MIGUEL MACAYA, SHADOW BOXER

It is only in his studio for many hours a day that Miguel Macaya paints self-absorbed men who sometimes seem to come out of their own self-absorption to look the other way, with a look of suspicion or contained fear, as if they have just discovered that someone is watching them and they try to remain calm or avoid danger by pretending that they have not noticed the presence of the intruder.

Miguel Macaya paints men alone and animals alone, although sometimes there is a man who observes an animal being absorbed in the proximity of its rarity, or he holds it in his arms as if he were holding a child, like that man with his back almost paternally carrying a hen. A man looks into the eyes of the animal and sees in them a tunnel of rarity. And although we, when looking at one of those paintings, we put ourselves on the side of man -what a remedy- little by little we begin to look at him with the same sensation of having in front of us an incomprehensible being that perhaps worries the animal. What is the world like when we don't look at it, or when a light doesn't light it up for us? And what are we like when an animal looks at us? What am I like when I look at the dog that sits near me while I write, and that has come out of its placid drowsiness when it realized that I was looking at it, and a moment later has lazily twisted its eyes again? With an expression of absolute intrigue a man looks at a fishbowl in which two fish swim. You could be looking at infusories in a drop of water through a microscope, or octopus or abyssal creatures on the other side of a submarine's ox eye, or better yet, one of those batiscafos that descend to the deepest chasms of the sea, where the fish are blind because there is no light to perceive. But what attracts their attention are not monsters, nor unheard of beings, they are two little fish imprisoned in a small glass container, which in turn look out a blurred spectacle that we would not know how to conceive.

That strangeness of the visible is at the heart of everything Miguel Macaya paints, and it is the first thing that attracts us when we approach one of his paintings. What we are seeing seems perfectly normal, but at the same time it is chilling, or very rare, or ghostly, or subtly comical. "Appearances do not deceive," says an aphorism by Juan Ramón Jiménez. A part of European painting, since Giotto, has engaged in similarity with the greatest possible plausibility of the appearances of things, places, human figures, animals, and in this attempt has continued the example of the oldest painters of which we are aware, of whom we are not even sure that they communicate by a system of language similar to ours, but who resembled us extraordinarily in their way of reproducing visible impressions and three-dimensional forms by means of stains and lines of colour applied on more or less flat surfaces. Rousseau speculated that music might have preceded articulated language. It would not be impossible for human beings to dominate the use of painting rather than words. The paradox is that this plastic impulse, which requires as much attentive observation as technical knowledge and manual dexterity, by showing things as we imagine that they also reveal to us their quality of ghosts, of enigmas, of possible symbols. We know that an Egyptian jackal is a god and not just a jackal but we do not know what an Altamira bison was as well as a bison. And we do not see what is in front of us, but what the narrow frequency of luminous waves to which our eyes are sensitive leaves us. We do not photographically record a spectacle as it is, but we elaborate, from the visual impressions of the retina, highly sophisticated interpretations in a certain part of our cerebral cortex, which has evolved to offer us an intelligible version of the external stimuli, adequate to the best interests of our survival, not to the most faithful reproduction of the world. Seeing is remembering, says neurophysiologist Oliver Sacks with insurmountable poetry: we see certain signs and we accommodate them to the patterns established by our experience, confronting them at the speed of light with an archive of images that we have been treasuring since we were born, and perhaps ante, because our arsenal of biological predispositions includes the instinct of interpreting images as well as that of verbal language.

