From sound, image is born


Let us imagine the baton of an orchestra conductor transfigured into a paintbrush, that following the rhythms of the composition and the indications for the incorporation of certain instruments within the time of the musical piece are more than movements in the air, that the trajectory of the hand, the arm and the baton generate lines, spatter, colorful stains, spots, strokes, atmospheres. For years M. Pujol Baladas has worked before his canvas while the music of the great composers of the world flood his study, but his pictorial work does not limit itself to a sonorous background, there is something else, for some time now colors and strokes, the materials mixed with paint in the work of this Spanish creator seek to translate the universe of sensations that grows inside him while he listens to a symphony, a piano sonata or a song by The Beatles. As a quintessential act of alchemy, art aims to transfigure the world to the matters of each discipline, and thus Pujol Baladas has devoted himself to the adventure of converting sound into something visible, of translating the notes of a melody into forms, lines and chromatic tonalities.  He is without a doubt a formidable explorer of the phenomenon of synesthesia, which consists of translating the qualities of one sense to another through artistic work. More than the disarray of the senses sung by Rimbaud, it is the borderline exploration of the senses in order to attempt the impossible: to express what happens during the course of a melodic weft with an image frozen in time.


  Two of the most recent series of M. Pujol Baladas are dedicated to a dialogue with the work of two magnificent composers, on one hand the mighty Beethoven and his powerful fifth Symphony, and on the other Carlos Chávez, with his expressive and truly Mexican harp compositions. We can instantly perceive how Pujol translates what he hears onto his canvas; the sounds of the harp suddenly become thin slithers of paint over an orchestral atmosphere of chromatic gradation, while in the works dedicated to Beethoven’s fifth the brushstrokes become thick, there’s no background except for the determined and expressive chromatic stripes that traverse the composition as they penetrate the concert hall and the instrumental groups with their sonorous thrust, with its controlled surges of passion that sound and resound in orchestral counterpoints and then fade away to give rise to another stampede of notes. 


   But the visual translations of the music that Pujol Baladas creates are not limited to pictorial gestures, the clever assimilation of the so-called materic Catalan art by the artist brings him to reinforce his compositions, when he considers it necessary, with coats of cement mixed in with the paint in order to make a brushstroke heavier and emphasize the thick sonority of a musical passage. Likewise, in other works he uses cardboard, the textures of which suggest rhythms and qualities of the pitch of an instrument that wanders about the symphony. Aside from the discourse of the materials, we can appreciate that the compositional organization seeks to shape the orchestral complexities of the work in question. There are no easy solutions in spite the apparent spontaneity that the paintings reflect, the thickness of a line or the eruption of a trickle that seems to be a mere pictorial accident aim to express something precise about a determined arrangement or musical moment. The inclusion of the drawings of some notes speaks of key moments in a symphony that suddenly open the piece to vast sensorial dimensions with a tonal accent, marking difference between a great creator and a mere musical technician, and the ears of Pujol Baladas are expert hunters for these points of inflection; he is a refined composer of images, a precise and no less passionate orchestra conductor of the pictorial.


Fernando Gálvez de Aguinaga


Symphony no. 1, Gustav Mahler


Budapest. November 13, 1889.  The conductor of the Hungarian Royal Opera appears in a recital, for the first time, accompanying the famous soprano Bianca Bianchi at the piano. The program includes lieder of the director himself and Karl Loewe. The concert is a success. Critics praise him for his great pianistic quality. “The beauty of his songs and his impeccable accompaniment has made him the hero of the evening. It seems his fate is to walk away from the battlefields in victory”, wrote a critic.


Budapest. November 20, 1889.  The Orchestra Theater of the Philharmonic Society is crowded. It is the opening of a Symphonic Poem in Two Parts (which afterwards would become the First Symphony) of the conductor of the Hungarian Royal Opera. The concert performed the week before has created great expectations among the audience that is on the verge of the unknown, a threshold that provokes a state of excitement in some, tremor in others, and curiosity in all.


Sometime later, Gustav Mahler, that conductor of the Hungarian Royal Opera would write to his dear friend and companion at the Conservatory in Vienna, the violinist Natalie Bauer-Lechner: “After I opened my First Symphony in Budapest, my friends avoided me; none of them dared to mention the performance and I walked through life as a leper or an outcast. Under these circumstances you can imagine what the review of my work was like”.


