For several years, the works of Tomás Sánchez have addressed the singular and vital relationship between man and nature. One of the main subjects of great art--literary, visual and performance--this critical relationship has occupied artists for centuries. In Sánchez's paintings, humanity is dwarfed by the splendor of nature--by the sublime. Drawing on nineteenth century precedents such as the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, Sánchez's paintings always present the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature. Endless waterfalls make up the backdrop to a grove of grandiose trees, among which the most regal is the palm tree.
As the ultimate signifier, the palm is crucial for allowing the viewer to immediately place the scene in the tropics. In her study of the representation of the tropical landscape, historian Nancy Stepan explored three areas of inquiry: natural history, anthropology and medicine. She discusses how palms evolved to become associated with the tropics:
Palm trees, which had long symbolized the origins of civilization in Asia or the biblical desert lands of the Middle East, were claimed by Alexander Von Humboldt to be the most noble of tropical plants, whose mere presence was responsible for much of the aesthetic impact that tropical landscapes had on the human imagination. Palm trees thus came to be valued in themselves, primarily as objects of nature. Over time, the palm became the ubiquitous sign of the tropics, images of it instantly signaling less a botanical species than an imaginative submersion in hot places.(1)
The unmistakable identification of the palm with the island is a major trope in artist's works. In this composition, a solitary figure is seated before the majestic falls. He sits at the river's edge admiring the scene. A single line along the center of the composition unites the four main protagonists in the painting: the mountain, the giant palm, the waterfall and the seated figure. Caught up in existentialist reverie, the figure takes in this view, perhaps fully aware that he is a key part of this chain of signifiers. On either side of this central line, the gathering of trees adds to the stage-like sensibility of the depicted space. Like luxurious curtains, the trees part, lining the river's edge, revealing the most significant part of the landscape-the distant, romantic vista. This is composition that the artist has continued to use, as seen in a 2005 painting titled Buscador de paisajes. The same basic landscape is depicted, but in the later work, the trees grow to create the sensation of a tunnel overhead.
This creation of a vista also has its origins in the history of art. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, noblemen built lavish estates with equally impressive gardens. One of the most important elements to these large gardens was the creation of a number of vistas so that one could be awed by nature and contemplate one's role in the universe. Taking up this theme in the current era, Sánchez's works retain an interest in the sublime qualities of nature, the creation of a formidable view, and the pondering of man's place within these realms.
Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Ph.D.
1) N. Stepan, Picturing Tropical Nature, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999, 26.