‘The shadow of Velázquez came over Valdés work in an obsessive manner. Queen Mariana, with hair spread out like a fan, shortened neck and ample skirts over the farthingale is repeated in his work with the most widely varied techniques: phantasmagorical paintings with diverse colours and textures or sculptures made of bronze, these monumental pieces nevertheless preserve the feeling that inspired them, a certain je ne sais quoi of sorrow and fragility’ (A. E. Perez Sanchez, ’Manolo Valdés, Miracle Worker,’ in Manolo Valdès 1981-2006, Madrid 2006, p. 43).
Executed in 1998, Reina Mariana (Queen Mariana) stems from one of Manolo Valdés’ most celebrated sculptural series. Comprising wooden boards, thick enough to be modelled and bent, this large-scale figure conveys Valdés’ interest in natural textures and compositional simplicity. In Reina Mariana Valdés returned to primary sculptural shapes and geometric forms, such as the cylinder, cone, and sphere. The three-dimensional bulk of Reina Mariana - its primitive form, the inlaying, fissures and engravings - emphasise the materiality of an invitingly tactile block of wood. Throughout his career, Valdés has sought creating immersive experiences through the medium of sculpture. As the artist explained, ‘the patina emerges finally because people touch it’ (M. Valdés quoted in K. Nordahl (ed.), Manolo Valdés - Las Meninas: in Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf 2006, p. 15). As such, Reina Mariana stands autonomous, without a pedestal, seeking vicinity to its viewer on a human scale.
The Reina Mariana sculptures stemmed from a series of paintings that Valdés pursued until the 1980s. In an exhibition in 1982, Valdés transformed the two-dimensional Reina Mariana into a three-dimensional sculpture and began to analyse its volumetric potential. The paintings convey a dense materiality, with torn and stitched cloths, burlap sacks and layered paint, adopting a fresh pictorial language. Valdés closely studied the work of Old Masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt, Monet and Matisse, Spanish artists Francisco de Zurbarán, Diago Velázquez and Francisco Goya, and also contemporary artists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. The figure of Reina Mariana recalls the iconographic theme of Velázquez’s Queen Mariana (1652-1653) and Las Meninas (1656). As the artist noted, ‘I am fascinated by this painting, and I always choose the same figures from it: Reina Mariana and the Infanta Maria Teresa … It’s an image I can keep linking to different motifs, a subconscious motivation that can look like a bell or other similar imagery … Las Meninas is an image that continues to interest me and which is, for me, an extremely powerful one’ (M. Valdés, quoted in Manolo Valdés: Paintings and Sculptures, exh. cat., Istanbul, 2013, p. 27).
The present work is characterised not only by its visual references, but by its unique anatomy of unpolished wood. From the 1980s, Valdés began to employ a greater variety of techniques – such as soldering, fusing, and welding – to increasingly expressive ends; the artist has produced sculptures of Reina Mariana in different scales and materials including bronze, alabaster, lead and wood. In 2000 a monumental Reina Mariana was placed in the rotunda of the Boulevard Salvador Allende, Madrid; in 2004 Valdés installed a Reina Mariana sculpture in Valencia. In Reina Mariana Valdés’ handicraft and artistry is impeccable, even when it serves to give the appearance of disintegration. It is precisely in the gestures of deconstruction in the sculpture’s smooth wooden surface that the essence of Valdés’ style resides.