A Galician Artist’s Return Home

Vicente Blanco, untitled work (2023), colored pencil and watercolor on paper 25.59 x 19.69 inches (all images courtesy Galería Néboa)

LUGO, Spain — There’s a tension in Vicente Blanco’s work that keeps us looking. Open-ended and laced with symbolism, his drawings of humans and animals recall myths and fairy tales in which characters help, trick, and seduce each other in turns. Of course, they must first be close to each other in nature, as in rural environments where people hunt, farm, and depend on animals for their survival. The context fits Blanco’s own life: After living and working in cities like Madrid, San Francisco, and Berlin, he returned to his home region of Galicia and has been living in the village of Coeses for the past 10 years. Blanco began his career largely as a video artist, but moving back to a rural part of northwestern Spain put drawing at the center of his practice.

Galería Néboa’s Os coleccionistas de formas, meaning “the collectors of forms” in Galician, presents Blanco’s quietly complex recent work, where things are rarely what they initially seem. The show’s largest pieces first appear to be textiles, but close inspection reveals them as colored-pencil drawings on pigmented gessoed canvas. In these works, which are untitled along with the rest of the pieces on view, Blanco’s thin, thread-like marks resemble fields of delicate embroidery cut by dripping shapes that drift between human anatomy and botanical or animal forms. Rendered in uniform hues and techniques, these images take time to decipher and generate a confounding sense of dimension.

Blanco’s delicate, repetitive lines imply an immense amount of focus, as if created as a meditation or prayer. And yet, each canvas is haunted by a single nude figure who, though small and almost cartoonish, infuses the landscape with an air of menace. In one work, the man marches forward holding a long gun. A claw-like hand covers a human figure’s mouth below him, buried in Blanco’s threaded lines. Nearby, a fox cries out. Blanco’s mix of violence and sensuality is subtle but pervasive. Visual tension also emanates from the marked contrasts in Blanco’s use of rich purples against terse whites and searing neon yellows.

His works in pencil and watercolor on paper are looser and more gestural, though no less cryptic. His protagonists have pliable, gummy bodies that droop and twist at odd angles. Their ambiguous postures and gestures suggest a storyline, evoking an untold narrative that extends beyond the artwork’s frame. In one piece, a male figure with a sinister grin drags a weasel-like creature by the neck while a fox wearing shoes, socks, and a coat smokes in the background. Hatched vertical lines between the figures suggest grass, trees, or even flames, perhaps nodding to the artist’s own rural surroundings.

The show marks one of the first times that Blanco has publicly exhibited his sketches and studies, granting us a window into characters and scenarios that may later appear in finished works. We see the artist using the pencil and paper as a record and laboratory to conjure them. His sketched lines carry a vulnerability and even fragility, giving us the sense that they were never meant to be seen. Amid works that are so much about power and ambiguity in nature, Blanco’s sensitive approach to drawing imbues the work with an indisputably human touch.

Os coleccionistas de formas continues at Galería Néboa (Rúa Lamas de Prado, 31, Lugo, Spain) through April 13. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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