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José Robles Pazos

One of the major themes of this exploration of my father’s exile through the victory of fascist forces in Spain in 1939 is return.

Of course return was and is never truly possible with such exile. A line has been crossed. That is the point. You can never return. This is because a violation has taken place and the word trauma becomes a reality. But this is not the only way or the only reason why one can never return to what was.

I’m certain this is why the line has become so important in my new paintings, which develop alongside my research and object work.
Blood lines, acrylics on board, 2015

The other reason is time – which we know waits for no-one. As exile progresses and time passes the distances from the line crossed increase, and with each incremental step away from the line, our return becomes ever more compromised and figmentary. There I even made up a new word composed of fragments and figments – exile you see has it’s own language.

The line crossed, the time passed, the people and the places changed, growing ever more distant from each other. There can be no return – I am not what I was, they are not who they were, it is not at is was, become the reality.

The new place becomes the old place but never the right place, there is no right place. Never a backward glance they say – yet your gaze is fixed behind you to what was, especially as what was appears to have been golden, bathed in a Bergmanesque light in my father’s case.

And so because although he ‘returned’ to Spain as a visitor some 20 years later, my father could never truly return. The way to navigate this ‘impossibility of being’ as I shall call it, was through his theatre work, more specifically the series of plays he wrote in the 1950s and 1960s. The earliest of these works deal directly with the fascist occupation of Spain and the tolerance of Franco’s rule during his continued dictatorship, allowing tourism to flourish.

In the plays we see a form of return – not only in the sense that my father explores conditions in occupied Spain in this imaginary space. It is also clear that he must return to the original trauma site of his exile. In my performance of Visual Encounters with Tierra Cautiva at UCC Cork in 2013 I engaged with and recreated some of the props in the play The Captive Land, which led to the understanding that he was using imagery associated with the internment camps of France and the flight from Spain. I therefore sensed that in his work he was returning to and attempting to rework trauma. Trying probably to assimilate and understand his experiences and the sense of dislocation which persisted.

You can see the performance here:


It’s also what I do. This is how I know that it’s a fine line between looking back in ways which help and heal, and opening old wounds to ill effect. Unfortunately there is no way to stop the foot steps occasionally faltering over the line. The trick is to pick-up the signals when the path becomes unsteady and begins to slide, and to pull back for a while. Some roads you mustn’t take, others will be a case of walking on tip-toes until you’ve got past the broken glass.

And so I’m finding with the horrific realisation of the execution of José Robles Pazos (the father of my father’s dearest friends), which I’ve blogged about on the link below and which forms the mainstay of my current research.


It is almost unbearable for me to read about this and yet I know I have to. This research is so important in order gain a true depth of understanding of my subject and therefore to make the visual elements of my work a proper and respectful reflection of this history. So I will do it carefully, keeping the firmest of eyes on the path. Return may be impossible but re-trauma is easy. This much I know.

NB Current reading includes, A Spanish Woman in Love and War: Constancia de la Mora by Soledad Fox (2011 edition) & The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos and the Murder of José Robles by Stephen Koch (2005) & In Place of Splendour: The Autobiograpy of a Spanish Woman, Constancia de la Mora (out of print)