Alejandra de Argos by Elena Cué

“I am a specialist in life as a permanent crisis.”  Thus defines himself Miquel Barceló, one of the most sought-after and internationally recognized Spanish artists alive today. His capacity for communication goes hand in hand with the scope and variety of his work: huge canvasses, small drawings, murals, engravings, book illustrations, ceramics, sculpture, opera staging, album covers, posters, television programmes

 

The art of sea caves, the ocean and the soul

 

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Miquel Barceló. Photo: Jaime García

 

 “I am a specialist in life as a permanent crisis.”  Thus defines himself Miquel Barceló, one of the most sought-after and internationally recognized Spanish artists alive today. His capacity for communication goes hand in hand with the scope and variety of his work: huge canvasses, small drawings, murals, engravings, book illustrations, ceramics, sculpture, opera staging, album covers, posters, television programmes ... Onto each and every one of those mediums, Barceló stamps his character, his energy and the "aggression" that distinguish his work - as well as his profound interest in Nature, whether that be in outdoor spaces or the life contained within them but always with a Mediterranean or African backdrop that connects his art directly with the land and the sea. His work is personal, original, complex and impossible to pigeonhole into any one artistic movement or context.

 

Adolescence, Nature and roots

 

1 Barcelo-Diluvio

"The Flood" (1990). Guggehneim Museum, Bilbao

 

Miquel Barceló was born in 1957 in Mallorca, a Mediterranean island where the young artist first experimented with art. The influence of his mother, who herself was a painter for a time, might have had something to do with his desire to create but, without a doubt, art was already coursing through his veins. In Mallorca, "his island", where he became enamoured with the caves and the sea, he met Joan Miró who would have a profound influence on his early work (animal themes, which became a constant throughout his career, and a markedly Expressionist style). In his teens, he studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in the island’s capital - Palma de Mallorca - participating, aged 16, in his first collective exhibition – “Art Jovenívol” -  and then organizing his first solo exhibition at the Picarol Art Gallery at 17. In the 1970s, Barceló travelled to Paris where he discovered the work of Klee and Dubuffet and also encountered Art Brut, a school with which he felt an intimate connection and which became a new starting point from which to explore new horizons.

 

02 cadaverina 15

"Cadaverine 15" (1976)


Names such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Lucio Fontana then joined the list of his early influences, along with, of course, masters such as Velázquez, Tintoretto and Rembrandt who kept his work well rooted in excellence and classicism. During those years, he continued to demonstrate his concerns for both art and the environment, combining the organization of various exhibitions with activist action such as occupying the uninhabited Sa Dragonera island in 1977, with the aim of preventing its urbanisation. It is then that he meets and befriends the artist Javier Mariscal. From his very earliest years as an artist, Barceló made clear his deep affinity with Nature - always experimenting and incorporating natural and organic material into his works, with some of them embarking on their own journey of evolution over the passage of time. He would leave his paintings outdoors at the mercy of the elements which caused them to crack or rust. He also used organic matter, the deterioration of which was very much a part of its artistic significance, as seen in his exhibition “Cadaverine 15” (Mallorca, 1976) in which 225 glass-topped boxes containing organic and inorganic material showcased  the process of decomposition and decay.

 

Success in Paris and the beginning of a nomadic life

03.Venus bruta sentada 1982

 "Seated Venus Bruta" (1982)

 

Despite his deep-seated roots in Mallorca, Barceló's restless and curious spirit gave him itchy feet and he left the island in search of new locations for his art. In 1980, he landed in Barcelona and set up a studio there. That year, his career enjoyed a boost that would prove key to his future artistic career: he was the only Spanish artist selected to participate in the prestigious Kassel Documenta (Germany), in its seventh edition. He was still only 23 years old but showed a talent, a work ethic and a maturity that set him amongst the most important international creatives of the time. In fact, just two years later, he achieved the distinction of exhibiting in Paris, the art capital of the world, at the Yvon Lambert gallery. Success, however, did not mean that the young artist would rest on his laurels or settle down; in the ensuing years, Barceló would often move house and participate in various projects located in other European cities. This need to venture into other countries and experience other realities would almost become a lifestyle for the artist and would have a powerful influence on his work.