Observing a horse, a cow, a dog, a bird, a zebra, probing the first lines of a drawing that represents them, Miguel Macaya sees the specific animal in front of him, or the one he has chosen in a photograph, or the one he remembers with his powerful visual memory: but at the same time he reconstructs from the data of a rich experience the abstract animal, the horse that is not entirely an individual but the entire species, or at least part of it, the white horse, for example, the immobile white horse, the one thrown at a nervous gallop. But the singularity of his art is that he knows how to transfer to the finished work the enigmatic process of knowledge, so that the horse, so truthful in its anatomy, in the dynamism of its march or gallop, in the blow of the hoofs on the ground, is nevertheless an illusory, generic horse, the very species of all the horses that have been existing and evolving in the world for a few hundred thousand years: those who hunted our remote ancestors, those who painted with fat and reddish earth and scorched wood in the caves, those who came as fearsome weapons of war brought by the nomads of Central Asia and thanks to whom empires were overthrown and built, the wild horses who learned to ride the natives in the oceanic prairies, the stony horses of Paolo Ucello, those drawn by Leonardo, those of Gericault, those of Degas, the cardboard horses brought to us by the Magi to the children in more candid times, or those others, also made of cardboard but bigger and more ostentatious, on which we sat -almost terrified, perhaps adorned with a Cordovan hat- in a photographer's studio.

Miguel Macaya knows that he always moves in an insecure terrain, and that can sometimes overwhelm him: if the animal is too concrete, it becomes an illustration and an anecdote; if too abstract, it loses its mystery of immediate presence. The animal that paints, the horse, the cow, the dog, remains alone and isolated against the background with the frozen movement or the melancholic stillness of the dissected animals behind the showcases of the old museums of Natural History, or in the penumbra of the shops of the taxidermists. Natural history acquires in these creatures a part of the mystery of Egyptian funerary art, its sadness of dead life and glass pupils opened forever in the tenebrism of the crypt, which must resemble the blackness that Miguel Macaya so delicately paints in the background of his paintings, not applying directly the black color of an oil can but adding little by little glazes, layers of colors that the untrained eye does not know how to distinguish and that sometimes have names as poetic as bladder green, ultramarine blue.

The animal reigned alone for millennia in art and in the perception of the sacred, long before human figures began to be represented. The animal was beautiful, swift, strong, fearful, indecipherable in its cunning and power. The life and death of men depended on him. That quality of inscrutable omnipotence is in the Palaeolithic caves and in the Egyptian sculptures and paintings, in the terrible fantastic animals of Mesopotamia. Domesticated, the animal retains its beauty and multiplies its gifts, but its closeness does not annul its enigma. Miguel Macaya observes him with an immediate and encyclopaedic attention, with a very his own mixture of spell and irony, because he is seeing and wanting to paint at the same time a totemic cow and a cow of pedagogical illustration and livestock exhibition, a dog that tightens the muscles and lays the pads of the legs on the ground - and how difficult it is to paint the weight of an animal, its gravity and at the same time its lightness - and that could also be the dog of an animal fable, a bird that is all birds and is sometimes a peaceful hen and a penguin that seems as homemade and domestic as a hen. But also the birds multiply and take flight and flutter and squawk in the dark and then they are already the birds of the madness of Goya's Whims and Nonsense. (Goya bursts into Macaya as a veiled presence that was always there but suddenly becomes visible: the black of mourning and bitumen of the black paintings and that of the ink of the engravings, the lunatic weightlessness of the animals or the characters that take flight, the blurred or brutal faces of madness, the peculiar eyes and rounded noses, slightly out of focus).

