Of micro signatures and other legends… a sui generis approach to Goya.

“He who attempts to clarify the reality of who Goya was is immediately inmersed in the magical atmosphere of his legend. This Goyesque legend is one of the most curious events in contemporary thought and deserves a certain degree of attention. On the other hand if we don' t properly resolve the traditional image we maintain of Goya, one that in good measure we continue to maintain, his legendary ghost will appear at every bend, and despite all the arguments put forth in this paper regarding his person and work, will obstruct our path, blurring all perspective.”

, José Ortega y Gasset.

— I —

The idea for this film began in the most casual, anodine way: a day like any other, sitting around the table chatting, an acquaintance told me about some gentlemen in Barcelona that had acquired a hitherto unknown Goya. “Unknown?”, I asked, surprised. “Yes.” he said, “a new Goya, a painting bought for change that could sell for millions.”
Well into the story, I realized that these gentlemen argued that the portrait was painted by Goya “simply” because it contained his signature.
Actually, not just one but tens of them…!

At which point, quite candidly, without even doubting the mystery, I concluded: “So then it' s a Goya, right?”

“Well, not exactly” he said, “let me explain”. With patience he put me up to date on his friend' s adventures.
He told me about the institutional reticence to accept an “infallible, unique, and independent” system to confirm whether the piece was a Goya or not. He told me about those hidden signs, those microsignatures that, according to his friends, with a little practice and predisposition, could be seen in all his work. A secret known by all, he said, but that the “keepers of the market” silence, fearing the loss of control over Goya' s work and in due course, its economic yield.

I was dumbstruck. I knew little about Goya. A few loose images, maybe five or six paintings at the most.
Days later, upon my request, I was introduced to R., the owner of the painting, and his partners, and I said to myself: This is what I' m looking for. This is the story that I would like to film.

— II —

I was captivated from the start, I must admit. There' s no denying it. It wasn' t an unquestionable veracity, nor was it this 'David vs. Goliath” premise; innocent buyers for whom truth is denied and the “market forces” that stand in their way. No. That wasn' t what kept me on tenderhooks.

If at first I could have maintained a certain hope in the novel potential and destabalizing idea behind the “microsignatures”, when I withdrew to my own Goyesque inquiries, I understood that the possibility of Goya dedicating time to hiding tens of signatures on the canvas, put in these terms, was, to say the least, outlandish.

What interested me about the case, was exactly that: the legend, the social phenomenon. Far and wide in my investigation I found people that were convinced they had “Goyas” in their house, all of them undiscovered, neither the market nor the museums willing to recognise them.

Throughout the preparation for the film I had the chance to study, in person, a great deal of Goya' s paintings, both in public and private collections. Your eyes grow accustomed, and one was able to notice the differences.

R' s story was there, however, knocking at my door, calling my attention to it.

I knew that making a film about a person that finds a painting, buys it cheaply with the intention of selling it for millions would leave me unsatisfied. I would have soon lost interest. I didn' t think Goya should be reduced to that, to market shares in some rampant vision of capitalism. I wasn' t interested in another headline such as: “Modigliani auctioned off for millions” or “Picasso surpasses record in sales price” or “A Goya drawing sells for four million”. These stories are commonplace in the news. It is as though this, and only this, were the seal of approval, the only important aspect. In a world where everything is measured in terms of the market, the value of things is reduced, sadly, to just that.

At a certain point I remember being so immersed in research on Goya that I even considered abandoning R' s story entirely and focusing only on the painter. However, a movie about Goya where we only talk about painting, show his paintings, outline his biography, and interview some academic experts would have become tiresome as well.

Also, I must confess: Despite my efforts to distance myself, R' s story drew me in. A character that broke free of my design, with an obsession that dragged me with him.

What was I to do?

There was something to these two narratives, R' s and Goya' s, a constant tension that made me consider that they were connected by some invisible thread… And this was the idea that I delved into, until I had to accept that that connection was really my own relationship to the story of Goya, my own learning process, my journey in his wake, with my own doubts, certainties, sympathies and antagonisms.

I consider that asking a simple question, something apparently ridiculous or anodine, comes to our aid as though it were Walter Benjamin' s brush, brushing history against the grain, with the hope of catching glimpses of hidden secrets.
This case was to me a singular excuse that would allow me to outline a more complex image of how Goya is perceived nowadays, conveying the film's narrative in a different way.

Faced with the question of if Goya dedicated himself exclusively, obsessively and automatically, to “micro-signing” his paintings begs the question of who Goya was, what he did, how he painted, what we know of him and what we assume.


— III —

“Goya, the Secret of the Shadows” is a film, above all, about Goya. This is true, yet there was no intention to make a comprehensive film, an impossible and unnecessary task.

An approximation… a sketch… a way of getting closer to Goya through the backdoor, seeing the stage from the stagehand' s perspective.

Enrique Lafuente Ferrari wrote that “there is always something rough and untameable in Goya' s work, something that does not respond well to reframing… the skill and intuition of an extraordinary painter usually, in their most intimate essence, cannot be translated into words, which are furnished but with great violence, cheating one out of the deepest and most authentic aspect of their art, in exchange for a coherent and systematic account”.

This film is, in this sense, an atypical approach to the artist' s work, an attempt to provide varied perspetives on his cultural background, and if you will, a personal journey in search of Goya, a sui generis approach, a journey d' auteur, a contemporary vision of the art world and Goya' s universe, his extraordinary legend.

David Mauas