 

04. miquel barcelo novelo mojada 1985 christies   

"Wet Novel" (1985)


Throughout his travels and multiple art projects, Barceló comes into contact with some of the most important figures in the art world of the time. Among them is the Swiss gallery owner Bruno Bischofberger, who was to have a decisive influence on his career and become his art dealer at international level. He also meets his future wife - the Frenchwoman, Cécile Franken. The year 1986 would see his fame cross the Atlantic to New York where he exhibits at the Leo Castelli gallery. He falls in love  with the city and sets up a temporary studio there, in which he will work and live for several months. These are years of recognition for Barceló, an artist who had always been a legend in his homeland, and he receives the National Prize for Plastic Art in the painting category. Soon, the call of the homeland and the Mediterranean begin to become irresistible and he returns to Mallorca.

 Trip to Mali: The beginning of a passion for Africa

 

06. in mali

"In Mali" (1989)


Not a year goes by without Barceló’s restless spirit demanding new changes. In 1987, he travels to Paris and settles there, making the city his home from time to time, as it remains to this day. The following year will be a turning point in Barceló's life and work. He travels to Africa with a group of other artists but, instead of returning with them to Spain, he decides to stay on in Mali and also to travel around Senegal and Burkina-Fasso. These experiences are described in his "African Notebooks", written in both French and Catalan, which reveal the writer coexisting alongside the painter.

 

05. dibujo mali

"Mali". Gouache on paper (1991)

 

Barceló then develops an intense love and deep connection with these peoples and places, as evidenced by the magnificent drawings that date from his time there. Contact with local people and life in the desert define his subject matter and methodology. He begins to show his concern for the natural environment, the passage of time and the origins in everyday scenes and small African landscapes, more detailed drawings, dense, dark raised surfaces that give the impression of reliefs, and for which he takes advantage of the mud and natural pigments he has at his fingertips. These works are now part of different public and private collections around the world, and have been displayed in several exhibitions, such as the one organized in 2008 by the Centre of Contemporary Art in Malaga. But Barceló does not limit himself to Africa and it is at this time that he adds a Mali workshop studio as a final corner to complete his vital triangle, along with Paris and Mallorca.

 


Awards and architectural projects

 

8 Capilla Catedral Palma

Chapel of Sant Pere in the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca


1986 saw the beginning of his involvement with architectural projects, painting the dome of the lobby of the Mercat de las Flors Theatre in Barcelona. At that same time, 'velatura' starts to appear in his painting, along with overlays of materials giving the impression of transparency. Barceló continued to work without interruption and in 1995 he was selected to participate in the Venice Biennale and, three years later, the first major retrospective exhibition of his work was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. The awards kept coming over the decades until, in 2003, he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts. The following year, the artist undertakes one of his most important projects to date - decoration of the Chapel of Sant Pere inside the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca, which was completed in 2007. While the spectacular space underwent a renovation to its liturgical elements of stonework, stained glass windows and furnishings, Barceló also added a 300 m² ceramic mural representing "The Feeding of the Five Thousand". The work features a series of constants in Barceló's work - the sea, flora and fauna, grottoes and caves.

 

9 Cupula Sala XX

 Dome of Room XX or the Human Rights and Allliance of Civilisations Chamber, UN European Headquarters, Geneva

 

The Dome of Room XX or the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Chamber at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva is one of his works with the greatest international import, albeit not without controversy due to its use of funds otherwise destined for Spain’s development aid budget. It is a huge 1,400 m² dome from which hang thirty-five tons of paint in the form of coloured stalactites, made with pigments sourced from all over the world.  On the technique, Barceló commented: "I wanted to take painting against the laws of gravity to the extreme." and went on to explain: "On a day of intense heat in the middle of the Sahel Desert, I vividly remember seeing the mirage of an image of the world dripping skyward […] The cave is a metaphor for the agora, the first meeting place of human beings, the great African tree to sit under and talk about the only future possible, one with dialogue  and human rights."

 

Work that branches out and grows on different terrains   

 

10. cala gran elvira

 

"Large Cove" (2018)

 


Barceló continues to expand his broad body of work at his three studios in Mallorca, Mali and Paris. His incessant and restless activity seeks an outlet in all kinds of media: illustrated books such as the poet Enric Juncosa’s "Book of the Ocean"; the forwards and texts of his own catalogues and notebooks; photography books such as "The Cathedral Under the Sea"; a book for the blind, "The Dismantled Shops or The Unknown World of Perceptions", with text in braille; and the three volumes of Dante's "The Divine Comedy" which were subsequently the subject of an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris.

