México D.F. (M) 2013

J. M. Calleja’s Visual Aesthetic
Laura López Fernández



O que se abre aquí é o swing dun soño

Fuga de vocais. Soño de signos (Limiar) Xavier Seoane

We are able to create thought forms

Where Science and Magic Meet S R. Dougal

Order, chaos, musicality, performance, alphanumeric correspondences, alphabetic arrangements, symbolism, zoomorphism, mythic realms, imaginary landscapes, invisible scales to the naked eye, holography, the principle of uncertainty, chance, circularity, mobility, neo-Dada, neo-constructivism, post-collage, ready-mades, neoplasticism, Bauhaus, Duchamp and the artistic quality of appropriation, pre and metamodernity, Mallarme, Valery, paragrammaticality, eclecticism… are just some of his multiple concepts, principles and techniques this versatile artist link together in his visual compositions.

J. M. Calleja is a multifaceted artist, an expert in the nuances of the image, a sort of spatial juggler who is able to create visual-sound-verbal compositions that can be approached from different perspectives with surprising aesthetic and functional results. In his poems, considering the whole and the parts, we can see an interaction of heterogeneous elements combined together opening up a Pandora’s box. His compositions show a magnetic property that multiplies the optional semantic fields.

No matter what organizing principles are chosen, his poems work in a non-linear and self-organizational way. This process dismantles conventional margin-center relations emphasizing a spatial logic. Each composition has also a particular rhythm, which is produced through a confluence of techniques and a detailed attention to spatio-temporal images. His unconventional metaphors are made of expressive and implicit elements, and of formal and conceptual blends that go beyond the sum of the different categories of space and time used. In his poems he creates a series of blended spaces; causal, referential, vectorial, imaginary, linear, discontinuous, and holographic, creating a richer semantic structure than its separated constituents.

As we can see in Huellas (Poemas visuals 1974-2006) there is a great variety of techniques and languages at work used for referential or metaphorical purposes such as photomontage, chromatics, typographic variations, geometry, mass, texture, high and low light definition, the use of several spatial dimensions, etc., produce a select subjectivity, a self-contained aesthetic world. We find above all an intermittent conjunction of forms, light and meanings, confabulating in front of the reader-spectator from the different active centers of the poems (objects, dots, empty spaces, lines, (ortho)-graphic signs, etc.,).

Behind these visible and not so visible forces at work there is a rhythmic trajectory that catches the eye’s attention and guides us in different directions and speeds. The starting point varies in each poem. It can be located everywhere in the surface of the poem. It can be an explicit object or an empty space creating tension and attracting us to look at that specific area. It is in this process that different spaces and temporal frames can be activated altogether producing a unique confluence of visual, metaphoric, historic, symbolic and mystical meanings.

Poem “Ismo capital” catches our attention at the bottom left of the image. In that “marginal” space we catch a “central” meaning. On a descriptive plane we see a woman carrying two buckets of milk evoking Aesop’s fable and popular folktale “The milkmaid and her pail” advising us to not count our chicken before they are hatched. We also see the sign dollar on her apron reinforcing the Aesop’s fable.

In this poem we have a visual poem of a written fable. The moral of the fable is still alive in the 21st century. The title “Ismo capital” is another sign that connects us with the Aesop’s fable, and the theme of becoming rich in an ambitious way and its dangers. The author breaks down the word in two and reverses its morphologic order. The actual word is Capitalisme.

The textual background of the poem complements the main theme. Our eyes look at the alphabetical text in the background, which shows also a numeric correlation with each word. There is an alphabetical order although it is not thematically consistent and the numbers do not have any correspondence with the whole. In these two planes we can see how the imaginative logic of the “milkmaid” is being broken down based on a capitalist logic, echoing Aesop’s fable.

Another poem very different in the composite principles, and design is Poem “Autoridades”. This visual composition has a geometrical language, a direction, and a symbolic significance as well. The active area of the poem is the lower half. And the active shape our eyes are guided to is a triangle. The triangle is formed with three of the four aces of the Spanish cards emphasizing, along with the title “Autoridades” composed in (1975), the power of money, the military and dictators. We can make a historical, symbolic and cultural reading paying attention to elements that do not have anything in common outside the poem itself. We see in this poem multiple languages at work that invite to various levels of readings.

