"I'm not a religious artist," Bravo once acknowledged, "but like great non-Catholic composers who wrote masses, I feel comfortable doing religious paintings." Raised in a conservative Catholic environment and educated by Jesuits in his native Chile, Bravo developed an early interest in Spanish mystical spirituality, fostered by his readings of John of the Cross and Teresa de Ávila. He gravitated toward the religious painters of the Spanish Golden Age, notably Francisco de Zurbarán, during his formative years in Madrid, but it was his removal to Tangier in 1972 that most enriched his understanding of the divine. "The intensity of spiritual vision which was already inherent in Bravo's imagination was both underscored and transformed through his contacts with the Islamic world," Edward Sullivan has remarked. "The concentration of emotional force with which Bravo is faced through his contacts with everyday life in Morocco has served, more than anything else, as a catalyst to reinvigorate his predisposition for seeing the world through a veil of spirituality."
Bravo cycled back to religious themes toward the end of his career, revealing a metaphysical and contemplative turn of mind as he considered the nature and nuance of an "old-age" style. With an eye to the expressive pathos of late Titian and Velázquez, he sought to distill his painting to essences of dissolved light and color, evoking an increasingly clarified poetics of form. This pursuit of painterly classicism has an important source as well in Bravo's study of antique sculptural forms. "I am deeply interested in calibration or harmony, something that also stems from my interest in the ancients," he explained. "I am interested in the classical ideal of perfection . . . perfection in terms of philosophy." An enduring classicizing impulse does permeate Bravo's late paintings, channeling an intense and emotional aesthetic experience that suggests an intimate meditation both on the nature of painting and on life itself.
Psalterium belongs to a series of paintings of luscious, draped fabrics that Bravo worked on between 1997 and 2002. Christened with religious titles--Benedictus, Offertorio, Annunciation--the series renders the sacred tantalizingly sensual through masterful illusionism and the luminous vitality of richly saturated, jewel-toned colors. A lyrical exegesis of the Book of Psalms, comprised of 150 songs and prayers that serve in Judeo-Christian ritual and worship, Psalterium interprets the poetics of Biblical verse through cascading color harmonies. The streamlined folds of painted fabric recall the timeless elegance of classical drapery: pleats of emerald green, topaz yellow, amethyst violet, and tourmaline pink brilliantly incarnate the spiritual wisdom and divinity embedded in their source. Here in the formal rhythms set by the fabric's billowing folds and creases, Bravo translates the emotional journey of the psalms, which move from songs of lamentation to those of praise and thanksgiving, into a moving panegyric of color and light.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1) Claudio Bravo, quoted in Edward J. Sullivan, Claudio Bravo (New York: Rizzoli, 1985), 76.
2) Edward J. Sullivan, "Obsession and Meditation: A Decade of Work by Claudio Bravo," Claudio Bravo: Paintings and Drawings (1964/2004) (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 256.
3) Bravo, quoted in "Conversation with Edward Sullivan," Claudio Bravo: Paintings and Drawings (1964/2004), 146.