All You Need Is Flower: in the Gardens of Felipe Cardeña
by Lorenzo Viganò


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I’m very happy – as well as really thrilled – to present Felipe Cardeña works. His collages, the evolution of which I have been following since the first intuition until the open and more and more definite display of their spirit and language – a kind of «flowering of the work», a real «artistic blossoming» – had for me a very special meaning since the beginning. A fragrance linked to childhood – a period of life that even if lived with a childish perception of the world and of the time, nevertheless (or perhaps just because of that) lasts for ever inside you and is ready to flutter again at first hearing a music, looking at an image, finding again in a closet an old object that only God knows why on earth you are still taking with you.

Somebody will say that it’s just the «lifting» of memory that makes your past unforgettable, effacing troubles and enhancing only your best recollections, that warm your heart. And yet that’s not the case of Felipe Cardeña gardens. For me, they are a kind of time machine. His floral aquariums – it’s not by chance if the first non-flower to appear in his collages was a lost and frightened little fish! – are the background of the Sixties, of «my» Sixties. Or better, of the second half of the Sixties. To be even more exact, of the last years of the second half, that’s to say almost of the Seventies. They are the flowers of the Flower Children, printed on my first real necktie (still a boy tie, but without the rubber band), the one my father bought me just in the years when I was sliding into my «mangiadischi» (a portable record player with a slot-in mechanism) A Whiter Shade of Pale, by the British band Procol Harum, in the Dik Dik Italian cover: I went into rapture when I could take a glance at one of the rare Beatles photos I was able to get, or at the sleeve of the LP collection of their Oldies.

On the sleeves of the 45 rpm records, in the illustrated magazines of the time, and even in the ads of Carosello (but only the «younger» ones), there were always bunches of flowers: designed, cutout, printed on shirts, embroidered on jackets, or put in the hair. At last, flowers had arrived even on the necktie, that I slipped over my head, not to undo the knot. Me too, at last I had something beat, hippie, rock on me: when you are a child, you are just mixing up things. I had become if not a real flower child, at least a supporter, I had a share in that world of peace, love, colours and tattoos, long hair and beads, smiles, music and thoughtlessness that I believed could last forever. That for me was real life, not a moment of it.

I still have the necktie, but the world it opened to me, is gone.

It survives only in revivals, that cyclically amputate it – psychedelia in music and graphics, in low waisted-jeans and exposed navels – in artistic quotes, in sociological essays that identify it as a period of time sometimes to be forgotten, sometimes to be regretted.  But the spirit that was animating it, the wind that was blowing on everything, that everyone was breathing (and so did I), is no longer blowing. Now to me it doesn’t matter to understand why it happened, whether it was only a naive illusion, an utopia, or whether in the end the power overcame imagination, whether freedom and revolution ideals had been destroyed by drugs, whether the dream did crush at Woodstock or had already vanished while the Rolling Stones were writing You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Anyway, I’m sure I never felt it again. I’m sure that I grew up treasuring in my heart more than in my mind the memory and the warmth of a positive wave. Perhaps hoping, unconsciously, that something could lit it again… and that one day my necktie would be of use again, sooner or later.

Felipe Cardeña awakened that world, that emotion again.

His collages, and above all his flowers, but also citrus fruit, vegetables, camouflaged animals among gardenias, peonies, azaleas and myosotis, are a gust of that wind that blew in 1967 and got up to us. They are flowers planted in the Summer of Love, with the soundtrack of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, and they are blossoming forty years later. They are the children of the magic bus of the Merry Pranksters of Ken Kesey, with a stoned Neal Cassady at the wheel (that inspired Jack Kerouac’s On the Road) and of the psychedelic Rolls Royce limo of John Lennon; of the Swingin’ London and of the Pink Floyd visionary, of the cotton fabric for kids from which Paul Smith made his floral shirts, that you could buy at clothing boutiques like I Was Lord Kirchener’s Valet in Kings Road, Chelsea, a favorite store of Jimi Hendrix. They are primeval gardens, symbols of the back-to-nature counterculture movement of San Francisco, they are coming back as a background of a world that the Blue Meanies turned more and more gray, as Lennon and McCartney had foreseen in the animated feature film Yellow Submarine, by the producer George Dunning.

It’s almost as if the flowers placed in the barrels of police guns by pacifists, or the flower that a young girl, in the most celebrated picture taken by Marc Riboud, was holding in her hands, standing in front of several rifle-wielding soldiers stationed in Washington DC to block the protest against America’s involvement in Vietnam, had come back to us, and had been pasted on Cardeña canvases of the Hindu period, together with the stylized flower logo of Mary Quant, and the colors of The Fool collective that painted the exterior of the Apple Boutique in London, and the wonders Alice met along her journey in a fantasy world, and the fantastic visions drawn by illustrators such as Mati Klarwein,  John Tenniel, Arthur Rackham and Henry J. Ford, that stimulated the psychedelic culture of the period.

But Felipe Cardeña, somebody could object, was born in 1979, in the so-called Italian «years of lead», one year after Moro’s assassination. Felipe, being a Spanish artist, is perhaps nearer to the movida of Almodóvar than to the Flower Power and the rock meetings, the Human Be-in and hippie communities. (And more than that, he never had a floral necktie, bought and worn while the air resounded with the notes of All You Need is Love.)