Indeed, the piece was received adversely and with complete hostility. Without a doubt, that review was influenced by Mahler’s reputation as the controversial, authoritarian, and perfectionist opera conductor, but surely it was the awkward audacity of the music that provoked the rejection of such a nationalist, Magyar audience.


In the First part, with its three movements, they heard sounds of nature, sounds that Mahler remembered of the walks he took alongside his father through the woods near Iglau, Moravia: The song of the cuckoo, the sound of the wind through the pines, the distant cry of the bugles from the barracks… the awakening of nature after a long winter sleep. A soft landler, jovial and exquisite transforms joy into profound meditation. Up to this point it was music that did not offend the public.


The Second Part and its two movements made the difference: they heard uproarious and dissonant sounds that broke away from the classic model of the pan-Germanic symphony that broke away from Brahms and Schumann… sounds that approached and exceeded Master Bruckner and comrade Rott.


The greatest shock for this audience comes in the form of the Funeral March, which begins in two beats of the timbale that gives way to the voice of the contrabass singing the “Bruder Martin” (German version of the Frère Jacques). As the march comes to an end, a popular Hungarian theme begins, in which the indication on the sheet music reads “Mit Parodie”. The bold composer made a caricature of a gypsy glissando, a theme that symbolizes a society of coffee and its omnipresent music in the background. At the end of the piece he returns to the theme of the first movement, more agitated, more intense, with a triumphal conclusion, the triumph of life over death. They had just met a caustic and sarcastic Mahler, a man of a perfectly dramatic mind.


 Jeering and yelling. Critics and audience remained deaf and aliened to Mahler’s new musical proposal.


First Movement: Langsam. Schleppend - Immer sehr gemächlich: Slow. Dragging – Very calm at first.


Mexico City. December 15, 2007.  Manel Pujol Baladas, Catalan by birth, Mexican by love, a painter that owns the most abstract art in order to create his very abstract art, receives the suggestion of creating a painting inspired by the music of Gustav Mahler. The idea begins to float in his imagination.


Second Movement: Kräftig bewegt: Instantly agitated, but not too fast.


Mexico City. May 26, 2008.  Pujol Baladas is in his study and he inserts a CD with Mahler’s First Symphony into his CD player. He will listen to the piece truly, consciously, for the first time. He finds himself on the threshold, a threshold that provokes a state of curiosity, but above all, a state of excitement.  He crosses the threshold and is deeply affected, because this music affects, because it moves.


He realizes that Mahler’s music expresses feelings per se, but it also evokes feelings that are agitated between abstract and concrete spheres indistinctly and the emotions that are carried away through space and time is at stake.


He prepares a 100 x 150 cm. canvas. His pallet, usually polychromatic, only has two colors: titanium white and black… and very near on the table, marble dust, or shall we say star dust. He creates a series of brushstrokes on the canvas that constitute a symphony, the aesthetic ideal of which is encoded in a marvelous combination of strokes.


He abstracts the contrasts of irony, pathos, life, and death from Mahler’s work with great vision and passion, the hero’s struggle or, more accurately put, the fight of one man against fate. 



Third Movement: Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen: Solemn and contained, without dragging.


This important work of musical literature inspires him to paint, not one piece, but a series.  Dramatic, enormous, overflowed with strength and spirit; sixteen paintings, four for each movement of the symphony.


He honors Nietzsche allowing the music to free his spirit, and he gives his thoughts wings. Pujol is more a painter, more a musician and more a humanitarian.


Fourth Movement: Stürmisch bewegt: Tempestuously agitated.


Manel faced a musical experience and realized an emotional interpretation, open and abstract, related to concrete facts: the lived and shared experience. The musical stimulus has been absolute.  He has created a Pictorial Poem inspired on a symphony originally conceived as a Symphonic Poem.


Muss es sein? Es muss sein!


Must it be? It is!

Oscar Mertz Río                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



On island 4


If we had to classify Manel Pujol Baladas within a pictorial movement, we would define him as a lyric-gestural-landscaper, but we would be omitting a great part of his true work; we would have to emphasize the oneiric dimension and the passage of the perceived through the sieve that is memory.


M. Pujol Baladas stores broad fragments of landscapes and dreams them again before restituting them on the canvas with what appears to be a strong and festive urgency. 


