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Flying Stones

It is now almost five years since this collection appeared in the meadows surrounding the Auditorium of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela and at that time, given that they comprised a small universe, they were namedthe “Field of Stars”. Now that they have recovered their own names, today they stand individually in Manuel Ruibal’s extensive studio of sculpture on the outskirts of Pontevedra. Today they are named individually “Origal”, “Verdal” or “Virsal”, names and echoes that conjure up sounds of overpowering myths and condensed poetic force; it is hardly surprising that the author of these works is an artist whose work has always been impregnated with lyrical poetry that becomes more and more essential and dense in order to express untellable tales; in this case, we are not faced with untitled works of art but with stones that are christened with individual names – names, like Ruibal, that invoke memories of birds, of their common names and of their flights. On second thoughts, this was the only possible way forward for an artist who, like Miró, has always pushed off with his feet to fly upwards towards the stars.

The prehistoric menhir used to fly, its function was linked to being projected into space, endeavouring to weave a line of communications or prayer with the ether, but the prehistoric menhir was anchored to the ground, its stability, its permanence, its residence on Earth connecting it to mankind, who it served before the written word as his expression of entreaties, of astonishment and of jubilation. Thus, given that still no part of it has been buried, we are faced with a new megalithic age, an individual rather than group expression, which can be called post-historic, because, as you can see, the ‘Amal’ menhir is in full flight.

One, three, eight tonnes of grey granite in full flight, at the utmost, alighting on a branch on its trance towards space, weighing no more than a petal. How, on the basis of such incrusted roots, does Manolo Ruibal manage to convert the imposing weight of the mineral together with the symbolic weight that it implies and the bewilderment it creates into a mere trace on the horizon and a never-ending red, yellow, grey or green flash in the eyes of the beholder? It is a secret, a secret that materialises in the words of Walt Whitman: “I liken my spirit to yours, stars, trees, mountains, animals. Abundant as you are, I absorb you all into myself and I become your master”.

Where does that leave the telluric connection? And the artist could answer with another question: Don’t you think it is fitting that I have returned to my origins, to search for those huge blocks among the mountains and lowlands that I am most familiar with to turn them into bird wings or light paper for my sketches? Sculpture is undoubtedly as much as anything else a process of transformation, a well-studied project rather than a mere circumstance. It is true that all processes, whether scientific or poetic, are similar in structure, in their fractured temporality, in the obligatory need to take a step backwards between a firm decision and quivering doubt. But in this process, Ruibal started out from the quarry in, let’s say Moraña or Campo Lameiro, to sketch a Zen drawing with a single, twenty-ton block of stone of rock, which also encompasses a frenzy of transportation that blends together control and madness, this particular process goes well beyond theoretical structure to become something of a witch-doctor or visionary. The work of art in itself is still not the point.

When the artist amuses himself exorcising threat and immoderation by making minimalistic models of what will eventually become a completed work of art, it is merely proof that dedication calls for exercises in conviction. Curiously, however much it may be acclaimed scholastically by the gullible and know-alls, this sketch only works as a balm to help relieve the terror of a work of art that will never be the exaggerated extension of a painted paperweight but rather much more, a work of art that has to absorb his whole life dedicated to art by magnifying the harshness of that journey through life. What that medicinal contemplation of the small models does provide is a series of technical trials of how the pigment will behave on the mineral, the efficiency of the colour range to be employed, and above all, the outline traced on stone, the lightness of graphite on paper in conjunction and proximity with the grey slab of stone, whose eventual full-scale behaviour is, at this precise moment, still the artist’s intuition and desire.


After all, it is the artist’s job to make these megaliths finally fly and dialogue with space, for which he shall be equipped with no more than a finely sketched design and a single field of continuous colour. We were reminded of this by Tomas Paredes on the occasion of the first presentation, when he expounded the concept, by no means superficial, that this “Field of Stars” performed better as a joint composition and deliberate installation for a specific site: “Indeed, with stone, the language does not change substantially – what changes is the material, the body, the relationship between form and substance, but the pictorial and picturesque poetry remains – there may be changes in the syntax but the content of the message remains unaltered”.

So now come near to this large stone and notice the groove carved at an angle which is the sketch design prior to the painting stage. Far removed from cultured meaning or historical reference, you can see, if you come close, the artist’s early sketching:So now come near to this large stone and notice the groove carved at an angle which is the sketch design prior to the painting stage. Far removed from cultured meaning or historical reference, you can see, if you come close, the artist’s early sketching:
Traces of light that lead the way, Shade made of shadows and solids,  The shadow of non-stop architecture, A skyline that performs like a pathway, A groove carved with his eyes, With no further artifice.
In his magnificent book published on the occasion of the public inauguration of the “Field of Stars”, another great specialist on the work of Manuel Ruibal, Xosé Antón Castro, gave credit to the forcefulness of the colour in the sculptures: “The pictorial message captures our attention as one roams the space of the Field of Stars, the light, warm and rising gesture that surrounds these polished stones reaching to the heavens and enhances their value as anthropological metonymy, moles with human warmth, a land of fables, a magic garden, the specific chosen place”. But now, that specific site, that resonance and those links to a concrete parallel meaning that works of art imply overall – that is why the term ‘installation’ was used but is now no longer suitable – have been charged with individuality and these statues have become individual masters of their own destiny where sculpture has taken over. And stone has returned to stone. The groove has taken control in what represents a return to the importance of the sculpting process and the long period of time it takes to create and elaborate every stage in each of these pieces.
There has been talk, and such opinions are not lacking in rigour or concretion, of the presence and significance of sculpting values in Manuel Ruibal’s paintings, which can be seen in the controlled curvature of the subtle concavity of the columns and in the volume of the side wings that gives them a solid appearance and affords them a powerful three-dimensionality. The granulation and original meanings that from the mid 1990’s were the basis of many of his large-format paintings were even then a sign of the Ruibal’s intention to go further and beyond. And although many of these rules have to be repeated as they stand because they are the unchanging way of categorising the so-called genre of art, each object has its own set of rules; the difficulty lies in knowing when the latter are instilled as mere accessories or even in discovering what reasons resist any type of unsettlement and end up being depicted as intrepid hearts in the final work of art.

Alberto González-Alegre