 

 

Performance at the inauguration of the "Noah's Arc" exhibition (2017)

 
With his penchant for experimenting in every field of the arts, Barceló has also designed sets for opera. In Falla’s "Master Peter's Puppet Show" at the National Theatre of Comic Opera in Paris, he created the staging, costumes and large-scale puppets; and for Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in 2003, he took on the entire set decoration. More recently, Barceló has demonstrated his versatility and artistic passion via large exhibitions and personal interventions, such as his "Performance" in 2017 at  the inauguration of "Noah’s Arc"  at Salamanca University.      Miguel Barceló interviewed by Elena Cué


   Interview with Miquel Barceló. By Elena Cué

 

Exhibitions

 

Miquel Barceló. Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2009

 

In 2009, Barceló represented Spain again at the Venice Biennale in its 53rd edition. The exhibition showcased a series of large format canvasses from the previous nine years and also included ceramic pieces along with more recent work carried out during his decoration of the United Nations dome in Geneva.

 

“Miquel Barceló. 1983-2009” (2010)

 

“My life is like the surface of my paintings." This quotation from Barceló kickstarted an exhibition organized by the La Caixa Foundation and held at its headquarters in both Madrid and Barcelona. The show comprised a selection of 180 pieces completed between 1993 and 2010 and included some of his largest paintings alongside his sculpture "Big Elephant, Upright".

 

 

"Sol y Sombra (Sun and Shade)" (2016)

 

This exhibition opened in 2016 in one of Paris’s most iconic buildings - The National Library of France - which partnered with the city’s Picasso Museum  to host a joint exhibition. Visitors were treated at both venues to the display of some never-before-seen pieces, enabling them to experience an authentic immersion in the Majorcan artist’s universe.

 

“Noah's Arc” (2017)

 

Salamanca University’s eighth centenary celebrations included a large exhibition of Barceló's work. The artist himself participated, performing during its inauguration. The exhibition took up four spaces at the university, as well as the city’s main square, with works from multiple disciplines: sculpture, ceramics, drawing and the performance itself.

 

"Miquel Barceló. Metamorphosis" (2021)

 

2021 began in Malaga with an exhibition held at the Picasso Museum, which included around one hundred works created by Barceló between 2015 and 2020. The exhibition took its name from Kafka's famous novel and comprised a selection of pieces on canvas and paper, as well as ceramics, notebooks and bronzes.

  

 

Books

Notebooks from Africa. (Galaxia Gutenberg Círculo de Lectores, 2008)

 

Barceló's journals from his stays in Africa between 1988 and 2000 have become an important body of work within his career. The entries compiled in this publication are interlaced with drawings, watercolours and gouaches from Mali, Senegal and Burkina-Fasso. The text, originally in French and Catalan and complemented by sixteen pictures, includes shopping lists, letters to friends, his fears and desires, details about the process of artistic creation, ... The writing is vivid, absorbing and the perfect accompaniment to the artistic output that immortalized Barceló's ‘Africa’ years.

  

Aurea Dicta. (La Casa dels Clàssics, 2018)

An authentic work of art, multi-award-winning and marked out for posterity. The Aurea Dicta project began in 1992 when a group of Catalan intellectuals set out to, in their own words, "for the first time, translate the Greek and Latin classics into modern-day Catalan in rigorous, entertaining and bilingual editions, in order to democratize and elevate the Catalan language and culture". The book is illustrated by Barceló in such a way that art dialogues directly with classical thought.

 

Un Grand Verre de Terre (A Large Glass Of Earth). (La Fábrica, 2020)

Once again, an artist's notebook that fuses Barceló's plastic artwork with an account of his lived experience and boasts beautiful photographs of the window panels he designed for the National Library of France in 2016. The images are especially important as this was a work of ephemeral art - the clay-on-glass fresco was dismantled by the artist himself at the close of the predetermined exhibition time. The notebook describes the process, sensations and end result of the work from the point of view of its creator. As the publisher points out, "a living work, designed to be observed from inside and outside the building, which introduced the visitor to an extraordinary exhibition".

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin) 

 

 

 

- Miquel Barceló: Biography, Works and Exhibitions -                                -  Alejandra de Argos -

The Fahrenheit Gallery, Valeria Aresti's beautiful Madrid art space, is currently hosting the exhibition “Some Other Sunset” by rising New York star, the painter Heidi Hahn (b. Los Angeles, 1982). It comprises a series of 7 medium-sized oil paintings and 8 drawings, each of them dominated by the silhouette of a female body. These are women lost in thought, silent and, for the most part, in a forest lit only by the sunset.