Only in his studio, for hours and hours, Macaya cavilates and searches, probes, intuits that there are animals that can be painted by him and others that are not, just as there are fruits that appear naturally in his paintings and others that are outlawed, just as there are details that are better to suppress, and others apparently trivial that deserve to be highlighted, even if one does not know why at all. Imagine and paint a man holding a dart in his hand and pointing it at a target we don't see. But if I had painted the dartboard the picture would be another, it would become the illustration of an anecdote. To paint is to make very serious decisions alone and as in dreams. "How can I paint a melon? Impossible. What about a watermelon? A watermelon is the last thing!" And yet he paints apples, lemons, turnips, garlic, quinces. An extraordinary draughtsman, he controls virtuosity: he fears that an apple that is too apple, a lemon that is too exact, would incur in the juggling of the skillful, even worse, in the agricultural still life. A cherry, a plum, would be directly criminal. So he chooses apples that are somewhat platonic, like those of Cézanne, and lemons with a slightly vague yellow glow that makes them look like quinces, because what matters to him, once again, is the very difficult balance between the concrete and the general, the tangible yet symbolic form, which reminds us of the joy of earthly fruits and also the condition of simulacrum and shadow, the precariousness of all that is visible: If the darkness of the background were to advance a little more, we would no longer see these fruits; and it will suffice for a little time for these sharp forms to begin to soften and corrupt, as the painters of Baroque still lifes were busy reminding us. In those paintings called vanities in the 17th century, the brightest apples had a minimal stain of decay, and on the same table where the gifts of earth, the signs of power and the inventions of intelligence - a score, a lute, an open book - were laid out, there was also a clock indicating the fleeting nature of the time of life and often a skull. The human reduced to the final bone: the most precise form, and also the most abstract. A skull is the relic of man and the portrait of no one. Miguel Macaya, who paints still lifes more frugal than a dinner of Carthusian monks, penitential and hunger still lifes next to which those of Zurbarán and Sánchez Cotán are almost Dutch feast still lifes, arranges the skull alone on the table covered with a white canvas in which there is no longer any trace of food, not even those crumbs that the hungry nobleman of Lazarillo spread over the beard to pretend that he had eaten. The angles of the canvas look no less white and no less hard than the bone. The skull is perched on the edge of the bare table, on the very edge of darkness and light. The ruin of life and time has ended in a bone perenniality.

The torvo catholic emblem is also a study of the possibilities of visual representation: how painting becomes new not through the play of the hands of amnesia and the papanaticism of fashion, but through the obstinate study of an incessant tradition; how the maximum effect is to be sought not through addition, but through subtraction. Remove everything, even the title of the paintings. Velázquez removes from the background of his best portraits any suggestion of scenography and thus the figure stands out against the dark and the empty in all its existential integrity. Remove more, limit the colors to the gradations of black and white, the forms to those two objects that are at once archetypes, the skull and the table, the angle of the table, the cloth that bends and falls, the immemorial problem of representing exactly that, hard matter and air, presence and emptiness, the hollowness of the shadow. In the more Robinsonian than monastic solitude of his studio Miguel Macaya confronts the problem of painting a skull or a bowl with a few apples and having in his memory all tradition looks at things as if no one has painted them yet, only in his art, in his job as a painter, like those characters who when they turn their backs on us remain in front of the darkness, or like those who hypnotically look at an animal or turn their eyes towards that exact point where we are looking at them. Look at the things that surround him in the studio, as heteroclite as those that a shipwreck would have saved, or as those seen in some baroque paintings; a trumpet, a bullfighter's cape, a telescope through which he hasn't looked for a long time, a double bass, a stationary bicycle - the rubber handle of the stationary bicycle is very useful to support him without damaging the mast of the double bass -, a human skull, probably a woman's skull, a bull's skull, various containers for hydroculture that have long since run out of water, a jug of water - near the double bass, to ensure the humidity of the wood, perhaps also to observe the delicate effects of light passing through the liquid and glass - various models of airplanes, showcases with dissected birds from some natural history cabinet, an old stove, old computers, a radio, a bugle, various mirrors (when looking at a picture in a mirror, one discovers errors that the direct gaze does not perceive), a bar cabinet (empty). Miguel Macaya looks at things as if they have just appeared inexplicably; he enters the studio at night and turns on the light and examines them like the Egyptologist who walks the lantern through an Egyptian crypt; He surprises them from unexpected angles in the studio mirror, in which he will also see his own solitary face, the rare face that one becomes when one has been absorbed in something for a long time; he looks at the white wall, according to Leonardo's advice, spying on the forms that may arise in it, as he looks at the paper or the blank screen who is going to write and has not yet found the first word. In the studio Macaya fights alone with uncertainty, with those boxers who fight with a sandbag or with an invisible adversary in front of a mirror. Shadow boxing, it's beautifully said in English, shadow boxing. Poetry is almost everywhere, except in a large number of poetry books; it is mostly in the metaphors of common speech: in English shadow boxing also means dealing with an opponent cautiously, avoiding arriving early at a final decision. In his shadow boxing Miguel Macaya explores uncertain possibilities, how far to show something, when it must be hidden, which part of a figure will receive the light, which will remain in darkness, or directly submerged in darkness. Drawing is the attempt, the first approximation; where is the line of greatest resistance, how to advance without being trapped, without becoming entangled in a mistake. Drawing is essential to think, to intuit what does not yet exist, to define the outline of that mobile and fleeting shadow that one faces. And next to the shadow boxing is the other model of solitude, that of the courage of the bullfighter who waits, who tenaciously obstinates in his job despite the very probable misfortune, who smokes a cigarette and snatches himself in the cloak as if it had given him cold, the escalofrió of fear, a moment before coming out of the penumbra to the dazzling clarity, from silence to scandal, to the sonorous gale of Miguel Hernández's poem. In painting even more serious than shadow boxing is the literal moment of truth.

