Geologic form un-earthed: "Seeing through" the art of Pablo Palazuelo

by Richard H. Knight




"Science and art are two 'di-fferent' ways of getting to know the world,

ways which-from a shared origin-evolved separately. [...] The two

'di-fferent' conceptions as well as the corresponding attitudes and

activities reveal their reciprocal 'in/cidence' (the result of their common

origin) when they are studied in depth and 'without pre/judice.'"


--Pablo Palazuelo, (Vision-Time essay, Reina Sofía, 259)



Today science and art reflect two different ways of knowing the world. As a scientist, the geologist gets to know the world empirically, through the visual perception of nature's explicit geologic forms. The artist, on the other hand, gets to know the world through intuition, a prescient feeling that reveals the implicit nature of form itself. The art of contemporary Spanish painter Pablo Palazuelo provides a vehicle through which the geologist can know natural form by experiencing its misterium conjunctionis of complementary "desires", where arbitrary distinctions between science and art disappear.

Seeing through Palazuelo's art gives the geologist an insight into the way in which nature constitutes itself, an insight that completely reorients and clarifies the geologist's way of thinking. This fresh new perspective opens the window of conscious perception by awakening the scientist's dormant sensibilities. Geologic form was unearthed before me in this manner several years ago during a visit to the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca, Spain. The Lunariae series of Pablo Palazuelo caught my eye. At first glance I saw a brittle fracture system, not unlike ones I had mapped in a surface outcropping of rock or in an underground mine exposure. However, I soon realized that the series of images was revealing much more than the static equilibrium resulting from the resolution of tectonic forces. The vibrant, graphic interactions of a minimal number of carefully configured angular forms evoked the experience of an actively evolving, dynamic deformation sequence of some particular, yet universal tectonic terrain. As a trained geologist, I was mystified by the realization that I had just seen previously unknown geologic relationships revealing themselves within an abstract painting-an unexpected coincidence of science and art.

The uninterrupted procession of Pablo Palazuelo's paintings embodies, what he terms the "unlimited horizon of possibilities" of nature's way of formation. His desire to know the secrets of matter, as opposed to its mere representation, lured him into the profound mysteries of alchemy and inspired his life-long investigation of form. In 1953, he discovered his "idea," to translate the rhythms of nature into plastic art. He called his idea Trans-geometría. The discovery entirely changed his way of looking at the world.

Trans-geometría embraces the irresistible desire or tendency of one form to transform into another. Palazuelo has described how this desire announces its presence in a preconscious state during the painting process: "When I'm working in my studio the prolonged contemplation of a certain form or coherent structure invariably provokes in me a vision through which I perceive, in the form I'm looking at, a latent impulse which is almost a need, a desire to change into other forms or into those it potentially contains" (Vision y Geometría [hereafter-VyG], 125). Accordingly, he believes that the shapes of matter should be seen as transitory passages rather than distinct states, where the mystery of their relationships, always other relationships, is revealed in the course of their metamorphoses and mutations. This new way of seeing form was initially expressed in his Solitudes series shown in his first solo exhibition in 1955.

For Palazuelo, natural number is the key to the enigma of formation. He explains: "Number is the source/fountain of forms. [...] Number is that which intervenes in all processes of transformation and its capacity to imagine is infinite; number is the 'great imaginator.' The diverse substances and mechanical processes which constitute the composition and conformation of rock are numeric structures" (personal correspondence between artist and author). According to Palazuelo, "Jung says it very clearly, when [form] becomes perceptible it is number or a geometrical structure" (personal communication). This innate number transforms itself through movement, which gives rise to perceptible dimensional configurations, such as signs, rhythms and forms, that mysteriously coalesce into coherent "geometrical structures."

Palazuelo describes the inherent qualities of the geometrical structures in his work El número y las aguas as follows:

"The drawn image is an independent set of signs which possesses an inner dynamism of its own that is governed by a significant global coherence and constitutes a system with its own semiology. Work drawn and so structured is an organism, a "living" configuration, since potentially, it contains the capacity to admit exterior intervention-manipulation-which might activate its inner dynamism making possible the development of the processes of continuous transformation, of its metamorphoses. It is, then, a "living" of fertile forms, since the development of its transformations implies the generation of lineages and families of forms. The system of drawn signs then becomes the vehicle and at the same time a suitable instrument for the treatment of information."