Never Mind a Sunset 4

Heidi Hahn. Never Mind a Sunset 4, 2021 oil on canvas 

 

The Fahrenheit Gallery, Valeria Aresti's beautiful Madrid art space, is currently hosting the exhibition “Some Other Sunset” by rising New York star, the painter Heidi Hahn (b. Los Angeles, 1982). It comprises a series of 7 medium-sized oil paintings and 8 drawings, each of them dominated by the silhouette of a female body. These are women lost in thought, silent and, for the most part, in a forest lit only by the sunset. Their faces are schematic, some have neither mouth nor eyes, but even so, they seem given over to deep, prolonged thoughts and lost in a loneliness that is palpable in each of the brushstrokes that compose the sleeve of her sweater or the rays of golden sunset  on her shoulder. Through them, Heidi Hahn seems to want to sign a declaration of principles that distance her subjects from the classical canon and its interpretation, widely-held until the beginning of the 20th century, namely, the naked bodies of women as the focal point of their beauty. Instead, she wraps them - or rather shields them, like a cuirass - in clothing that is loose-fitting, neutral, warm and nondescript. Their faces, barely hinted at, also alert the visitor to the fact that, in this exhibition, physiognomy takes a backseat to the volume of the body. There is also a lot of silence, stillness and an incessant question floated on the air: What are these women thinking about?

 

 Never Mind a Sunset 5

Heidi Hahn. Never Mind a Sunset 5, 2021 oil on canvas 

 

From the outset, the contour lines of these bodies seem vaguely but surely reminiscent of Matisse and also, due to their solidity, of Picasso from his classical period. Matisse and Picasso, two undisputed trailblazers who, by the same token, arguably set both the standards and the constraints preventing young artists from being free to step outside the confines of some very marked, very recognizable patterns. Playing supporting roles in this exhibition are the simplified outlines of trees, hazy, barely there, and, in most of the works, the coral pink lighting of a sunset. It is, perhaps, this twilight colour that lends a somewhat sad, prolonged tone and very intimate voice to these women suspended in time. On these bright spring days in Madrid, the autumn light in Hahn’s paintings, the red sunsets, the leafless trees with black trunks, seem somewhat far removed from us. And yet, there is something deeply familiar to us in the message communicated from those lonely, pensive figures. And so it is that these women, lacking in form and expression, beguile us precisely because they confront us with something that is strangely close, something that is palpable in every square metre of Madrid’s pavements: loneliness, introspection, doubt. Hahn's women return us to the most fundamental questions, the ones that fill our lives and cities today during what will hopefully be the last days of the pandemic. Who are we, where are we going, what is going to happen now?

 

  DSF1447a min

Heidi Hahn. Never Mind a Sunset 2, 2021 oil on canvas. Never Mind a Sunset 4, 2021 oil on canvas 

 

Hahn's peculiar way of dressing her subjects is very much in keeping with her idea of altering the function of clothing so as to turn it into something that shifts between a layer of protection and an architectural covering: "I have painted women for a long time now just because I feel like I don't know if I represented them yet in a way I find truly convincing [...] I keep chasing this idea of like 'oh I like the iconic idea of women, but I don't like the classical.' I don't like romanticism that's through the lense of the male gaze; the cliché male gaze. I care about how I see these women and how I want to represent the women in my life [...] These women are trying to become something that they don't necessarily have access to yet. And, so maybe the paint tries to point them in the right direction, if that makes sense, it's trying to give them that strength where there is still that vulnerability, there is still something that is not quite figured out and that's why the figures are looser, and their faces have this idea of falling apart while trying to become something that is very solid." says Hahn. The attention to detail that Hahn pays to the fundamentals of technique is powerful - line, light and colour are the three keystones of an archway – her archway - leading us through areas of flat colour and transforming them into places of feeling and emotion. Brushstrokes ranging from the almost liquid and transparent to the thickest, loaded with pictorial mass. Here, in a large number of canvases, she uses a striking technique, namely - painting simple flowers in repeated patterns as if they were on printed fabric or wallpaper. Up close, the texture of these fake block prints makes them almost touchable which leads us to believe that Hahn transforms feelings into something palpable.