Painting is a vocation and a trade. Like being a bullfighter, or a boxer, or a musician, professions to which Macaya also wanted to dedicate himself. More deeply, painting is a genetic predisposition, influenced by a very accentuated development of the visual cortex, which in turn is strengthened by training, just as in a musician's brain the area of auditory perception already privileged by innate aptitudes is strengthened. At school, Miguel Macaya was that child who fills the margins of textbooks and notebook sheets with drawings and who is so absorbed in his work that he does not pay much attention to what the teacher explains. Perhaps he was not the best student of Arithmetic or Language, but he drew heroes and fantastic animals and caricatures of teachers on the striped sheets of notebooks better than anyone else, and when he went out to the blackboard the figures seemed to sprout effortlessly from his chalk tip. Their classmates admired these children a lot, they sense that they are touched by a mysterious talent, which is already an anticipation of their future lives. The one who draws, like the one who imagines and tells stories, occupies a particular position among the members of the tribe, is distinguished by a rarity close to witchcraft. How can we understand the confusion of the world if someone does not organize it in time - through words and music - and in space - through visual representation? Miguel Macaya returned home with his notebooks and books full of drawings and there he found rather distractedly the results of the similar hobby of his father, who had learned to draw on his own with a pre-war manual - Drawing without teachers - and made pencil and nib sketches of bullfighting scenes. Miguel Macaya's father was a veterinarian who was fond of bullfighting and drawing, but it does not seem that he tried to encourage such inclinations in his son, perhaps because the parents of those generations prior to pedagogy were not missionally committed to directing our tastes, or because they worked a lot and arrived home tired and did not have time to pay too much attention to us. They were old parents who did not feel the obligation to flatter their children's self-esteem, so we sometimes approached them in the hope of deserving their approval and told us impertinence without remorse. Once, Miguel Macaya, who lived in Santander, returned home with a comic that he had just drawn, he remembers, a history of Cantabria, with heroes and warriors that must have looked very much like those he liked so much in Captain Thunder's cartoons (which had the merit of teaching one, among other things, to model musculature). Those Cantabrian heroes spoke to each other with a rather approximate archaism, and one of them greeted another saying "Hello, gentleman," or something similar.

Macaya showed the comic to his father, who leafed through it with less admiration than the boy had taken for granted, and who returned it to him with a distracted comment: -You have written "Hello" without an axe.