(El número y las aguas essay, Reina Sofía, 260)


The living dynamism, inherent in his art forms, impinges on his and his viewer's consciousness via an "all-intense perception"-a resonant interaction between "prescience" and "perception." According to Palazuelo, "Intuition is sort of pre-diction when you feel before feeling and you see before seeing" (personal communication). In this way, and despite the artist's will, prescient insight foreshadows the rhythmic procession of a "family" of his forms, as well as the surprising breaks that occur among the families or lineages of his forms. Perception of coherence among nascent configurations triggers a visual resonance that, in turn, engenders novel presentiments, and thereby initiates endless cycles of formal discovery. The artistic process of "giving body" to these forms, the process of experiencing these art forms and, for that matter, the process of seeing the implicit tendencies of nature's geologic forms through Palazuelo's paintings thrive on this vibrant, mutually informative "con-junction" of prescience and perception.

The artist's work, as well as the intervention of the viewer, summon the desire of one form to change into all other forms in Palazuelo's paintings. This interaction reveals the inherent complementary qualities of form-multiplicity in unity and unity in multiplicity. With reference to his work, Palazuelo says, "Sylva Sylvarum, the forest of forests, is a symbol that translates the idea that the unity at the origin of multiplicity becomes transparent or can be seen through this very multiplicity. Thus, all forests are simply one forest" (VyG,119). Similarly, when one looks carefully at nature's forms, the clear distinctions between matter and energy, density and intensity, particle and wave, and substance and process become blurred and inevitably disappear in what Palazuelo would perhaps term "the sublimation of opposites." This ethereal dualism manifests itself in the prototypical archive of water's forms, where waves flow through standing water and water flows through standing waves. According to Palazuelo, "One of the mysteries of the universe is the deep union between opposites, between things that are contrary to one another. What in the alchemical treatises used to be called the misterium conjunctionis, referred to the conductive processes, the union of matter and psyche, and to its consequences" (VyG, 116).

The geometrical structures or "geometrical bodies" of Palazuelo and those of nature share a common origin, although their familial ancestry and myriad symmetries, are the product of their particular sequence of composite transformations, metamorphoses and mutations. The individual path traced by each structure during its journey of conformation is etched in its "shared memory," which eagerly awaits the reactivation of its "latent vitality" by the continued contemplation of the artist or by the careful attention of the geologist.

The drawn images in Palazuelo's Conjunctionis series constitute an endless fountain of fertile, visual metaphors. Their unresolved tension stimulates an oscillating flow of forms and engages the memory of the viewer and that of the image in an open dialog. One can experience, for example, the dualistic tendencies of both energy and matter by following a few of the infinite trajectories of formation available to the viewer of the Conjunctionis series.

The intersecting lines in Conjunctionis I evoke the image of a vibrant flux of energy. Its points of maximal intensity begin to coalesce in dense clusters in Conjuctionis IV, which eventually nucleate, in Conjunctionis V, as crystalline constellations-the seeds of material progeny. These fertile seeds bear the memory of their unique journey of formation, as well as that of the energies from which they originally arose. Reactivation of this composite living memory allows its metamorphic tendencies to re-emerge in Conjuctionis IV. This transitory image suggests another formative path leading to Conjunctionis III, where one senses the intensifying vibration of its bi-dimensional ambiguity. One is drawn, by the dissonant harmony of its interwoven forms, through Conjuctionis VI, and on into Conjunctionis VII, where assemblages of forms clearly emerge. However, Conjunctionis VII, reminiscent of Conjunctionis IV, where the faint traces of its conception are recalled, as material form dissipates in the universal matrix of Conjunctionis I.