 

 Never Mind a Sunset 6 

Heidi Hahn. Never Mind a Sunset 6, 2021 oil on canvas 

 

These paintings are a tribute to ‘woman’ and her inner life. The way the paint is applied in different layers intensifies the narrative of each painting, calling to mind Edvard Munch and his search for the psychological portrait. Hahn strives to capture emotions and pent-up feelings. She turns the average woman, the one going about her daily routines, into her icon. Her anonymous characters seem lost in their own worlds and thoughts as they shop, sweep, prepare food, or tap on their mobile phones. They are, therefore, in total contrast with the widely-held consensus on ‘woman’ today – that she is more preoccupied with her appearance, fashion fads, the gym and the rat race. Hahn, however, avoids all emphasis on the physical aspects of her models, or even their femaleness, to accentuate instead their moods. This is why Hahn speaks of a "narrative formalism", referring to the amalgamation of paint and figures that happens in her work. 

 

Never Mind a Sunset 1

Heidi Hahn. Never Mind a Sunset 1, 2021 oil on canvas 

 

Hahn likes to work in series of sometimes up to 14 canvases at a time. She groups them together in her studio and works on them, moving them around, looking for connections between each of them and creating a simultaneously different and unique voice at the same time. Layer by layer, broad washes of colour emerge which will become the bodies and, later, their voices. Rather than beginning a painting from a sketch, she invariably develops her compositions during a pictorial process that has already begun its journey. This method of “abstract metamorphosis” aims to lead the viewer's eye beyond the pictorial surface: "So, I always think of myself not as a straight figurative painter, but like a narrative formalist. Which means I need the paint, the materiality of the paint, to work as hard as the image is going to work. They need to go hand in hand, the content and materiality need to go hand in hand to create the painting and what it is trying to be. And so, the paint itself is trying to tell a story with how it's painted: the texture, the brushstroke, the gesture of the paint moving within a certain shape. And so, to me that is even more important than creating the image. And, if it's just image based I am not really interested in that. I am more interested in the paint doing the heavy lifting rather than the thing it's trying to be," she explains.

 

  DSF1449a min

 

 Born in Los Angeles and with a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from Yale, Hahn, now living in New York where she is Assistant Professor of Painting at Alfred University’s School of Art and Design, explains: "So, If I paint a face, it's more like: how is this texture being defined with the medium? How is it being defined with the mark making? How do the colours interact with each other to create that tension? And, I also think of residue in the painting, where everything is trying to be something that is a residue of a reality [How can paint mimic reality?] It's just paint. And the way the paint works to create this artifice, I am really interested in. And, I am really interested in these artificial components trying to make up a reality." Hahn never works from a preliminary drawing; she lets everything just happen and evolve after the first brushstroke, born of uncertainty, after which each character follows its own course and the oil paint guides the form: "In these works, the woman becomes a tool of visual seduction, the formal aspect of the paint delaying ownership over the content [...] I don’t know what exactly these women want to hide themselves away from, but I feel that it is necessary in order to really be seen, be themselves. Defined by the artifice of paint, they are untouchable, camouflaged by beauty and anonymous in profile. The works on paper also offer a respite from definition, the seriality leading to anonymity," says the painter. Hahn fell ill with COVID in April last year, at which time she felt the virus made her aware of being "just a body" up against the world. She admits to feeling scared and thinking that her body did not belong to her. She also thinks that, as a result, she found it more difficult to face her work: "I find it hard to put aside a pandemic and political unrest and carry on creating something that resides in an intellectual framework and trades in a formalism devoid of the present reality”. She adds: "I think the future of the art world will become insular. If you are a maker, you have the compulsion to make, regardless of if you are able to show it to the world".

Thus, the women who emerge from Hahn’s paintings no longer belong to the concrete world of people, having entered that other plane populated by figures made of texture, line, gesture and colour and in the form of moods.

 

 DSF1424a min

 

 Heidi Hahn
Some Other Sunset
Galería Fahrenheit
Justiniano, 8
Madrid 28004
19 de mayo 2021- 15 de julio 2021

 

Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin

 

 - Los atardeceres de Heidi Hahn en Madrid -     - Alejandra de Argos -

 

Recently inaugurated in Lisbon, Rapture, is the largest exhibition by artist and political activist, Ai Weiwei, (Beijing, China, 1957) described by The New York Times as one of the most important critical artists of our time, with his eloquent and unsilenceable voice for freedom. The exhibition title has various meanings; one is the “transcendent moment that connects the earthly dimension with the spiritual dimension.” Another is the “hijacking of our rights and freedom”

Ai Weiwei photo credit Ai Weiwei Studio

Ai Weiwei © Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

 

