One of the world’s most famous works of art is Pablo Picasso’s “Don Quixote.” The sketch shows the eponymous knight, his squire Sancho, a blazing sun, and windmills all around. What is remarkable about Picasso’s portrait is its simplicity: If you had a lot of patience, you could probably guess the number of strokes required to compose it. Picasso completed the final image in a single day (August 10, 1955, to be precise), and it probably took less than 10 minutes, yet those two black-and-white figures have achieved nearly the same immortality as “Guernica.”
Bear this in mind if you visit the National Theater this month and order yourself a coffee, because artist Guillermo Fournier’s exhibition “Documentos en Línea” has similar qualities. Liberally translated as “Documented in Lines,” Fournier’s series is about as casual as sketches can be: He draws in pen on lined and Xerox paper, and no drawing could have taken more than a few minutes to draft. They hang in the National Museum’s café, otherwise known as the José Luis López Escarré Gallery.
A typical response to such works is “my kid could do that,” and some visitors to the gallery may feel underwhelmed by his portraits. If Fournier’s series is worth framing and hanging in the National Theater, why not display the doodles of any middle-school student with a boring pre-algebra class and a legal pad? What makes Fournier so special? Why should his drawings be “art,” while everyone else’s are (shall we say) marginal? The reaction is legitimate, and it is certainly an easygoing portfolio.
But sketches are sometimes the most provocative part of an artist’s oeuvre. “Mona Lisa” is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, but few art fans can resist Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, whose sketches and studies dig deeper into the artist’s everyday mind. It is extraordinary what a capable draftsman can render with a few dashes of pencil on paper. Fournier is no Picasso or Da Vinci, but his sketches, created during a residency in Córdoba, Spain, do reveal a lot about the man.
Fournier, whose budding career has earned him accolades and awards at the University of Costa Rica and Barcelona’s Museo Olímpico, seems to have a fairly low-key personality. Most of his characters are seated, and many of them look tired, spacey, or bored. Perhaps Fournier asked them to pose, or perhaps he simply started drawing the people near him; either way, the sketches look improvised, as if Fournier had been killing time. In “Estudios de Ñaqui,” a figure perches crossed-legged in a high-backed chair. Above him hover two additional faces. Like most studies, this sketch looks like preparation for a more finished work, but they allow us to see Fournier practicing, figuring out shapes and personality. Whoever Ñaqui was, Fournier shows us a raw interaction between artist and subject.
Generally speaking, Fournier doesn’t communicate much emotion. “Documentos” is precisely that, a documentation of everyday scenes, and most of his characters seem indifferent. One of his drawings is entitled “J.M., El Mexicano, y Su Camisa Rosa” (“J.M., the Mexican, and His Pink Shirt”). The way Fournier illustrates J.M., his shirt has a lot of personality: It looks fuzzy and broken-in. J.M. himself is disheveled and hunched, as if he just woke up. He crosses his legs on the couch and stares into space. His biggest preoccupation is probably what he plans to do today.
The real statement is not Fournier’s, but the National Theater’s. It takes guts for a major institution to give such prominence to sketches of this nature. In the past year, the gallery has displayed artwork that is fairly safe. In contrast, Fournier’s sketches won’t appeal to everyone; showing “Documentos” is a risk, and a risk worth taking.
“Documentos en Línea” is on display at the López Ecarré Gallery, National Theater, downtown San José. Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.–7 p.m., until August 8, 2014. Free. Info: Gallery website.