The antecedents of expressionism can be found in some painters such as Bosch, Brueghel, El Greco, and Goya, although the closest references are Van Gogh and Gauguin, from whose sources the Belgian Ensor and the Norwegian Münch drink, who, in turn, exert influences on other painters of German origin.

The expressionist movement arose in 1905, in Dresden, Germany, with the group Die Brücke (The Bridge), in which the artists Nolde and Kirchner stand out, painters committed to the social and political situation of their time; then, in 1911, the group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was formed in Munich, which was made up of the Germans Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter (the only woman), and the foreigners Kandinsky and Paul Klee. These artists, instead of deforming, preferred to purify the figures until reaching abstraction, characterizing for being more subjective and spiritual than those of the Die Brücke collective, who used to be more temperamental, emotional, and grotesque in their aesthetic proposals.

Goya. Dos viejos comiendo, 1823

Now, one of the reasons why expressionism arises is as a reaction or opposition to the formal and conceptual postulates of impressionism, which was guided by the senses, by the impression received from the visible, external world, considering the instant and the effect of light on the landscape and all the other things that it affects; On the other hand, expressionism was more concerned about reflecting the inner world of the artist, the expression of their own feelings, which is why they make use of elements such as line and color with a great temperamental and emotional charge.

Although expressionism is not a homogeneous movement, since it shows a stylistic diversity, we can mention some common characteristics, such as the use of intense, expressive colors; deformed figures (grotesque and cartoonish); gestures; broad, thick, rough strokes and spots; angular shapes (typical of The Blue Rider); symbolic content; opposition to objectivity; representation of the feelings, of the loneliness and the anguish caused by the historical events of that moment.

Although this movement disappeared after the Second World War, we can say that expressionism has marked a strong influence on other artistic currents, developed after the second half of the 20th century, so much so that even today artists continue to impact us with their versions and reinterpretations of the expressionist "terrifying beauty", of whose trend we will emphasize one of its most notable ingredients: the grotesque as an aesthetic category.

Munch. El grito, 1893

Although the grotesque has a place in the art of all times and cultures, it is with Romanticism that it acquires a different meaning, it is with this movement that it is properly legitimized as an aesthetic category. For Romanticism, the essential feature of the grotesque consists of deformity, melancholy, the terrible and infernal laughter. Victor Hugo, in his Preface to Cromwell (1827), states that «the grotesque (...) on the one hand, creates the deformed and the horrible; on the other, the comic and the buffo». Well, for him "the beautiful has only one type, the ugly has thousands".

Among the authors who have studied this aesthetic category are the German Wolfgang Kayser and the Russian Mikhail Bakhtin, the classic figures of the 20th century who delved into the study and interpretation of the phenomenon of the grotesque, although both do so from different points of view. In Kayser, the grotesque is menacing, frightening, and lugubrious; in Bakhtin it is harmless, cheerful, and bright.

Kayser, in The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1957), focuses on the dire, tragic aspect of this aesthetic phenomenon. For him, the grotesque is based on something hostile, strange, and inhuman; he conceives it as a world that becomes unusual and threatening. He points out the presence of the grotesque in painters such as Ensor, Münch (expressionists), Dalí and Max Ernst (surrealists), among others.

On the other hand, Mikhail Bakhtin, in Popular Culture in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance. The context of François Rabelais (written in 1941 and published in 1974), studies the grotesque from the perspective of the comic, from the worldview of the carnivalesque present in the popular comic culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, which is characterized by the exaltation of material and corporeal life, linked to the festive and to the laughter generated by the exaggerated and deformed growth of the body, together with its abjection, which Bakhtin defines as "grotesque realism".

Although each of these authors leans towards different features of this aesthetic phenomenon –one for the sinister and the other for the festive–, we do not fail to notice, as in Victor Hugo, that the grotesque is of a complex, versatile nature; it is one and multiple, which is why other notions or categories merge, complement and associate with it, such as the comic, the tragic, the ugly and the abject, aspects of the human being that society often ends up not understanding, accepting and prohibit, since it implies transgression and disturbance of identities.

Sin respuestas - Arnaldo Delgado

Within this aesthetic category, the grotesque, Arnaldo Delgado (1979), a Venezuelan artist who graduated with a degree in Visual Arts from the Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, the city where he lives and works as a teacher in the Drawing area, develops his visual discourse. From 1997 to the present, he has carried out several workshops on painting, drawing, graphics, illustration, photography, installation, and audiovisual media. However, Arnaldo, from an early age, was lucky to have the support of his parents. His father, a shoemaker by profession, was a draftsman when he was young, but for work reasons he could not devote time to drawing, and his mother was a dollmaker, that is, she made rag dolls, a very visible influence on her work.

As the artist affirms, this constant contact with the world of crafts, with the manual world, in some way was training him towards creative work, a decision he made at the age of 17, since he could not see himself doing another activity other than art. Then, when he entered the university, the contact with his professors increased his enthusiasm when he saw them working directly in their workshops, which further opened his artistic vein.

Peliroja - Arnaldo Delgado

All these experiences and influences, in his training as a visual artist, come together in the realization of his work, as he himself lets us know by declaring that in his "creative process he alludes to an open search and investigation in visual arts, emphasizing the creation of an imaginary in which experimental figuration prevails as a playful creative process, characterized by the use of  techniques of drawing, painting and illustration, to the confluence of different media or permeable disciplines for hybridization (actional, animation, video, concept and installation)…”.

In his creative process, he says that he has a strange rite or way of proceeding before, during and after making his works; he usually talks to himself, as if he were talking to another person; sometimes he even talks with his characters, with his dolls, with the drawings; he strikes up a dialogue with them, which curiously motivates him to work. In the same way, he listens to music and depending on his mood, the rhythm or style that he puts in the background turns out. In this creative process, in this ritual, Delgado considers that intuition, emotion and thought become connected in him.

Portrait and self-portrait prevail in his work. In the case of self-portraits, he considers that it is a way of letting go of his demons and other situations of individual and social existence that torment him. Although he tries not to be a personal portrait, he inevitably sees himself reflected in them as in a mirror. "Yes, my work is very autobiographical," he says.

Nolde. Naturaleza muerta de máscaras III, 1911

Stylistically, the work of Arnaldo Delgado, with a very personal stamp, is inspired by expressionism, in its "terrifying beauty", since their faces, almost in a very close-up, are deformed, distorted, and disfigured until they reach the grotesque, the cartoonish, imprinting a nuance of cruelty, irony, horror and madness on them, through a dilated, passionate, gestural brushstroke, in which color tones and textures contrast, thus accentuating the expressiveness of the grotesque.

written by Jose Gregorio Noroño 

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