Recently inaugurated in Lisbon, Rapture, is the largest exhibition by artist and political activist, Ai Weiwei, (Beijing, China, 1957) described by The New York Times as one of the most important critical artists of our time, with his eloquent and unsilenceable voice for freedom. The exhibition title has various meanings; one is the “transcendent moment that connects the earthly dimension with the spiritual dimension.” Another is the “hijacking of our rights and freedom” and this significance may well encompass the definition of the artist’s own life. A life which began with the vital experience of anguish and rupture when his father, the poet Ai Qing, is sent to a labor camp with his family and subsequently exiled during the Cultural Revolution by the anti-right movement, instigated by Mao Zedong. A lot of the inspiration for his artistic creativity stems from examples of lives torn apart, like those confined to refugee camps, lives ripped of freedom, lives destroyed as in the human flow of emigration, cries from corruption and totalitarianism or of sorrow by the ease with which human rights are violated.


Could you tell me about your exhibition Rapture?

It is an exhibition that includes works dating from the 1980s to yesterday, just before the exhibition opened. It contains eighty of my works, many of them are major works. It is the biggest exhibition ever organized, approximately four thousand meters squared in total and includes old and new works, installations, films, photographs and videos. It is a collection of all kinds of different works.
Which of the pieces from your exhibition has the most relevant meaning to you?
Every single work has a certain meaning and no one piece could take the place of the most relevant for me. I could not select one specifically because they are all from different periods. To me, they are all important. 

 

After all, your work is a narration of your life, it is your biography.

Yes, it is like a biography. It would really take a considerable amount of time to contemplate all the works due the numerous videos and movies. They do indeed tell my story. 

 

 DSC7926

Rapture. Ai Weiwei © Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

 

The most recent works in this exhibition are a reflection of your Chinese roots. What values did you learn from your father, the famous poet Ai Qing?

My father’s life was very dramatic. He was a poet who had a strong influence on Chinese revolutionaries. After the nation was established, he was criticized as a rightist and was exiled for 20 years. During all those years, he was forbidden to write. I think my father is important, he was always very open and positive in a very innocent way, which made him very strong, to the extent that even the political storm could not really change him into another person, he remained true to himself.  


You use art as an instrument of social and political awareness. What do you think about artistic creations without a purpose?

I believe that to think of art as not related to reality, humanity and even human struggle is simply not art. At least, it is not the kind of art I would appreciate or even understand. Otherwise, why do we need art? Nature is much more impressive. If you look at anything from nature, from a leaf to water, you would notice it is much more complex and much more beautiful than anything an artist can create. Artists must create emotions and an understanding of who we are and what kind of society we are living in. Just like literature and poetry, there is always some kind of hidden intention. It is not just a string of empty words and vocabulary, that is impossible. Art has always been misunderstood as a decorative tool, as if it is trying to decorate some type of life, but that is nothing more than a misunderstanding of the function of art.


You use art as a platform to voice and help the less fortunate defend their human rights and freedom of expression, but what does art do for you? 

What I receive from my practice is life. Life itself is a practice. Without practice, there is no life. It becomes me and I become what I am trying to be as a piece of art. I need to find a language to define my life. If I do not find that language, it is simply as if I never existed or I never had a life.


Rapture also presents your last documentary Coronation where you talk about China’s "ruthless efficiency" in the face of the pandemic. If compared to the leadership of other countries such as Brazil or India, it seems like this merciless management has prevented many deaths, suffering, economic dramas ...

If you look at the numbers, yes, China is very successful. At the beginning, they said there were only 3000 deaths, now there are 4000 but the numbers were never true. Yes, they controlled the disease but at the same time, they controlled people’s spirit, people’s understanding about life itself. People have the right to be free. The state should not have that kind of power, a military type of power to supposedly ‘take care of people’ but at the same time really unhinge them. There is no humanity in that. You cannot treat people like animals. The state has become over powerful but yes, I should say that it has successfully controlled the disease.

 

 Nurses in hospital

 


China deprived its people of their freedom but protected its nation during the pandemic. What do you prefer: freedom or protection?

Freedom is not an empty word. Freedom includes our individual consciousness and our way to protect ourselves, others, and society. The individual must defend their rights. The government has no right to tell people what to do. It can make suggestions and organize resources, but it is in no position to force people to do anything.


What do you think about the European Union’s support of Biden's request for a new investigation into the origin of Covid in an attempt to ensure it never happens again, as stated by the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen?