Poem “Viento” makes us focus on a potential line in the space. It is a linear and dynamic trajectory that originates at the bottom right of the poem and goes to the upper left of the poem. This potential line runs from the body of the letter “i” to its dot situated at a certain distance and from an angular position.

The potential line of the poem and the dot are the most active areas of the poem. The title “Viento” could suggest in a referential way the direction of the wind taking the dot of the letter (i) further away from its original position, but the body of the letter and the dot are printed in bold and they look very solid and heavy bodies. This suggests that we look at the letters as aesthetic objects and not as functional or communicative tools. This is an avant-garde motif that activates a physical and aesthetic perception of the letters. In this apparent trajectory of the dot, taken or not away by the wind we co-create the poem flying with the wind towards the dot whose massive body in the space resembles one of Joan Miró’s “dots”. Although here the poem-painting is in black and white accentuating the contrast and drama of our imaginative worlds that also suggest a surrealistic or a hyperrealist space.

Poem “Humo” makes us focus on horizontal lines and on the red line in the upper center of the poem. Poem “Valerigramas IX” a poem dedicated to Valery’s experimental poetry obliges the eye to perform a vertical and descendent trajectory in intimate connection to blurring the borders between the verbal and the visual.

Poem “Disparo” (gunshot in Catalan) it is based on the poem “revolver” in Eclipse by Alan Ridell. Calleja’s gunshot is of love. The poem refers to the power of symmetry and asymmetry and to the reversibility of the sign. In this visual composition there are at least two reading paths semantically compatible. The symmetry at work here is produced at several levels, spatial, rotational and conceptual: “love” and “evol” (“evol” suggests the word evolution) merge together in a central point, a metaphoric source that produces simultaneously both words and concepts. The combination of the same phonemes that produces two words according to the right or left reading direction we follow and the junction of both letters rotating towards that point suggest the reading: Evolution is love. Love evolves. “Evol” and “love” are two sides of the same face, two counter-elements as matter and energy, each rotating in different directions and frequencies.

Poem “Vértigo” introduces a subspace, a potential trajectory based on causal and gravitational laws. A lady is trying to keep balance on the upper left part of the letter “U” in order to not falling down. The lack of equilibrium of the image creates a tension and a visual and semantic dynamics that complement each other. When we pronounce the phoneme “U” we produce a unidirectional sound, which is similar at a smaller scale to the force of the wind blowing in one direction. This poem intertwines and condensates three essential languages in the visual aesthetic of the author; the iconic, the kinetic and the sound. It also captures and fixates in time and space, verbally (title) and visually the moment previous to the fall.

We find a similar structural reading in poem “Amén”. Here the author uses the symbol of the cross as a device for creativity. In this poem the central letter is “A” and it is located at the physical center of the image suggesting four sequential readings; two vertical and two horizontal ones.

Poem “Músico” (“music player” in Catalan and “music” in English) pays homage to Louis Armstrong. The different signs of the poem –verbal, visual-, invite us to see and listen to the trumpet of Louis Armstrong. In this composition it is notorious the use of hybrid signs such as “L ( ) A”. By extension the poem refers not only to jazz but also to an artistic environment in which improvisation, intuition, versatility and technique is privileged. This is a visual and verbal composition that pays homage to music and creativity in the arts.

Poem “Due direzioni” refers to representational codes that use antagonistic movements. The letter “R” refers to the animal we see to the right, the rhinoceros but the author reverses the phoneme and letter “R” creating a diverging optical process of reading. It activates two directions of reading (left and right and vice-versa) and two referential planes (the verbal language and the visual language): the mirroring effect of writing (R) and a drawing of the rhino. Poem “Viaje de verano” is a very explicit poem guiding our eyes with the clock hands from left to right. It is also a collage that interrelates different types of space, time (linear, metaphoric, symbolic, historic and referential), and literacy (visual, verbal, artistic).

Each poem holds its own dynamic, sequential and non-linear trajectory for the eyes. The author combines in each poem, visual and verbal units of meaning with their own rhythm, which produces its own and reading literacy.