The always emergent forms of Palazuelo's Conjunctionis series and the diverse geologic forms of zinc crystals and fractured Menorcan sandstone, share a common desire and kindred aesthetic, which allows them readily to inform each other. A vision of unlimited possibilities of crystal formation and fracture propagation emerges through the interactive stimulation of Palazuelo's forms in Conjunctionis VI and VII. The visual tension of the ambivalent interface, which struggles to both bisect and unify Conjunctionis VI, provides a glimpse of the constant competition between the interpenetrating positive and negative tetrahedral forms of the zinc crystal. Conjunctionis VII reveals the surprising intricacy and momentary dominance of the resultant crystal habit. From another vantage point Conjunctionis VII foretells the emerging predominance of a set of propagating brittle fractures as they segment a piece of Menorcan sandstone. The image of a displaced energy trace, suggesting the translation of a shear couple, transects Conjunctionis VI and predicts the incipient extensional vein opening, where zinc-bearing solutions choose to crystallize. In turn, one can visualize the zinc crystal being cleaved by the reactivation of the very fissure in which its parental solutions were concentrated.

Although Palazuelo's drawn images may reflect or suggest the explicit symmetries readily perceived in the crystal form or the fractured rock, it is the dynamism, harbored in the memory of his images and in the memory of rock, which, upon activation, evokes the experience of either crystallization or its apparent opposite, fracture propagation. In this way, the clearly perceived distinctions between disparate substances dissolve and the differences between complementary formational and deformational processes are sublimated. The crystal face and fracture surface reveal the unity which underlies their elaborate display of manifest symmetries. In this perspective there is no difference between the crystal form and the fracture which deforms it, nor between the fracture and the crystal which forms within it-geologic form is un-earthed and the geologist's vision is transformed.

The informed geologist thus "sees through" the transparency of constructed orders and the superficial distinctions of rock that they once carefully discerned and measured. In this light, the infinite symmetries carved by the rhythmic oscillations of synthetic and antithetic fault structures, as well as the vital interfacial struggle recorded in the crystal's polymorphic aggregations, inform the geologist of their unlimited formal potentiality. This prescient knowledge allows the geologist to sense the internal necessity that lies at the heart of explicit form, and thereby predict its desired path of transformation, unencumbered by the prejudice of preconceived ideas.

The mysteries of the earth's depths begin to reveal themselves as the geologist awakens latent metamorphic tendencies embedded in the "distant memory" of enfolded tectonic conformations. While the geologist peers carefully through serial sections depicting the earth's symphony of evanescent symmetries, a visual resonance is unintentionally rekindled. Its vibrant nodes induce a diffuse presage, a projection of the rock's seminal dynamism. This presentiment manifests itself, as a transitory image of a living framework or "dynamic." Mysterious numeric trajectories of formational tendency provide the coherent links that bind this tenuous framework together and provide the vital percepts, which allow the natural lineage and inner nature of manifest geologic form to be known to the geologist.

One such empirical framework, envisioned as the image of a breaking wave, provides a natural context, which serves to guide the economic geologist in the search for the earth's elusive ores. This metaphor flourishes deep within a zinc mine in northern New York state, where the tendency of the ore-controlling fold structure to buckle and fail or the wave to crest and break-indicates where the ore desires to reside (GSA).

In this manner the geologist's insight unexpectedly provides a formal context within which nature's diverse assemblages of rock and the various families of Palazuelo's art works can be intelligently related. Similarly, the dynamic serves as a stage upon which the orderly themes of provisional theoretical scientific constructions can be enacted.

In the future, science must awaken and reinvigorate its intuitive, common sensibilities in its quest to make sense of the world. Prescience, in this light, becomes pre-science, the intuition which precedes scientific knowledge. Similarly, perception becomes per-ception, as the scientist sees through to the heart of form. Liberated from prejudgment, the scientist will be allowed to re-discover, in his distant memory, that which he already knows. According to Palazuelo, "The forms of fantasy, the visions of imagination and dreams are forms which reveal themselves to the human mind-well-rooted to the earth-which consciously or unconsciously "sees" the forms that centuries ago were forgotten and foresees those not yet born" (Energy, Matter and Form essay, Soledad Lorenzo, 9).

Palazuelo's presentient art informs the vision of the perceptive scientist. The geologic form, unearthed by the geoscientist, informs the images of the artist. In this sense, through their open dialog, the conceptions, attitudes and activities of science and art do indeed reflect their "reciprocal in/cidence."

"The image is the experience itself."

--Pablo Palazuelo (El cuerpo geómetra essay, Theo, 2)