8 May - 30 May 2002


Enric Mestre Enric Mestre's art is one of abstracted - silent - theatre. For all its pared down rationalism, this is an architecture of possibility, not just for creating seemingly endless structural variations, but forging a language that transcends those formalist concerns. These sculptures are evocative - objects of an interlocking geometry, of light and shadow, that create tableaux for the imagination.

Originally trained in painting, Enric Mestre studied at San Carlos Fine Arts School in Valencia. On the advice of a family friend he attended the ceramics school in Manises. During this time he met the ceramist Alfonso Blat, a crucial influence, for Blat was one of the seminal figures who, along with potters like Llorens Artigas and Francisco Ibáñez took Spain into the mainstream of modern ceramic art. Mestre, both as a teacher and practitioner, has himself come to be regarded as an important liberating link between this formative generation and that of Spain's younger avant-garde.

Eventually Mestre would forego his earlier more functional pieces and focus on construction. In the 1980's he made some plaques and murals with free - almost calligraphic - markings, but the general move was towards the more ascetic and concentrated vocabulary we see today. There are revealing clues to his creative concerns and procedures in the sketchbooks, page after page of drawings that Josef Pérez Camps has called 'a genuine memorandum of possibilities'. These numerous diagrams are a shorthand of ideas ad infinitum - and some larger pieces are further thought out through small preparatory models. As playful as they are obsessive, these sketches are inventive blue prints for Mestre's constructive explorations.

These cut and assembled forms invoke far more than the simple masses of architectural modernity. They allude to more ancient landscapes, and I am reminded of the Inca citadel at Machu Picchu where the superbly engineered stones of man, austere and monumental, meet those of nature. It is a place of precise volumes and spaces, of channels and openings that direct the course of the changing light - all aspects that are important when considering Mestre's work.

This sculpture has great solemnity. Some pieces have a sense of closure, chambers with only small slits and windows offered to the outside world. Some are like sepulchres. Román de la Calle has written perceptively about their symbolic connotations - the sense of loneliness and isolation they emanate. Here are apparent references to 'dwellings and urns, to ditches and tunnels, to L-shaped fronton courts and walled enclosures and to imaginary silos, half prisons and half refuges'. Some are like stages without players, deserted arenas and piazzas with echoes of De Chirico. These are sculptures of memory and metaphor, where we might act out our own dramas of the mind.

There is the same rich ambiguity in the maze-like wall reliefs, but here regulation of design is tempered by the more expressive modelling of their grids and borders, the pressing of the fingers into the clay still evident. Similarly, some of his large wall plaques have a more freely painted geometry - broadly brushed overlapping lattices of muted colours. They investigate not only textural contrast, but notions of depth and two-dimensional space. Likewise his use of different engobes on the sculptures can create variously mottled, gritty and smoother surfaces which soften structural severity. While serving to amplify the clay, to enhance material depth, these chromatic equations are still finely balanced. They augment the proportional precision.

There is something profoundly spiritual about this work. It has a slowly achieved classical purity, but is also deeply felt. It transports one's mind to other places, both strange and familiar, and has a metaphysical pathos that is inherently Spanish. This first British exhibition of such a distinguished European artist will be a revelation to many - and is certainly an event to celebrate.

David Whiting