From the later 1960s and into the mid-1970s Claudio Bravo produced a series of intriguingly enigmatic paintings which demonstrate, in both subject and form, important links to Contemporary art in the United States and Europe as well as to Old Master painting. His "packages," studies in color harmony and tactile suggestions, represent the artist's first major departure from portraiture, which had been his principal subject since arriving in Madrid (where the package paintings were mostly executed) from his native Chile in 1961. The Paquete Azul is a perfect example of these highly appealing and mysterious images, paintings that compel the viewer to ponder the presence beneath the wrapping, just barely tied with string. While it is impossible to know exactly what the objects beneath the wrappings in these package paintings could be, it seems most likely to be a stretched canvas.
On the one hand, we might associate these images (which Bravo did in a variety of colors, from bright red to purple, brown and the cool blue of this example) with the North American Pop artists' use of common, everyday objects, and indeed Roy Lichtenstein employed the subject of the stretcher frame in several works from the late 1960s. We might also turn to the Spanish tradition for an explanation of the genesis of Bravo's package paintings. Traditional Spanish still lifes (by artists like Sánchez Cotán, van der Hamen and even Goya) placed great emphasis on the "realness" of the objects depicted, demonstrating an almost trompe-l'oeuil fascination with keenly reproduced observed appearances. In the twentieth century, both the "real" and the "everyday" have been at times appropriated by Spanish artists in their works. The Catalan master Antoni Tápies employed, for example, a real canvas, turned it around and called it his 'Stretcher Painting' (1962). In fact, Bravo, in explaining his interest in the theme of wrapped packages has stated: "I think that I was originally inspired to do these pictures after looking at some works by Tápies, who I greatly admired, He'd done paintings with string that resembled wrapped objects." Among other recent Spanish artists who have executed analogous works are Manuel Boix and Arturo Heras.
For the theme of wrapped canvases we may also consider the art of earlier eras. Some of the minor Dutch masters of the seventeenth century, such as Cornelis Gysbrechts, or the Italian Baroque painter Antonio Forbora depicted canvases and stretchers wrapped and tied with string. The American nineteenth century trompe-l'oeuil artist John Haberle, also depicted this theme. Thus we see that, historically, there are many precedents for Bravo's use of this subject. Visually, however, he has created a unique and highly compelling series of images of which Paquete Azul is one of the most distinguished.
The package paintings were the subject of Bravo's first New York exhibition held at the Staempfli Gallery in November-December, 1970. They announced the Chilean artist's very personal brand of realism to a Manhattan audience. In describing this event, and the series of paintings that constituted it, the artist stated: 'There's some mystery in the wrapped packages, but what I really wanted to paint was the wrapping itself. I wanted to give them a sense of trompe-l'oeuil tactility. I'm constantly realistic.'
Edward J. Sullivan
New York, March 1997