carried by her. All artists have to bear it. It is the price of wanting to construct one’s own world. A creator is the architect of their work. And only he or she has to know the foundations, choose the material, design the form, guide the work and, above all, know what they are trying to achieve with their construction.
People often talk of the magic of art, but the spell which worked for Duran was perseverance. One day she rediscovered textiles. The encounter was happenstance, as is the case with so many apparently anecdotal circumstances which have determined the course of the history of art. A friend of hers was closing a shop and a batch of threads needed a new destiny. Duran realised that a stitch could be a brushstroke. The artist began to intuit that the material is as important as what one attempts to do with it. In her Cadaqués studio – always the studio – the textile material became an artistic material. The canvas was filled with threads. The beloved idea of landscape was still present and Duran discovered that art cannot stick to conventions. The critical moment took place when she eliminated the canvas. She suddenly realised she could paint without a canvas and without paint. Finally, she had discovered that painting is not a technique and that landscape painting is not a style. Painting and landscapes are concepts that can be expressed in many ways. They are ways of thinking. In the twenty-first century, the artistic categories have lost their meaning. It is true that painting is painting, drawing is drawing and sculpture is sculpture. But it is also true that one can paint without paint, draw without a pencil and sculpt without iron, bronze or wood. The legacy of 1970s conceptual art has impregnated all the disciplines, which have diluted their frontiers. In fact, Duran’s textile pieces could work as sculptures or installations.
Duran has gradually discovered that all her experimentation and everything she has learned is important, that technique is valuable, but that one needn’t be a slave to conventionalisms.
She has created textile landscapes intuitively and by applying techniques which come from other supports, which demonstrates that the essence of the artist is freedom. Duran rid herself of the creative angst when she accepted that the baggage of the past, of tradition, of the legacies, only work in a positive manner.
Núria Duran’s current work is now the synthesis of everything she was seeking: passion for the material, but without being a slave to it; occupying space, but without a desire to conquer it; and conserving her beloved/detested tradition, but constructing her own contemporary language. Duran has begun to write a new chapter in her trajectory. She has realised that the history of art – her own and the universal – is a huge book in which there is room for all stories, written in a whole variety of calligraphies.
Barcelona 16th March 2013