Ricardo Cases, Estudio elemental del Levante

JTF (just the facts): Co-published in 2020 by Dalpine (here), torch press (here) and The Ice Plant (here). Hardcover (6.25 x 9.25 in), 64 pages, with 50 color reproductions. There are no texts or essays included. In an edition of 1000 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Ricardo Cases, a conceptual artist from Spain, has been documenting his region for over a decade now. With intense bright colors, sharp humor, and unexpected framing, his visual language stands out, and one of his earlier photobooks Paloma al Aire memorably captured the local ritual of painting racing pigeons in a colorful palette. Cases’s new book continues his investigation of rural Spain. Titled Estudio elemental del Levante, it was co-published by three publishers. 

The design of Estudio elemental del Levante is elegant and thoughtful. The pages are hosted between two boards, and a thin blue strip of cloth runs around the spine. Disorderly overlapping musical notes are embedded on the cover, setting the expectation for musical elements and chaos. Inside, a bold visual narrative runs from cover to cover – even the page with the artist’s name and book title looks like an image (there are no other texts or captions). All of the included photographs are presented full bleed, and occasional cutouts through the photographs create unexpected collages and overlaps.

The photographs in the book were shot between 2010 and 2020, around the Levante region in the eastern Spain where Cases is from. The title of the book translates into English as “an elemental study of Levante,” and it is also a playful reference to a book of piano exercises he bought at a street market  entitled “Estudio elemental del Piano.” His project is focused around the repetition of musical themes, as Cases photographed musicians and bands around the region, and then mixed in imagery of the immediate environment along the Mediterranean coast. There are shots of palm trees, construction sites, musicians with instruments, paella, and beach life – and the narrative unfolds through a complex web of formal relationships and echoes between the pictures, inviting the viewer to pay close attention.

As we open the book, the first photograph is placed right on the inside of the endpaper. It is an image of an old brick wall with a jagged opening in the middle and green grass growing around it. This rather trivial shot creates a jolt of excitement next to the image on the right which depicts a middle aged man playing a trumpet. The t-shirt he is wearing is cut out to resemble the hole in the wall, and the pattern from the following spread of palm trees is seen through it. In just the first spread, Cases introduces most of the aesthetic elements he will repeatedly play with going forward.

Close up portraits of musicians with their instruments appear throughout the book – usually the instrument dominates the composition and the faces are obscured by musical notes. A photograph of a young man playing a French horn as sunlight reflects off the instrument and his white shirt fills one side of a spread, and this image is then positioned next to a blue platter with a traditional clay pot jug and curving gourds. Through similar shapes and colors,  the two quite different worlds of musical instruments and vegetables suddenly appear in a visual conversation. Another great spread pairs a striking photo of an octopus hanging to dry in the sun on the beach and a shot of a tree being cut, wrapped, and sprayed. Cases shows us a surprisingly enigmatic world, his bright attention full of curiosity and a sense of humor. There are many excellent pairings, echoes, and formal refrains in the book.        

As the narrative moves forward, there are numerous photographs of palm trees – they appear completely dry, faded, weirdly bent, burned, or just strangely framed. Two palms trees with cut stump tops next to a fence are paired with a portrait of a man playing cymbals, the two round thin plates of the instrument mimicking sharp blades cutting the palm trees. An image of dry, layered palm tree fronds framed to resemble bones is juxtaposed with a shot of a person’s foot in a tied sandal, reinforcing the visual association. One reason so many palm trees are dying in the Levante is the invasive arrival of the red palm weevil, a beetle from tropical Asia. A close up shot of a red bug against dry ground is paired with an image of a tall red castle-shaped play structure near a road – the message is clear that the bug is hollowing out the region, sucking the life out of the palm trees.

Closer to the end of the photobook, there is a portrait of an old man – he wears a red hat, his disheveled light blue shirt is mostly unbuttoned, and through cutouts in the shirt, we see the pipes of the instrument from the previous page. This playful overlap makes him look like a cyborg. The image on the right is a palm tree with dry leaves falling almost all the way to the ground, like a cascade. The last photograph in the book is once again placed on the endpaper – it is a musical note on a gate, a bit rough and rusty, resonating with the chaos of musical notes we first see on the cover.

In many ways, Estudio elemental del Levante is a neatly self-contained project, as it balances personal curiosity and the constant desire to observe and understand the world around us. Cases has combined sunsplashed brightness, formal clarity, and smart sequencing into an evocative parade of local associations, which he has then interrupted with his clever cut-though combinations. The result is a playfully engaging photobook, overflowing with energy and visual interest.

Collector’s POV: Ricardo Cases is represented by Angeles Baños in Badajoz (here), EspaceJB in Geneva (here), Dillon + Lee Gallery in New York (here) and La Fabrica in Madrid (here). His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Ricardo Cases, Dalpine, The Ice Plant, Torch Press

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