A wild talent breeds rougher, but also more vigorous. The Faculty of Fine Arts was generally not much more encouraging for Miguel Macaya's vocation than his father's opinion. He had taken the strange determination to become a painter just at a time when all the formidable orthodoxy of fashion decreed that painting was an obsolete art. The trade itself was taught by no one, except perhaps in those particular melancholy academies where they learn perspective and chiaroscuro, idle ladies and aspiring Sunday painters. Drawing seemed a skill as anachronistic as bobbin lace, almost as ridiculous. There was also, officially nourished, a cheerful notion that anyone could be an artist, especially if they were acceptably young - the concept of the young was expanding a lot - and if they cut their hair in a certain way. First the omnipresence of abstraction and then that of Pop had severed the links of continuity with the traditional knowledge of the craft - which the first avant-garde had not done - as well as discredited any notion of undisputed models of excellence, and both secure hierarchies. The cubists first and then the abstract had thwarted the system of spatial representation transmitted intact from Quiattrocento. Critics and directors of contemporary art museums - all following Alfred Barr, the founder of MoMA - had applied to the development of the visual arts the linear and cumulative model of scientific progress; art moved in one direction, according to a single possible account, and everything that did not conform to it fell into disrepute and then into oblivion: Cézanne, Picasso, the surrealists and expressionists, Kandisky, Mondrian, Klee, American abstraction, pop, conceptual art, and with it Marcel Duchamp's recovered daring, and from there the overcoming of the so-called traditional supports, and the good news imparted by Beüys that anyone could be an artist and anything a work of art. The new period of hegemonic official art began, as omnipresent and as ostentatious as the other official art of a century before, the large historical painting, so made exclusively for political clients and disproportionate spaces, biennials and documentas, so suitable for the figure of the mediator, the curator, who had and has something of a sorcerer and a political curator, to rise above the artist. In some faculties of Fine Arts, modest posts of Drawing teacher were abolished at the same time that chairs of Installations were created. In this general atmosphere, Miguel Macaya, who aspired to become a painter and to live honestly from his trade, entered once in a shop of artistic materials to buy himself a palette and had the bad luck to be surprised by one of his teachers. A palette! The professor looked at him with contempt. Why didn't he also buy a large blouse and a bow, and a bohemian painter's beret from a bad film, why didn't he go to Montmatre and sell the tourists squares from the dome of the Sacré Coeur, perhaps with accordionist clowns?

But it's not about changing one orthodoxy for another. There are artists who follow a path that is only their own and therefore solitary, and they do not do it out of stubbornness or to be contrary, but because they cannot and do not know how to act otherwise, and because the same mental disposition that has given them a look that does not resemble anyone else's, has provided them with the moral strength to advance alone. Miguel Macaya did not learn much in the Faculty of Fine Arts, but he got into the material knowledge of the trade and attended that unlimited and free school which is the history of art, and in which no more registration or credential is required than the pleasure of watching and learning, just as in order to receive the best practical lessons in literature with the most qualified teachers, it is enough to become a member of a public library. Just as his father had taught himself with that old self-taught manual, Miguel Macaya concentrated on studying a scholarly book in which he says there is everything someone needs to become a painter: Max Doerner's Painting Materials and their Use in Art. The book fell into his hands as providentially as that trunk full of useful objects that the sea throws to the beach where the shipwrecked man has been saved, and which allows him to reconstruct a civilized but solitary life on his island. Doerner's manual, published in 1921, is in itself a treasure chest, because in it the forgotten or lost techniques of the old masters are recounted with German thoroughness. Art has abandoned the solid principles of craftsmanship and therefore lacks a solvent foundation, wrote Doerner, whose book has had a powerful and also invisible influence on 20th century painting. Since Otto Dix and Christian Schad imbibed it to create images as disturbingly sharp as those of Brueghel or Dürer. In its pages Miguel Macaya fed his urgency to know everything, what seemed to no longer matter: how to draw, how to prepare a board or a canvas, how to make colors, according to recipes that are between cooking and alchemy and thanks to which it is possible the prodigy that after centuries have remained intact the subtlest nuances of a flamenco painting or an Italian fresco. He wanted to lock himself in a studio to paint, but he knew that before he had to look at the world, so he went to London on a scholarship and spent a whole year watching painting and learning the trade, and he looked and learned even more concentrated because he didn't know anyone and spoke very little English. I'd look at those characters of yours that seem separated from things by a glass bubble. London has something of a formidable universal encyclopaedia for the wandering and curious traveller. Miguel Macaya was alone in the city with the visual attention multiplied by the forced silence and the difficulty of understanding the language. He read, painted, listened to music, toured the halls of those prodigious museums, the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, where he was overwhelmed by the Parthenon marbles and the Assyrian glazed ceramics, the National Gallery, where he went to see Van Eick's Amolfini Marriage and Velázquez's Venus del Espejo.