He has a place close to the tradition of the landscapists of the past century, or the one before that, and he shares their liking for long horizontal formats and seascapes, but for him the horizon is no longer the demarcation between hills, fields, woods and the sky.   Everything is united, merged, the cotton clouds and the foamy sea: “C’est la mer mêlée au soleil” of Arthur Rimbaud.


A work that is close to music, where improvisation, in the jazzistic sense of the word, is of great importance, and where Turner seams to offer a vibrant pallet to Jackson Pollock.






For many years Manel Pujol Baladas seems to have been searching for the perfect abstract painting. His approximations in this search have been accompanied by intense research of color and even in the physical way of applying pigments and treating media. This is why it is not uncommon to find pieces in which he has torn the canvas and tied laces, as if trying to tighten them and make them resemble the curtain of a strange, inexistent theater.


In a single painting, the crudest strokes and blurs of color can coexist with the most delicate glazes and meticulously arranged feigned accidents. Perhaps this is why his pieces disconcert at a first glance, but after observing them for a short while we must embrace them as we would when we face a stranger filled with contradictions that are there for us to decipher.  


Unlike many contemporary creators, Pujol preserves the spirit of the Catalan school of painting, especially of the founders, such as Tapies, Broto, and even Antonio Saura, with whom he once shared spaces in collective exhibitions during his youth, painters that made a rule of facing the canvas or the paper brutally, with no previous sketch, if only with the painting beginning to form inside their heads and taking a bi-dimensional form, as if it were a parallel birth.


The series of pieces made on paper inspired upon the music of Guiseppe Verdi is made with watercolors and carborundum. In these works, all in a rich array of gray tonalities, the five lines of the music paper still exist; sometimes the notes can be clearly seen and other not so much, but the narrative musical theme is always present. The Verdi series is intense, dark in appearance and in its chromatically impeccable and assertive bi-tonality.


Pujol Baladas is perhaps one of those rare contemporary authors that still believe in muses, that know that inspiration exists as does the power of a poem to inspire love, that make a rule of listening to their impulses, and to listen to ideas only to defend a political standing, even if it is merely an exercise of sustenance of a militant youth; if something is left it is in the memory and the vigor of continuing to endorse a delicious brutality that is falling in abeyance.


Just as Pujol Baladas has a rare pact with the invisible (poetry, music, inspiration…), at the same time he fights a constant and difficult battle against certainty; “I feel confident when I break away from codes, when I experiment; I am always hesitant, perhaps because deep down I know that what is mortal is certain” he told me once… long live Pujol…


Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros


From flesh to passion

By: Jaime Moreno Villarreal


In order to truly see, we must close our eyes. These are not my words, they have been, are, will continue to be the words of a blind man.  Perhaps the most perdurable lesson in 20th Century painting is to have learned to conjure -sometimes by means of incredible techniques of play, violence or meditation- the invisible.  Devoted, as we have been, to the capacity of seeing more and more, of propounding pluridimensional problems on one plain, to reveal rationality and irrationality through icons, to shape a concept through new objects, we have reached a point where seeing more means less.  Television is good for lulling oneself with a bit of commonness and violence, and movies for entertainment –that is to say, to do something with oneself-, the large museums to fill travel agencies' routes.  In order to see we must close our eyes, these are words spoken by a blind man that once saw and received blindness as a gift.  Jorge Luis Borges lost, in blindness, what was most precious to him; the ability to read; he lost his books and gained the night at the same time.


One can gain the night in many ways.  The most elemental way, perhaps, is to find a place to sleep.  Manel Pujol used to tell me that using cardboard as media for his painting was a reference to the cardboard box as a human living space. Than his experience as an artist in Mexico suggested this inkling of the human condition to him, he confirmed to me that we begin to understand each other.  I do not say this in the name of a misery that does not pertain to me. I merely believe that working on cardboard in that manner, as a part of life itself, is to sink into the ground, to put more than ones foot on the land, to settle in some undecidable way.  To get inside the cardboard box is to dream with a home when one begins to feel cold.


In a brilliant tale, Japanese Kobo Abe tells the story of a man that lived in a cardboard box and refused to leave it; from inside it he fought a constant war against the world, against other boxes, reducing the world to his small and brittle portion.  It is not absurd.  The most devoid physical situation becomes metaphysical.   Manel Pujol paints the walls of a similar cave.  Where the body enters in principle.  How does nudity enter a cardboard box; how does the body of love?  With its poverty and plenitude, its anguish and its desire folding and unfolding.  The choice of a pallet that ranges from white to black cannot be more precise; the light and the night of the body within its capsule of scarcity.  Then comes the reverie and it takes the form of music, especially of musical writing.  Manel Pujol intuitively knows two things: that music expresses a universal order, and that musical writing –elegant calligraphy and precise orthography- must have been modeled after the starry night, its cloudscapes, lights, and sceneries.   Music is the only civilized way, one would say, on conjuring the depth of what remains out of reach.


