Early Tapestries (early-middle 1984)
Acker-Gherardino curated Collazo's first mature exhibition, in September 1984, choosing from the Early Tapestries and including the first two paintings of the Middle Tapestries series. All 34 paintings shown were from the preceding nine months with the exception of one much older work. Acker-Gherardino explained that exception:
"...Emergence..., painted in 1976, was a prophecy, eight years in advance, of Collazo's mature modern style. It was also a prophecy of paintings to come after the present date. In this painting, as in the paintings produced in the last nine months, the brush ranges at will over the canvas, free, without constraint or presuppositions. Here, the artist is thinking with his hand, that is: the thought and the stroke are simultaneous. Long threads and swirls are built up to form the image, with a layered, cumulative force. Suddenly, they are slathered together to form a new ground. This is scratched into with new lines, the way ruins build up. New slashes of paint and skeins are woven over this. A chalky yellow shines through the predominantly blue lines."6
While Abstract Expressionism had the greatest influence on Collazo, his painting is firmly rooted in the Italian tradition of figure and landscape painting: "I am well versed in the Italian Masters from Cimabue to de Chirico and they have been a constant inspiration in my work."7 Again: "The things I think a painting should achieve, in my era, or in any era, are in the Italian masters, from Cimabue to de Chirco, in Giotto, in Giorgione, Bellini..."8 A lesser, but still important, influence were the eighteenth century French painters, especially Watteau.
With few exceptions, the Early Tapestries are figural and, without exception, all are landscapes. One common element, noted Acker-Gherardino, "...is the maze-grid, which is an ingenious way of establishing perspective and at the same time a transparent floor, also a way of folding space... or, more aptly 'warping space'. In none of Ralph's paintings do we come up against a solid wall of resistance. This is a floating world...."9 The maze-grid can be seen in Furnished Landscape, Court and Nervous Environment.
"...Lost Ground is a pivotal painting", said Acker-Gherardino, "This painting has more empty space than all the others. It marks the abandonment of "pretty", "nostalgic" subject matter and the first bold step into the brutal modern landscape, as embodied in the girder structure on the left. It is a spare, confident clearing of the decks. Soon, the paintings that follow will fill up with contemporary references.... To me, the significance of these elements, the girder and the grid-maze, is that everything can be penetrated and allows us the layering of experience, visual experience...."10
Sardonyx, with its girl on a swing and its splendid sense of air and movement, shows the early, but lasting, influence of Watteau on Collazo's sensibility; in this instance, The Swing (c. 1712, The Museum, Helsinki).
The shifting planes of the maze-grids float lyrically in Labyrinth; while in the masterful I Carve Up the Space, they break up the space in complex ways reminiscent of Analytical Cubism. The girder structure, of the "brutal modern landscape", appears in the form of an abandoned, underground railroad tunnel in subsequent paintings, such as In the Midst of Life; while in Spirit of Ohm, it appears as a high-tension electrical pylon and Elimination of Death "shows the spontaneous, almost chemical generation of a glittering tower of life, into the light of which a figure steps, already glowing with its reflection, out of the twilight blue with skeletal black structures of the background."11
One of the late paintings of this series, So Lonely Since You Went Away, is a meditative scene with seated figures at the edge of a forest pool and standing figures in the distance. It is similar to the earlier works, but is more sophisticated in creating a mood.
The Paintings of Raphael Collazo: Notes
6 E. Acker [Ernest Acker-Gherardino], unpublished manuscript, Hanging Ralph Collazo's Exhibition in Art Lobby, New York, 1984.
7 Raphael Collazo, proposal summary for Rome Prize Fellowship, New York, November 11, 1986, referring to Cimabue (Cenni di Pepo, called Cimabue, c. 1240-c. 1302) and Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978). From his childhood onward, frequent visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where he delighted in making a donation of one penny) gave the artist a first-hand acquaintance with the Italian masters.
8 Raphael Collazo, proposal summary for Rome Prize Fellowship, New York, November 1988.
9 E. Acker [Ernest Acker-Gherardino], unpublished manuscript, Hanging Ralph Collazo's Exhibition in Art Lobby, New York, 1984.