Cristino de Vera He is like a lay saint. Here he is, sitting in his usual armchair, near the Gregorian music, watching with his wounded eyes how time passes for him and for life. He lives in the center of Madrid, oblivious to the world, searching the opaque horizon for all the colors of the air. Now, halfway through his sight, he looks inward, He searches in the words, and in the silence, for the voice that continues to tell him where the light is.the air of his painting.
Don’t look for stones or concrete issues in him, he lives thinking about the ethics of silence, and speaks as if he were interpreting it. He once told me: “We would have to confront our poor and limited language with the divine calligraphy that turns everything into the silence of the greatest desert that is deep loneliness.”
It is like his paintings, clear, pained, made of earth and air, heirs of Zurbarán or Luis Fernández, but above all from the silence that his teachers inspired in him. It is, he says Juan Manuel Bonetart critic, “a hermit of painting”.
Bonet is responsible for the aesthetic organization of the exhibition that Cristino de Vera, a 92-year-old native of Tenerife, opens this February 15 at the Cervantes Institute of Rome. Sponsored by the Caja Canarias Foundation and for the Cristino de Vera Foundation (with exhibitions and own work headquarters in La Laguna), and also organized thanks to other island entities, this exhibition marks the painter’s return to the city of Rome, where in 1962 he lived at the Italian school of art with a scholarship from the Foundation March.
Talking to Cristino de Vera, who has not left his Canarian accent behind and speaks as if he were reciting poems or composing music, is to get closer to the poetry that, for years, accompanied him like a playing guitar, always attentive to the inspiration that later became his paintings into testimonies of a landscape that seemed inspired by Unamuno or by ‘Don Quixote’, since the plain of Castile and the island features (Teide, the distances, the Montaña Pelada del Médano) are his inspiration and his company.
Q. He was a scholarship recipient in Rome, in 1962. You’re not going now, but your painting is going to Rome.
A. I went to Rome and many places. He wrote from there to the March Foundation, about what he was learning, about the beauty he saw, about what he was learning… I learned the beauty of Italy. It is the country that has accumulated the most beauty. I saw, therefore, Italy accumulated. I paid attention to the silence that the spirit of man maintains, with religions that tell of the divine, the energy of time… I always maintained some faith, sometimes it went out, but I have always had a relationship with the divine.
Q. Sometimes that faith was kindled… When?
A. When I listened to the music of Juan Sebastián Bach. That music has helped me a lot, its choir, its voices, its musicians, the voices become diluted, they become spiritualized. And in the end what dominates in that music is silence. The idea is that through silence you reach the soul of the music, and that is the greatness of Bach.
Q. Silence has been like a divine presence for you.
A. Yes, silence is like the light from within. For me, silence is so that humans feel close to dawn, after that night journey. In India I saw a light that I have not seen in any museum, a violet light that was turning blue. That almost celestial atmosphere reminded me of Fra Angelico. It was beauty, taken to the level of meditation and prayer. There is a spiritual connection between all the arts, that is what poetry, writing, does with them. It is also the factor that unites all religions, not just Christianity: all.
“People think that religion is for children to make their first communion, and they do not delve into that light that sometimes comes to you in the morning and that is a divine message wrapped in a white light.”
Q. Your life is a long inner journey…
A. I have gone after all those mysteries that can restore your faith. People think that religion is for children to make their first communion, and they do not delve into that light that sometimes comes to you in the morning and that is a divine message wrapped in a white light.
Q. Where does that inner light that drives your art, your life come from?
A. Everything comes of the divine part available to the soul, the spirit… I return to Bach: his music becomes diluted and turns that incredible beauty into a miracle of silence.
Q. Now your painting is going to Rome. What should those who go there to see his paintings look for?
A. Let them look for what I myself looked for. What I looked for in the Prado, the aroma of silence, austerity, calm. That monkish air that silence has… Silence is a dialogue, bordering on the divine. It explains to you what no language can explain, it amplifies reason, it is like a diamond that must be cared for like the flowers in a garden.
Q. Juan Manuel Bonet says that the essence of his painting is light, the influence of Zurbarán, del Greco, Piero de la Francesca… He also names Luis Fernández, Vázquez Díaz…
A. Everyone is looking for the same philosophy, the same music, as if it accompanied you to the hidden, to the silence of the desert, without fear and in silence.
The mystery of light is the night, but it doesn’t matter where the landscape is: what leads you to paint it is the silence it transmits.”
Q. You are a painter from Castilla and also from the Canary Islands, worlds so dissimilar…
A. My father, like my grandfather, was from Granadilla, there remains something mysterious about the Guanche. I got to know the Cueva Pintada in Gran Canaria. Castilla is that plain that summons the silence of Unamuno, of Don Quixote. All landscapes refer to stillness, to silence. The air becomes calm, the wind paralyzes, the distant mountains send us a mysterious echo, and then the light of day begins to organize itself. The mystery of light is the night, but it doesn’t matter where the landscape is: what leads you to paint it is the silence it transmits. In my first exhibition in Madrid there were poets, like José Hierro; They called me mystic, and there has been something of that. I have always gone after the mysterious, trying to penetrate it.
Q. Years ago you said that you wanted your paintings to be a romance of peace in the universe. More than a phrase, it was a wish.
A. We have gone through a civil war. There were so many years of deaths, of illness, of tuberculosis in the Canary Islands, so many high school classmates died because there was no food: there were potatoes, tomatoes, any cold would knock the boys down…
Q. What is the Canary Islands for you? Maybe a poem.
A. A poem, yes. Maybe the last poem… I’m looking at you, Red Mountain. I look at your beaches, your silence, the contours of the sea when it breaks into you with the aggression of the waves. I look at the boats, I look at you, Red Mountain…
Q. ¿That paintings yours travel to Rome?
A. The last part of my painting. The most essential. ‘Landscape with horizon’, ‘Christ and Castile’, ‘Teide, clouds and white cups’, ‘Skulls’… That’s how Bonet chose him, and he is very wise.
Q. Your art is born and lives in awe.
A. Suffering falls within the arts and human pain. To philosophize is to learn to die. The world is very fleeting, like the time you live. You have a garden, but you have to cultivate it. You have to learn to meditate, to agree with silence, not to think… That stillness that you seek cleanses the things that you have been taught and that are of no use to you.