The Venus of the Mirror, with its modest nudity, with its rotundity of feminine flesh that nevertheless turns our back and only lets us see a very vague face in the mirror in front of it. The close and the remote: what seems to be exact realism and yet is a game of glazes and symbols, what is offered to us and yet denied us, the ultimate secret of any form of expression, which is to reveal by hiding and remain silent to say more. Dark history/and clear sorrow, says Machado's poem. Many years after his trip to London, Miguel Macaya, who does not usually paint nudes or women, painted a naked woman at the exit of the bathroom - another canonical theme in European visual imagination - and made her more similar to Velázquez's Venus than to Rembrandt's naked women, who are also usually wrapped in tenebrist veils and pose with the awareness of being observed by a man's inquisitive desire.

In one of these paintings the woman is on her back, so the mystery is total, although the carnality is so visible; in the other she is in profile, but it is not a complete profile, because you can see the thighs, the face, one of the breasts, but the upper part of the face is covered by shadow and a tuft of hair, so that the identity is safe, since we cannot see her eyes, veiled by a gloomy mask. And yet we are at the point, we almost see them, it would be enough if the lock had been removed with a casual gesture of the hand, with which it had turned towards us only a few degrees. Here we feel the artist's score, the boxing of shadows, and we also perceive his indelible determination: there is a precise posture, and not another; there is only one way for that woman with her back to lean slightly forward, as if looking at the feet that enter the bath water; there is only an instant, a single gesture that will allow that tuft of hair not to come loose from the collected hair, a single possible way of distributing penumbra and light. The sensation of instantaneousness corresponds to that of an immutable presence in time; the woman has an identity as precise as the lines of her body and the clear tonality of her skin and is living in a world that is ours, in a place that seems familiar to us even though it is reduced to the horizontal shape of the edge of a bathtub; and yet she is one of those tempting women of mythology and could be a nymph or a goddess, as Ulysses believed that Princess Nausicaa was when he saw her naked on a beach. It could be Diana surprised by Acteon, or Susana spied on by the old (in painting the female nude implies a greedy look of a man). Here, too, Velázquez's lesson is perceived: that Venus is not an earthly creature, and has a winged Love at its feet, but the face that we can barely distinguish in the mirror we sense is a brown and Spanish face, just as the Vulcan in La Fragua is both a royal blacksmith, a figure of classical statuary, a god, and the forge itself is a 17th-century Spanish forge and a grotto beneath Vesuvius in which the glare of red metals is almost extinguished by Apollo's solar irruption. As Velázquez there is no one, Miguel Macaya would ponder when he came out to see the Venus del Espejo at the National Gallery. He thinks again every time he travels to Madrid and enters the Prado, and stops in front of Las Meninas, in front of that dog that is the monarch of all dogs of universal painting. It seems to him that Velázquez, so formal in the middle distance of the painting, has a point of chulería, a stealthy desplante of acrata, unfolds by pure pleasure to dazzle his prodigious faculties.