Firstly, you can never really find out what happens in China. It does not matter if you carry out an investigation or not. China, as a society, has a certain characteristic that will ensure many things will remain a secret and nobody would be able to find out. Not only in this instance but also in every other political disaster, they never reveal anything truthful. Of course, today, I think we should understand the nature of the disease to prevent it happening again and avoid it happening every year. This is the biggest disaster and China, as a responsible large nation, has the duty to tell the world what really happened at the beginning of this disaster. However, I am convinced they will not let anyone know. 


You have been very active in raising awareness about the problems caused by climate change. What do you think of the recent commitment made by China and the United States to reinforce the Treaty of Paris and collaborate in the reduction of greenhouse gases?

I like it. It is a positive step in the right direction. If China really commits to it, it has the potential to be very efficient. This is something every politician talks about, however, it is very hard to measure what is actually being done. Each nation is at a different stage of development and therefore they have very diverse ideas on how to limit this kind of behavior or how to take action. Nevertheless, it is good they have started to talk about these issues.


Which image from the past year has impacted you most? Crematories on the streets of India, cemeteries in South America…

There are so many, too many in fact, so again it is very hard to select just one. There were simply too many shocking images.


The refugee crisis and the “human flow” of migrations are central themes in your work that you particularly want to accentuate. The dignity of the human condition is at the heart of your concerns. In effect, you grew up as a refugee yourself because of your father's situation. What positive aspects have you drawn from such a traumatic experience?

As you said, I grew up in China, in a way, as a political refugee myself, so I am always wondering how Europe is dealing with the situation. Now I realize Europe is trying to look the other way and ignore the refugee crisis. Personally, I am extremely disappointed by this behavior. Thousands of refugees are being pushed away and have lost their life in the ocean. That is a fact. A lot of children, women and elderly people are just being pushed away. They cannot even reach the border. And even if they do reach the border, they (the authorities) will not let them through. This is an unthinkable situation. I could never have imagined that Europe would be capable of that, but they really have done it and in plain sight for everyone to see. It has changed my perspective on our human condition.


What is your opinion on the agreement reached between the United States and Spain in favor of “migration carried out through regular channels and in a safe, orderly and humane manner" as stated by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken?

I think if state policy is only choosing to talk about the humanitarian crisis as a tactic, it is a hypocrite. The US is still involved in wars, selling weapons to many nations which should not even be considered as democratic societies. I believe the US is responsible, and should be held responsible, for many other humanitarian crises happening around the world: what happened in Afghanistan, the US relations with Saudi Arabia, and many others that are very questionable. Therefore, when they talk about providing humanitarian help, first, they should stop producing war machines and stop interfering in many regional problems, not to mention the many other problems they create. 


Meanwhile, you have opened another exhibition Marbre, Porcelaine, Lego in the Max Hetzler Gallery in Paris. What vengeful work can we find here?

The show follows my activities from recent years. My porcelain and Lego works portray motifs related to the migration and refugee crisis, which could also be called a humanitarian crisis. The idea is to combine the well-developed tradition of blue and white porcelain in China with the modern practice of the material Lego to create a unique expandable strength.

 

 Ai Weiwei After the death of Marat Nicolas Brasseur

  Ai Weiwei, After the Death of Marat, 219. LEGO bricks 231 x 269.5 cm

 

 

- Interview with Ai Weiwei -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

 

Francisco de Goya's work is universally famous for its spectacular quality, its modernity and its commitment. The Fuendetodos teacher was a pioneer in technique and subject matter; a nonconformist in a society where he never quite fit in, but who surrendered to his dazzling artistry.

 

"Time also paints"

 

 01. retrato de goya wikipedia

“The painter Francisco de Goya” (1826). Oil on canvas. Vicente López Portaña. Prado Museum

 

The Prado Museum is among the world's greatest art galleries and of all its rooms, the ones that draw visitors like a magnet are those showcasing the works of Francisco de Goya ~ one of the most important, charismatic and iconoclastic painters ever in the history of painting. His "Black Paintings" and engravings suite are much admired for their astonishing modernity and break from the norms of their time; his Costumbrista, portrait and religious paintings dazzle with the light they emit and the contemporaneity of their brushstroke which transforms them into works that are almost pre-Impressionist. His concept of art transcended that of the mere reflection of what surrounded him, instead interpreting his work as something in constant evolution: "Time also paints," he said on more than one occasion.

Goya's case is almost unique in the history of art, comparable only to that of masters such as El Greco or Turner. It is the story of those artists who shunned the schools of their time to pursue an art that would not be understood until many decades later, the intentions of their art being different, very different from those of their contemporaries. In Goya's own words: "The exceptional qualities of their work are ruined by these mannered masters, who always see lines and never bodies. But where do they find lines in nature? All I can see are light bodies and dark bodies, planes that move backwards or forwards, reliefs and concaves." - words that many avant-garde artists of the 20th century could subscribe to, written more than 150 years earlier.

