"Memory of the Woods" exhibition at MNH, Natural History Museum, Tenerife
"Always immersed in the idea of reflecting nature, Gabriel Roca studies the landscapes that surround him and trusts in drawing as a medium to express what he sees. But he also explores and recreates artistic techniques and methods from the past, or, as in this work, investigates the artistic possibilities of unexpected material: like the humble pine leaf, sharp and narrow, shaped like a needle. “ Carlos Díaz Bertrana, Canary Islands Art Center Director.
This exhibition was conceived specifically for the Natural History Museum as a project focused on aspects that are part of the life and culture of Tenerife, the pine leaves and the black sand. The black and white pieces are black sand inserted in glass, this is a new element Gabriel has been working with very intensively in the past months, as well as with the pine needles.
Pine needles, the memory of the woods
About the exhibition on Gabriel Roca in the Natural History Museum
Upon entering the inner court of the Natural History Museum visitors are greeted by a stack of pine needles announcing the exhibition of the work of Gabriel Roca being hosted by the museum until January 21. He is one of our most unique, exquisite and experimental artists; a gourmet and chef of the new gastronomy of art. Roca studies traditional art techniques and methods with intent curiosity, respect and devotion, refining and updating them before incorporating them into his artistic vision. He then presents them to us in works that echo the beauty of traditional painting, while at the same time announcing the future of art. Nostalgia for the past and the mystery of the unknown; tradition and modernity converge in his painting.
His “subjects” are landscapes, the language of drawing and the exploration of materials. He normally works in black and white, although in this exhibition he uses the colour of pine needles. He also thoroughly studies the techniques he is going to use in his projects, with an enthusiasm and rigour that is never deterred by geographic obstacles. He has travelled as far as China to study paper, inks and graphic art.
The pine needle, the memory of the forest, is the main protagonist of Roca’s latest series. Always eager for challenges, his art is continually inspired by the rhythms of nature and his examination of landscapes, which he faithfully expresses in his drawings. But he also explores and recreates artistic techniques and methods from the past, and investigates the artistic possibilities of the unlikeliest of materials. In this work, the modest pine leaf, which is sharp and narrow, shaped like a needle.
Drawing with pine needles…
Ideas come to Roca during his walks through cities or the woods; some he discards, others he saves for later and some are put to use in the studio. On his way to work on Teide Roca commonly passes through the forest on La Esperanza and one day he was struck by one of these ideas while observing the stacks of pine needles made by local farmers, known as pinocheros. He decided to take some of those pine needles with him. He placed a large piece of white cardboard on the floor and began drawing with the pine needles, using his hands and feet, with a dancing rhythm that permeates the images.
When Roca decides that a drawing is finished he photographs it; then he blows and sweeps the “original” away. The nature of such drawings is fragile and ephemeral, like the shapes and figures that emerge randomly on the ground of the pine forest only to be dispersed by the wind. The first two series of pine needle drawings were on paper, “Landscapes with pine trees” and “Portraits and figures”. Next came the biblical subjects and, encapsulated in glass, “Insertions”. All of his work is uncluttered, powerful, restrained and elegant. They evoke an emotional and conceptual equilibrium related to both Oriental philosophy and holistic ecology. They unite nature and sophistication.
Pine needles are often used as decorative material on the carts and flower carpets found in the traditional romerías and fiestas of the Canaries. They are reminiscent of the rites and mysteries of our ancestors, merging the sacred and the profane. Perhaps Roca incorporates them in his work not only for their “artistic” value, but also to evoke old stories and traditions. It incorporates the humid sounds of the pine forest into the language of contemporary art, in an artistic space that ranges from the vertigo of American abstract expressionism to the equilibrium of Oriental art.
The chill of the forest, the trembling wind in the pines, which inspire Gabriel Roca’s forestgraphics and his enthusiasm for exploring the expressive possibilities of “poor” material provided by nature, have in this exhibition their telluric imprint. The volcanic ash, the black sand of the beaches of Tenerife, introduced into contemporary art through the paintings of Oscar Dominguez and the poems of Andre Breton, who baptised Tenerife as the first surreal island, is the new material incorporated by Roca. And every material has its boundaries, the ineffable textures and densities imposed by the pine needles, their mute plant wail gives way to the mineral silence of the black sand. Roca continues searching for new challenges, to consolidate his artistic vision in other settings; as Apollinaire said, more than the reality of a vision, he seeks to show us the reality of an idea.
Carlos Díaz-Bertrana, Director of the Contemporary Art Hall of Canary Islands
The Canary pine (Pinus canariensis)
The Canary pine (Pinus canariensis) is a very old species. Fossils found in different paleontological sites ranging from Spain to Turkey indicate that it must have been widely extended over the Mediterranean region during the Tertiary Period. It disappeared from Continental Europe around 5 million years ago, probably due to the drastic climate changes that occurred during that geological period. However, in the Canary Islands it did not go extinct and continued to evolve with notable success. Today it is the most common tree in the archipelago, where it forms large forests in Tenerife, La Palma, Gran Canaria and El Hierro. Currently these pine trees, including those produced by repopulation efforts, cover an area of around 78,000 hectares, almost 60% of the forest area in the Canaries.
The needle-like adult leaves of the Canary pine are light green, long (20-30 cm) and very thin (1-1.5 mm), with a soft and rather flexible texture. They grow in bundles of three from a membranous basal sheath, a configuration not found in any European pines, but common among American pines. The leaves are more persistent in specimens that grow in semi-arid conditions than those found in humid areas. When they dry out they remain attached to the branches for a certain period of time, sometimes as long several months, until they finally break off and fall, covering the ground with a slippery thick brown carpet that we refer to as pinocha in the Canaries.
Pinocha (pine needles) is a natural resource that has been exploited since before the European conquest of the archipelago. For example, pine needle fragments have been found inside various Guanche mummies, possibly used for their desiccant and antiseptic properties. These aborigines also must have piled pinocha under the sheepskins or tanned animal hides upon which they slept, just as later island inhabitants used them to stuff their mattresses until recently. Pinocha is an effective repellent of bedbugs, fleas and other bothersome insects. Although increasingly uncommon, it is still sometimes used to make beds for livestock, from which an excellent manure is obtained. In the past, dry pinocha was also put into the bags used to store banana bunches and other fruit to protect them during exportation.
Today this natural resource is barely used because gathering it is difficult work requiring a great deal of manpower, making it unprofitable. It is cheaper to import manure than to collect pinocha. Year after year the pinocha accumulates in the pine forests, stifling the undergrowth and becoming a risk for forest fires.
For this exhibition, Gabriel Roca only needed a few jaces (bundles) of pinocha, which he transformed into delicate and ephemeral works of art, captured in beautiful photographic images.
Lázaro Sánchez Pinto
MNH (Natural History Museum) Director