ONE WORK: Jordi Alcaraz’s “Book of Prayer”

Book of Prayer by Jordi Alcaraz in Defying Boundaries at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts. Photo credit: Betty Brown.

ONE WORK: Jordi Alcaraz’s Book of Prayer

in Defying Boundaries at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts
through August 31st


By Betty Brown

Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one…

~Federico Garcia Lorca

Spanish artist Jordi Alcaraz uses mirrors, sheets of clear plexiglass, dry wall, rocks, and ink to create framed rectangles of constant wonder. The artist pierces the plexi surfaces to sculpt rounded indentations that suggest cups or caves or the bent hands of prayer, then marks the background of dry wall (or paper or parchment or the aged pages of a blank book) with elegant gestures in black ink. In doing so, Alcaraz presents constructions that allude to both the history of painting and the often-jarring juxtapositions of surrealist poetry.

Across the burnt-out skies
there blazes a monstrance
between throats of rivulets
and branches of nightingales.
Stained-glass springs up…
Angels and seraphim are crying:
Holy. Holy. Holy.

~Federico Garcia Lorca

Alcaraz’s 2017 Book of Prayers is a mid-sized wall piece (just over 31″ x 39″) centered on an antique book opened to two blank pages. (Titles are given in Catalan and Spanish, as well as their English translations, i.e., Llibre de Pregaries/Libro de Plegarias/Book of Prayers.) The two sheets of plexiglass form the top layer of the artwork, meeting across a vertical seam in the middle of the composition. The dusty brown edges of the distressed book cover are just visible around the sides of the wrinkled pages. Both the flattened book and the surrounding background of cream-colored paper are marked with circles of ink and long, tenuous lines of drypoint. Six irregular black spheres and one thick calligraphic mark, almost like a backward “S,” seem to float between the plexi surface and the matte paper ground. The larger mark recalls Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic, but Motherwell’s famed series was completed more than forty years ago and Book of Prayers would be dwarfed by the American’s monumental Abstract Expressionist canvases.

Only mystery allows us to live, only mystery.

~Federico Garcia Lorca

Light shining through the plexi creates silvery shadows and lucent haloes that hover above–yet somehow also inside–the shallow space between the paper ground and the plexi surface. The optical illusions are both mystifying and engaging. As a viewer, I am fascinated, drawn in to investigation of the real and implied pictorial territories.

The room was iridescent with agony…
The wounds were burning like suns…

No chalice can contain it,
no swallows can drink it,
no frost of light can cool it,
nor song nor deluge of white lilies,
no glass can cover it with silver.

~Federico Garcia Lorca

Linear perspective was introduced to the Italian Renaissance by Florentine architect/sculptor Fillippo Brunelleschi in circa 1425 CE. From that time until the early twentieth century, European artists thought of paintings as windows into another, ideal world–but one that was subject to the same physical laws as this [real] world. Alcaraz challenges that historic conception. Using thick wooden frames that resemble nothing so much as window frames, he announces the “language” of his art. Then, with a magician’s sleight of hand, the artist subverts that very language. Alcaraz’s Book of Prayers is not a window, but a wall. It is not a view into another world, but a shelf that shuttles between multiple dimensions. Or…the Book of Prayers could be read as simultaneously window and wall, as both a secret and a revelation.

Stone is a forehead where dreams grieve
without curving waters and frozen cypresses.
Stone is a shoulder on which to bear Time
with trees formed of tears and ribbons and planets…

~Federico Garcia Lorca

Alcaraz’s enigmatic aesthetic is, like Federico Garcia Lorca’s surreal poetry, both marvelously beautiful and infinitely challenging. I am attracted by the handsome refinement, and fascinated by the sophisticated play of surface and depth/object , as well as shadow/light and inky darkness.

On a very personal note: I have long said that my favorite living artist was Antoni Tapies, another Spaniard from Barcelona. Alcaraz has joined Tapies in my highly treasured list.

Jack Rutberg FIne Arts
357 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
Gallery Hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday 10:00am – 5:00pm


Leave a Reply