Conceptualism disdains the craft knowledge of the painter's trade in the name of an intellectual acuteness that does not need the support of technical solvency. Conceptual art undoubtedly comes from the vindication of the artist's work promoted by the most innovative masters of the Quattrocento, anxious to see themselves cleansed from the affront of manual effort that equated them with artisans and confined them to the servitude of the guilds. When Leone Battista Alberti affirms the primacy of the disegno or Leonardo writes that painting is a mental thing they are meaning to say that they dedicate themselves to one of the liberal arts, and that therefore they do not belong to the inferior of those who live with the work of their hands. In Spain, El Greco became entangled in countless lawsuits to prove that his was an intellectual trade, and that he should therefore be exempt from the taxes paid by manual workers. Velázquez, in order to obtain the cross of Santiago, had to prove not only that he did not have Moorish or Jewish blood, but even more implausibly, that he had not earned his living by painting. In Las Meninas he does not paint himself in the act of painting: he is meditating, he is intellectually composing the scene that will be the same painting that we see. Conceptual art has never gone further...

Nor has the craft, the craftsmanship, the material process of the elaboration of the painting gone further. Painters such as Miguel Macaya are often looked upon over the shoulder by the orthodox of the complicated concept and trivial execution, as if the ancient prejudice against hand work still persisted, as if drawing well, preparing the support and materials well, giving brush-strokes that do not crack or come off after a while, colours that do not lose their brightness, was a routine and monthly occupation incompatible with the sharpness of intelligence and the daring of innovation. Who knows something about truth is very disturbed by those who pretend to know, who exercise their disdain at the same time that they are bitten by the fear that their imposture will be discovered. Painting pictures in the era of video art, cyberspace, virtual reality? Will this anachronism not be tantamount to writing letters with a bird's feather and sealing them and sending them with a horse mail? (or to writing letters simply on a sheet of paper, putting them in an envelope, stamping them, putting them in a mailbox, instead of sending an e-mail).

It is not only necessary to have the talent to persevere in painting at such a time: one must have the capacity for superhuman endurance, the stubbornness of a survivor, a morality on a par with that of that famous Alcoyano football club. Either you have to be like those second-rate bullfighters who never get the glory nor do you open the top squares, or like those banderilleros and pawns who continue to stand in front of the bull when your ass and belly are too heavy to jump the barrier in case of trouble, or like a boxer who stands firm despite the blows. It is necessary to have a sense of vocation as arcane as a waterpolista entered in years, or as a footballer or a referee quarentón that are not going to ascend of third regional and nevertheless they go out every Sunday to defend their colors in fields half empty that seem rather stony rural eras. How strange that there are no footballers in the gallery of heroes without the glory and future of Miguel Macaya.