Chromatic elements are also significant for their different visual and emotive effects. In poem “Autoridades” we have a scanner of three real cards without further effects. Keeping the true colors of the cards has a referential function that subordinates the detail of each card in favor of a more general reading in relation to the title and its historical context. In poem “Cabeza” we see how color was used to enhance a specific reading. The skeleton of a brain and its layer of red letters combined by chance, dramatize our capacity as human beings to use language for different purposes (creative, scientific, communicative…). In poem “Week” the four red letters “W” “E” “E” “K” in the four corners of the poem act as an external frame and provide the title of the poem “Week”. The red color also suggests the referent fire in relation to the seven matches of the poem, and seven days of the week.

This poem, as many other poems by J. M. Calleja, offers a graphic and symbolic story, a narrative located in a temporal and spatial frame. In this case we have the temporal frame of a week, which suggests work, productivity, and time to relax (the week is usually structured in 5 working days and 2 weekend days). We may also thing of the work “week” in reference to number seven and this suggests a symbolic reading. The number seven is a mystical, religious, astronomic and astrological number. The complete lunar cycle is constituted of four weeks. Also our lives show major changes in cycles of seven years. Seven is a supra-number found in nature. In the poem we can see each fired match as one day, one week, one cycle, a micro or a macro element, symbolizing life and death, a specific rhythm within a specific frequency.

Calleja’s compositions are significant for the multiple readings they generate and for the internal structures he uses. Symbolic and referential forms create heterogeneous meanings. The reading process required in his compositions is always spatial but not always sequential, continuous or linear. There are poems as we have seen structured in alternative guiding principles. The different composite layers of his poems are interrelated.

Another significant element of Calleja’s compositions is the treatment given to language itself. As we have seen language can be used as something to work with; letters can become artistic objects to contemplate from different angles and positions. And here is where the pictorial imagination is part of the creative process.

The interrelations between linear and nonlinear patterns in his poems have a performance quality that can be related indirectly to fractal geometry, and self-similarity between the parts and the whole. Each composition has its active and less active points, its guiding trajectory, rhythm and frequency. We can liberate our eye from those internal rules but the poem signifies according to a specific spatial path we must follow.

This complex creative system where elements of chaos and order meet opens up a multidimensional set of approaches and readings to Calleja’s compositions that help us to discover a hidden world of nuances and meaning through a synesthetic process.

Calleja’s poems stimulate the imagination and the magic of the interconnectedness of everything, inviting us “To gaze at a river made of time and water/ and remember Time is another river.” […] (Borges“The Art of Poetry”).

By looking at Calleja’s compositions, we can see a particular rhythm in each poem and an exquisite set of correspondences. From this endless interference of elements, dimensions and meanings we see a river made of time and water, a blended structure made of spatio-temporal elements carrying a particular sonority and resonance in their fluid spaces. In its intrinsic dynamic properties each poem offers us a river of time, a seed of suggestions and worlds, like poem “The last poem”, which enhances an interdisciplinary and inclusive conception of poetry where the mystical, the scientific, the artistic, the analytic, the magician and the technician meet.

To finalize, we must mention a particular element in Calleja’s poetic trajectory, the emphasis on conceptual planning, which is “reflected in formal analogies and in a cryptic language” using Roberto Farona’s words in an interview to Calleja in 2008.1 In this interview Farona highlights the importance of serialism, structure and chance. These key elements in the compositional process of a poem or a book, and its format, are evocative of some aesthetic zen principles in the sense that from the author’s perspective there is no commitment to produce a pleasant aesthetic object. His works present an abstract and inner simplicity, which is visible in the strategic use of asymmetry and chance and in the veiled emphasis of symbolic objects, poetic signs, format, chromatics, texture, which are able to talking by themselves. It is a work whose illusion of representation gives way to an exquisite combination of languages and techniques that are not formally imposed to produce a unique sense of pleasure which act in an undetermined mode evoking pre-form states, that is to say, states that are previous to the manifestation of the artistic object.

Laura López Fernández


1 From “Paradoja de la fugacidad eterna. El arte y su concepto” (2008) http://issuu.com/boek861/docs/paradoja_de_la_fugacidad_eterna/2?mode=embed&layout=http%3A//skin.issuu.com/v/color/layout.xml

Pròleg  del llibre Huellas. Poemas visuales 1974-2006. Carlos Pineda Editor. México D.F. 2013