M.A.L. Huguet’s note of sceptical enquiry foregrounds her recent series of figurative works; oil on canvas paintings which take the iconography of the hybrid animal and human forms as points of departure and subjects for aesthetic investigation. In one portrait she depicts a Minotaur which is disconcertingly human in pose and posture. In other canvases, Huguet inserts the Minotaur motif into lush looking landscapes (The Habitat of the Human-Animal and The Human-Animal Kingdom) in which they appear to engage with their fully human and equally naked peers. But the narrative remains ambiguous and uncertain; are we witnessing a potentially predatory interaction, or is this vista some form of animal-human self-becoming?
A suggestion of the latter is made in Huguet’s portrait, The Woman-Animal, in which a hybrid human form is depicted with head turned, glancing back at the painter as if in grudging acknowledgement of another’s presence. The ridge line of the nose has been transformed into a snout and the shape of the mouth rendered large and sensual. Stylistically, there are some suggestions of the solid and angular early portraits essayed by the Spanish Cubists in which the exploration of the specificity of the individual combined with a fascination for the dynamics of form, shape and mass for their own sake. Huguet’s paintings assume an even more surreal turn with a Minotaur surrounded by a troupe (or crèche?) of dancing babies, (The Body Without Organs) whilst another canvas shows a single baby in solitary flight – a nocturnal succubus perhaps, in the traditions of gothic horror? Although of course such flights of fantasy are not new; the successful French Academician, Adolphe Bouguereau, painted many such fictions, adorning the salons of the wealthy bourgeoisie.
But, there are, perhaps, other readings, which may appear altogether closer to home. Goya’s series of aquatints, Los Caprichos, also explored the realms of the irrational, the speculative and the fantastic. In a world turned in on itself, Goya represented the sadism and venality of the anti-Enlightenment ; the use of superstition, poverty and ignorance to re-enslave those supposedly liberated by the new secularism of the C19th. Later on, another Spanish painter, Picasso, also returned to the animalistic, motifs in works such as The Dream and Lie of Franco (1937) and in his famous indictment of war, Guernica (1937).
Returning to Huguet’s opening statement, we are reminded, that these paintings, surreal and bizarre on one level, indirectly theme something more culturally pervasive and proximate in our post-human condition. And yet the use of animals (which only devour each other at need) to situate human character pathologies seems out of place now, almost nostalgic.
Dr. Grant Pooke, University of Kent, History & Philosophy of Art, Faculty Member
© Copyright M.A.L.Huguet 2021