Spanish artist Francisco Javier Antolín Serrano, known in Gibraltar for his entries in recent International Art Exhibitions and for having presented a teaser of his El Taller del Transformista at the Museo Cruz Herrera in La Linea last October, claims that his collection is inspired by the art of ancient Egypt, and in particular by two of its most iconic sculptures, queen Nefertiti’s bust, and the freestanding effigy of scribe Ka’aper (Sheikh el-Beled) – and the evergreen actuality of the characters they embody.
Francisco is fascinated by the Ka’aper, whom he calls ‘El Alcalde’, a 4,500-year old wooden statue unearthed in Saqqara necropolis, so well-preserved and so lifelike with his tanned complexion, round peaceful face and big vivacious eyes that one might be fooled into greeting it when passing by.
The idea behind the exhibition is in fact sparked by this whim: Francisco imagines to bump into El Alcalde on a crowded train or bus ride at rush hour: in the artist’s fantasy, the character is suited and booted to go to work – after all he is a scribe, which may translate nowadays into an accounting or admin job – wearing his eyes heavily highlighted in black eyeliner. This serendipitous encounter prompts Francisco’s musings on the character’s life beyond the static and hieratic beauty of the statue.
The exhibition is in fact sparked by this whim.
So, he speculates about this man leading a double life as clerk by day and drag queen by night, and on this assumption Francisco builds his flagship installation, if not his entire exhibition, dedicated to El Transformista, and his private world in the shell of a dressing room where he gets ready for his show, after having looked forward to it all day long.
Francisco reconstructs the dressing room in painstaking detail, from the hangers where the protagonist’s suit sits elbow to elbow with costumes, wigs, feathered boas to the miniature masked musician playing the violin and wearing a bull’s skull. The life-size fibreglass and gesso white figure sits at the ornate dressing table, carved out of unpolished wood waiting to be made up into his night persona. The exhibition’s visitors are allowed to walk around the installation to appreciate it from all angles, and even reflect on their own reflection in a quirky mirror of truth.
“I am not passing judgement on my muse’s sexuality,” Francisco points out, “in fact, I have no elements to confirm it, and it doesn’t matter to me. The entire concept behind El Trasformista – which partly, but not exactly, translates as drag queen – is based solely on the pretention of my following him around all day, fuelled by my curiosity about his make-up, and eventually ending up in his nightclub, where he can find his true voice as a singer, and spread his wings like a dragon. Actually, a female dragon, a dragona in Spanish, materialised in the pink sculpture that opens my exhibition.”
“The Spanish idiom ‘tener pluma’ means being or acting effeminate.”
The artist’s talent is best channelled in sculpture, although he doesn’t shun bi-dimensional artwork, such as photography collages, to complement his sculpture and underscore its message. Having attended fine arts academies in Spain and overseas, Francisco has mastered the manipulation of metal, clay, stone, wood and fibreglass which he extensively mixes in his work to obtain a multi-layered effect, peppered with a sense of unfinished business, to project the imperfection and transiency of life.
Past the pink dragon, the visitor will also meet an eagle and a Pegasus, echoing mythology and casting veiled references to the scribe’s double life: “The Spanish idiom ‘tener pluma’ – literally: having feathers – means being or acting effeminate,” Francisco explains. However the feathers bestow these animals the power of soaring and enjoying the bigger picture over mundane matters. Feathers are fashioned one by one out of rusted iron, to achieve the effect of an extraordinarily realistic eagle, while Pegasus’s body is only outlined by doodles to transmit the energy of its pouncing at take-off.
The exhibition continues with a segment dedicated to Nefertiti, brought to life as a freestanding jewel box with empty drawers, or as a classic bust aloof with her elongated feathered headdress, to assert majesty and femininity.
A third bust stands on a cascade of breasts of ever-growing size that make it literally… busty, and brings to the fore the exceptional presence of female rulers throughout the centuries.
Finally, the exhibition ends with an almost abstract rendition of Moses, the personage that in Francisco’s vision brings ancient Egyptian culture to a close: fashioned into a pillar of various materials, like steel, fibreglass, wood and stone, and worked in a frenzy of spikes and scales, reminiscent of Rococo landscaping, Moses’ bust sprouts from the ground like a clay giant, a desert creature, a pillar of sand, or, disturbingly, a termite’s nest.
Francisco’s fans must rest assured that he’s got a few more aces up his sleeve for his next exhibition, inviting everyone to take a break from their Christmas shopping and enjoy his creativity that spans the width of Mediterranean millennia.
For information, visit andalucia.org or CastilloGuzmanElBueno.com. For commissions, contact the artist on: [email protected]