Pujol uses skin’s meagerness to rehearse depth. He sheds the layers of the media with a knife, hurting it, revealing it’s channels, defining its excoriations; then he seals it with a coat of vinyl and paints in that way for at least three physical levels: the surface, the channeling and the base, so that he acts and dialogues from the inside out within millimeters of depth.  Pujol takes himself where we usually see nothing, where we have to squint in order to access minimal proportions that, once they have been set, reveal themselves as constituents of the invisible to open eyes.


As intended by its creator, this art is set upon surfaces that, mimicking the frame –that traditionally constitutes a transition between the representation and the room-, concurrently with other materials that go from granite to dung, but always agglomerated, rhyming with the plywood, as the melamine does with the cardboard, with cardboard cities, cardboard life.  These surfaces are stamped with industrial bolts, true rivets that clinch the belonging of manufacture to the machine.


In terms of sensibility we could risk the thought that there are artists that respond to sensation and other respond to temptation.  I believe Manel Pujol would fall into the second group, of those who experiment the risk of touching: hence his tendency towards music and the body.  When someone touches profoundly, they recognize that they visit the invisible.  I would like to return briefly to Borges, because I believe his blindness is a source of proverbial lessons.  Perhaps after penetrating these cardboard boxes, with their plenitude and scarcity, some landscape that illustrates the precariousness of our visual organ can be remembered.  In a short story, Borges affirms that he closes his eyes and sees a flock of birds.  He does not know how many birds he has seen.  There are more than one and less than ten, but there are not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etcetera.   However, they constitute a definite number, a whole number that does not fit within this numeration.  For Borges this number is proof of the existence of God.  I suggest we close our eyes after taking in the musical work of Manel Pujol to try to see in the dark.  The vibration that remains in our retina will be proof of the existence of the music independent of the sound, a problem that has been largely debated by great Neo-Platonists, metaphysicists and some dreamers on park benches.


Pujol Baladas:

Silence inhabited by pigment


Manel Pujol Baladas is a plastic artist that synthesizes not only Catalan tradition, but European.  His thought and creative language manifest the pulse of an age of transformation that seeks new aesthetic territories and languages where all that is genuine, original, absolutely modern and revolutionary is determining.   The break necessarily leads to the foundational seed.  And yet there are cases, such as Frida Kahlo, that without purporting to do so, devoid of the intention of transgression, travels on the train of surrealism and is recognized as such by the conductor of the conceptual locomotive of that vanguard, André Breton; in spite of the fact that the Mexican painter mocked such “snobbisms” during her stay in Paris, where she only recognizes as an authentic innovator and artist Marcel Duchamp, who today could easily find his place among the privileged halls of conceptual or postmodern art.


            In the case of Pujol Baladas, born in Vic, Cataluña, Spain, in 1947, the avant garde heritage is quietly, naturally summarized without aspiring to a particular style to delimit it, but with a permanent attitude of search in an age in which painting, as many other traditions, has been left for dead or, at the very least, is facing extinction.   Pujol Baladas travels with no difficulty through different pictorial languages, without ideological ties or national commitments, without thinking twice about the use of resources and techniques in order to give way to his own creative dynamic.   Always mindful of the current flows of art, he does not forget the invaluable tradition concentrated in museums, its millenary contribution, and he does not disdain the liberating force of modernity, the essence of which lies in change; he takes advantage, yes, of the baggage of techniques, materials, ideas, and possibilities left by all the isms after they fade away into mottos and manifestos.   True art transcended with his teachings, his findings, and his resilient talent, everything else is a matter of time.


            Pujol Baladas is not only capable of verbalizing his work, he can reconstruct his entire creative process and display his tools, substances, intentions, intuitions, fortunate accidents, formulas and techniques, bonds and separations from his masters and contemporaries; for he is a rational explorer (an alchemist, he likes to say) of form and color in a world of material and subjective, lyrical possibilities.


José Ángel Leyva

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