Dated in 1959 the present work falls under the period of Fernando Zobel's celebrated Saeta phase. Saeta is the Spanish word for arrow and it is also the name for a genre of usually sad and dramatic Flamenco song that is always spontaneous and improvised. One could see the affinity between the name and the work as it is a series of works which the core of its expression is essentially linear, revoking the movement, the speed and the rhythm of a shooting arrow. Zobel has once commented "You might define the Saetas as drawing in thin lines against a field of colours. The real technical problem involved - one that took a long time to solve - was how to draw in oil paint, a line that could be very long if necessary, as well as thin and controllable. After many experiments I arrived at the use of glass hypodermic syringe, needle removed, filled with oil paint. The syringe is easy to handle and very sensitive to differences in angle and pressure." (Rod Paras-Perez, Fernando Zobel, Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Inc, Manila, 1990, p. 36.)
Zobel's speaks unabashedly of his liking for Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline and yet the influence of these artists is hardly ephiphinal and not without any inner struggle or evolvement within Zobel. It was noted that in the early 1950s "Zobel was interested in the graphic purity of calligraphers such as John Benson, and not in the gestural immediacy. Curiously, however, some seven years later, after the eye opening experience of a Rothko exhibition and an acquaintance with the work of Franz Kline, in addition to a greater understanding of Asian calligraphy, Pollock's influence becomes noticeable in Zobel's Saetas." (Peter Soriano, "A Biographical Sketch of Zobel's Formative Years" in ZOBEL, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2003, p. 259). In fact the fruition of Saeta as it first appeared in 1957 with the exhibition :Zobel: an exhibition of new paintings at the Philippines Art Gallery in Manila was almost a decade-long process of reflection and experimentation. It is noteworthy that he started to take Chinese calligraphy lessons in the early 50s. The interest the artist took on the traditional art form is not incidental but a conscious effort to resolve his quest for the divisive line between the figurative and the abstract. It was thus noted that "These no doubt were crucial in preparing the way to his understanding of gestural expressionism. He recalled later that, because of the paper's absorbency, Chinese calligraphy had a unique capacity to capture visually the speed with which the artist manipulated the brush. As a result, it was possible to see the pauses and rhythms, or musical meter, of such an art. Ultimately, Zobel's study of Chinese Calligraphy helped him identify the impetus for his own work, the recognition of his own hand's individual gesture and meter. Later, in the Saeta paintings, for example, there seems to be nothing Chinese about them. Rather, they are the work of an artist reaffirming his Western roots, particularly Spanish ones with all their echoes in Lorca." (Ibid, p. 261).
It would be a process of synthesis and assimilation; of all things that are captivating and echoed with the innate nature of Zobel. Hence, Saeta is a poetic summary of Pollock's dripping, the occidental calligraphy of Mathieu, Rothko's sense of the sublime, the architecture of Franz Kline picture and also the Zen garden of Ryoan-Ji in Kyoto where he first visited in 1956 and he would himself admitted that the "lines painstakingly traced with the rake would become "one of the starting points of the brilliant series Saeta." (Juan Manuel Bonet,
"A Tribute to Fernando Zobel" in ZOBEL, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2003, p. 265).
The discussion of the much debated figurative versus the abstraction bored the artist as he admitted at various occasions in his life. His expressionism is gestural, a mere tool to represent a fleeting moment and no one could surmise Saeta better than the artist's succinct words ""movement expressed metaphorically by the use of line, "the movement of leaves, grasses, trees, birds, people; movement observed and felt, never imitated; but I hope, translated." (Ibid., p. 266), Beholding the present work, with its lines elegantly arranged, at times sleek and light; and at others the lines gathered and blotched to form a dark space on the canvas surface that is suggestive of the mysterious and the profound. Indeed, Saeta alludes to Quevedo's words "The fleeting remains and endures." (Ibid).