They would not require excessive effort: it would be enough to remove the jacket of the suit of lights and exchange it for a shirt with luxurious vertical stripes, just as it seems that they have changed the montera for the absurd cap of waterpolista, or for the face protector of the boxer, or for the rubber cap of which he tries without much conviction a pair of diving goggles and a breathing tube. Miguel Macaya paints portraits on board in the manner of the old masters, but if the portrait was born as a proud and even challenging affirmation of individuality what Macaya portrays seems rather anonymous. There remains the bet, the magnet of the look, the emphasis of the profile, the custom of the headdress. What is lacking is the precision of the traits that define an individual separating him from all others. Once again we perceive here the score, the caution, the boxing of shadows: that man portrayed up close against a dark background that highlights his presence is intensely somebody and at the same time nobody, in the first place because his face is too similar to that of other men in Miguel Macaya's paintings, but above all because the artist has had the caution or cunning of having stopped at the exact limit of individuality. We recognize the thick nose, the round eyes, the neutral mouth, the expression that can be as much of absorbed curiosity as of irremediable indifference. We think of that implausible impostor of Borges, who hoped to succeed with his deception precisely because he was so brazen that no one could attribute to him the intention of lying. Are we going to believe that we have in front of us a water polo player, a boxer, a banderillero, a diver, when they look so much like each other? When do they mainly resemble each other in that there is no correspondence between their faces and their attitudes and the attributes of the sport they pretend to practice, which they wear as capriciously as Thelonious Monk wore a different hat every night? (A man of many hats is another poetic expression of colloquial English: a man who knows how to do many things, who has many hobbies or different abilities.) Miguel Macaya, who always keeps in mind the great history of painting - we imagine him wearing a fantastic hat inside which fits, by a mysterious trick of fakir, the whole imaginary museum of André Malraux - wanted to paint heroes or dignitaries in the manner of the flamingos or Rembrandt, as Piero della Francesca painted the great Frederick of Montefeltre in profile, with his fanatical eye and his profile of a bird of prey, with his magnificent red cap. He reflected that the hero, in the iconography of those painters, is distinguished above all by the way in which he fills the space of the painting and by the headdress that covers his head, which can be a turban or a warrior's helmet or a fur hat that declares its opulence or even a bandage like that of Van Gogh's mad self-portrait, which did not fail to contain a visual quote from Rembrandt. But in Rembrandt there is also imposture, the suggestion of comedy. The painter, alone in the studio for so many hours, tries on hats, puts on a military helmet in front of the mirror, a fur trader's hat, a Turkish turban, and in that pantomime it is as if he were also trying on other identities, parodying the rank of the potentates who pay him to portray them, or imagining that he has other trades: He pulses the strings of the double bass, takes the trumpet to his lips and looks at the mirror; he puts on a montera and thinks he wanted to be a bullfighter; he puts on the boxing helmet and sees a face of resignation to receiving all the blows; behind the transparent plastic of the diving goggles the objects of the studio are enveloped in an underwater turbidity.

But it is necessary to recover the seriousness and to continue painting, there is no other remedy. Painting is an inquiry into the appearance of things and the darkness of the soul, but it is also a job with which one has to earn a living every day; it is to look at the white wall and look sometimes in front and sometimes in deafness at the mirror, and also to carefully separate the yolk from the egg white in order to mix it with gum arabic and pigments according to the arcane instructions collected almost a century ago by Max Doerner; is to achieve that fluidity of the silly hand that one does not know exactly what one is doing and yet finds the first hint of a drawing, and then choose the board well and spread the grisaille over it, and attend to the progress of one's own work at the same time with painstaking handcrafted deliberation and with the point of astonishment with which a photographer sees spots appear and then faces under the liquid of the developing bucket. Painting is the secret satisfaction of mastering certain chemical processes, resolving with increasing security subtle problems of volume, perspective, chiaroscuro: and at the same time the uncertainty of not knowing anything, of advancing in the void with outstretched hands, of entering into a darkness that only illuminates very weakly in front of us, the darkness of the primitive night of tales, the same that enveloped things like inside an Egyptian tomb a moment before we turned on the light. Against this precise moment of blackness, which is in Caravaggio, in Velázquez, in Rembrandt, in Goya, the animal and human creatures of Miguel Macaya stand out as ghosts that will soon return to her.

Antonio Muñoz MolinaTHE AUDACITY TO LOOK 

"There is a moment when the eyes suddenly open to art, just like the ears to music or to a language that until then has been studied with the feeling of not advancing, or of doing it very slowly. Pierre Francastel, Giulio Carlo Argan, Erwin Panofsky and E. Gombrich taught me to look at works of art with wide open eyes and to seek their links with the real world, trying to see in them what their contemporaries saw and understand the place they occupied in their lives and belief systems. I think it was Baudelaire and Marcel Proust from whom I started learning to write about art, trying to use words as a magnifying glass to better look at what is in front of one's eyes, in paintings and also in reality. Much later, as an adult, I discovered Robert Hughes and wanted to take an example of his passionate clarity. The essays in this book have been written intermittently for nearly twenty years. Seeing them together now, I see that the randomness of the commissions and the pure passage of time has given them a certain involuntary unity, almost a narrative thread, which has much to do with the drift of my personal interests and hobbies, perhaps with the ethics and aesthetics that are implicit in the work of each writer. ANTONIO MUÑOZ MOLINA