But what does it matter? The pacifist meetings against the war in Vietnam, the lyrics of the musical Hair, the university occupations, the tennis game in Blow up, the Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys have gone into the washing machine of Felipe’s memory and have been tumble-dried. Felipe read the Freak Brothers strips by Gilbert Shelton and Poema a fumetti, a comic book by Dino Buzzati; he wandered around with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, among «tangerine trees and marmalade skies» and «cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head», «that grow so incredibly high». He has looked at the collages (and drawings) the Australian artist Martin Sharp made for Oz, and the Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the album sleeves of the Flower Pot Men of Let’s Go to San Francisco and Midsummer Dreaming, the photographs of the Beatles in India, at the side of the Maha­rishi Mahesh Yogi, and Donovan and Mia Farrow wearing flowers wreaths around their necks – and he metabolized all of this.

With his memories and the continuous flow of images, Felipe did what later he did with the scissors. As if they were a tridimensional prolongation of his mind. He has seen, lost, found again, cut, assembled, mixed, pasted them – and the choice of collage was the perfect one – to rearrange everything in a new story.

There’s not an inch free in his works, and yet there’s no chaos. You couldn’t believe it at first sight, but at a more careful glance, you’ll get a totally different impression. And if you let your eyes get nearer to the canvas, free to fly from flower to flower, like bees, you could be swallowed up. Sucked by the beauty of that natural Shangrila, by its peace. There’s harmony, in the landscape. We can hear sitar chords, we can smell perfumes, we can feel the sounds of nature, India, wetness.

Playing with the modern technique of «cut and paste» – akin to «copy and paste» but much more audacious and radical – the gardens of Felipe Cardeña have become a state of consciousness (or of hallucination?), a visual trip, the artistic representation of the lysergic trips prescribed as a treatment by Timothy Leary «to expand human consciousness», and sang by the Jefferson Airplane in White Rabbit, a real hymn to hallucinogens.

Just look at Felipe’s works: his collages are not memory albums, but flashes, fragments of what is beyond the doors of perception (from which the name of the rock band The Doors). They are oneiric postcards, open-eyed dreams, difficult to interpret, as dreams always are. Seemingly simple, but impalpable, unseizable, elusive, as soon as you try to tell them.

At the beginning they were Eden gardens, with flowers and fruit, lemons and beet-roots. Later, little by little, they became inhabited, first by sea creatures, then by Adam and Eve’s offspring. And then those gardens became backgrounds, wings, scenes, where the most diverse characters were moving. Animals, Ladies with the Ermine and fairies wearing burkas, Madonnas and Buddhas, topical people, of yesterday and today, comic-strip heroes and television faces, futurists wearing hat and coat, bolide cars.

And Dark Ladies, as in the exhibition The Black Dahlia, that steals its title from a famous novel by James Ellroy, inspired to the true story of the unsolved Elizabeth Short murder, a wannabe actress that in the post war period was found severely mutilated in Los Angeles, her body sliced in half at the waist. Ellroy developed an obsession with the deep laceration on her face, slashed from the corners of her mouth toward her ears, that made appear Short was smiling, almost mocking at her own gruesome wounds.

Anyhow, women in Cardeña canvases aren’t victims (at least they don’t seem so), but femmes fatales in every respect, leaving the defeated role to the unlucky Elizabeth, to become instead executioners. Bad girls, female killers from the movies or from the crime news, who overthrow the patriarchal order and defy men on their own field, the field of power, of strength, of trick, of cynicism, without a moment’s hesitation to use their charm and beauty in order to manipulate men at their own liking and to reach their aim. They are sisters of Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, who seduces the young insurance salesman to kill her old husband and pocket the money of the «double indemnity»; of Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (even though she had her most dramatic and important role at the trial for the murder of her «man», the gangster Johnny Stompanato); they are cousins to Jane Greer, in Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur; to Rita Hayworth in Gilda, with her long gloves and a cigarette in her hand, to Bette Davis in The Letter, to Ava Gardner in My Forbidden Past

Blonde as Lizabeth Scott, brunette as Joan Bennett or red-haired as Rita Hayworth, stealing from them gestures and hair dressing, in Cardeña works they become noir frames, blossoming in pop screens. Beautiful, nasty women with perfect make-up, silk stockings, smart dresses; they are clever and independent females, (anti)dolls, sweet and troubling, shameless and sure, as Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, directed by Howard Hawks, ready to run at a simple whistle of Bo­gart: «You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.»

Anyhow, Felipe is not looking at the cinema, he’s not cutting scenes from movies, to put them on the canvas. He pillages instead the jackets of the American magazines of True Crime of the Twenties, Thirties, Forties and Fifties (which take inspiration from the cinema). Felipe decontextualizes them and plunges them into waters with flowers, vegetables, animals and fruit (perhaps, the victim corpse has been concealed behind the background of gardenias and brooms, anemones and primroses?). Felipe likes better the drawings because they have much more narrative power than photos. They are able to make more evocative the web of references among illustrations, movies and news reports. But be careful: the Spanish artist’s collages, in line with the ones by John Heartfield and George Grosz, who used them as a satirical weapon against the nazis, are also able to interpret reality, to read it again, they are able to be satirical, to admonish and criticize, denounce and be ironic. They offer a different point of view over front page news, as you can see in his drawings in site.

Therefore, his hippie, psychedelic, colorful, ecological and ecologist, imaginary and fantastic background, becomes an amplifier, it enhances the meaning of the images it frames, rendering their language more straight and provocative: universal; and leading the onlooker to muse, to think as he is shocked by a short-circuit between flowers and figures.

At the same time, the wind of the Sixties that is blowing from his canvases and carries smells and colours up to us, enveloping everything (women with the gun and British uxoricide kings), and revives the power of dreams, reminds us that even behind the darkest and worst moments of life, even behind the most unfair and painful events, there’s always a blossoming flower.

All you need is flower (flower is all we need).