 

Early learning and a trip to Italy

Francisco de Goya was born in Zaragoza on 10 March 1746 with art running through his veins, the son of a master gilder and a mother from the lower rungs of the aristocracy. In the mid-18th century, Zaragoza was a rich and powerful city with a flourishing business in the construction of churches and convents which then needed craftsmen to decorate them with altarpieces, paintings and panels. Goya's father's skills were much sought-after and he decided to push his children's aspirations along the same path. The future Court painter took his first steps towards paper and canvas aged 13 under the tutelage of José Luzán Martínez, who had been schooled by Neapolitan painters and whose influence would prove decisive in Goya's attraction to Italian painting. After Luzán Martínez, Goya continued his apprenticeship with Francisco Bayeu and, at the age of 17, applied for a grant and tenure from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando but was turned down. A further application in 1766 was again unsuccessful.

 

02. motin de esquilache

"The Esquilache Riots" (circa 1766)

 

Works attributed to Goya at this time are scarce, with some religious-themed paintings remaining but the one that stands out most is "The Esquilache Riots" (c. 1766). It is an ensemble painting that depicts an actual incident of great intensity and social relevance and displays some of what will become future constants in his work: the theatrical use of light and shadows, loose brushstrokes, vibrant colours, movement and a marked interest in balance and composition. In 1770, the young artist travelled to Italy, where his passion for masks, popular customs and street theatre was born - a passion that tallies with his fascination with people's faces and grotesque figures. During the trip, Goya decided to submit his entry in a competition held by the Academy of Fine Arts of Parma: "Hannibal the Conqueror views Italy for the first time from the Alps". While Goya's eponymously-titled painting garnered good reviews, the potency and "lack of realism" of the colours did not convince the jury to award him first prize. Goya's risky, personal and vibrant artistic style was already standing out for its modernity against the obvious academicism of his colleagues.

 

  02. Aníbal vencedor contempla por primera vez Italia desde los Alpes

"Hannibal the Conqueror views Italy for the first time from the Alps" (1770). Selgas-Fagalde Foundation

 

First steps to success. Frescoes and Tapestry Cartoons

 

03. Goya Padre Eterno Esquedas 1 abmed 

Detail from the Chapel of the Conde de Sobradiel, Zaragoza (1770). Barboza Grasa Archive 

 

On his return, a now 25 year-old Goya takes on his first important commission: to paint a fresco in one of the vaults of Zaragoza's Basilica of the Pillar, applying the techniques learnt during his stay in Italy. This work wins him more contracts: frescoes for churches and palaces and, primarily, portraits of the Aragonese aristocracy. It was during this time that he completed paintings to decorate the chapel of the Palace of the Count of Sobradiel. His work earns him a certain fame and a stable position, factors that convince his former teacher, Francisco Bayeu, to allow Goya to marry his sister Josefa. Of all the seven children from their marriage, only the youngest, Francisco Javier Pedro, will survive to adulthood. How deeply the deaths of his children tormented the artist's soul will emerge later in his "Black Paintings", "Caprichos" and "Disparates" print series. 

 

 04 Carton El cacharrero por Francisco de Goya

"The Pottery Vendor” (1779). Tapestry cartoon for The Royal Factory of Santa Barbara

 

1775 was to be a crucial and life-changing turning point for Goya. Anton Raphael Mengs, first painter to King Charles III and also commissioned as master painter by other European courts, calls on him to design and paint tapestry cartoons for the Royal Factory of Santa Barbara. The first ones were painted that same year: a total of nine works, each serving as a pattern guide for tapestries destined for The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo of El Escorial. Goya continues his production and the following year begins another series of cartoons, this time destined for the collection of the Palace del Pardo. Between 1778 and 1780, he both worked and lived at court which afforded him the opportunity to befriend the then Secretary of State, the Count of Floridablanca. This and other relationships, together with his undeniable talent and the originality of his work, guarantee him stability and Goya will then take his first steps towards becoming the future Court Painter. In 1780, he presents "Christ on the Cross" in support of his application to enter the Royal Academy of San Fernando and is admitted unanimously

 

 05. Cristo en la cruz Goya

"Christ on the Cross” (1780). Prado Museum

 

A career on the rise: Jovellanos, Ceán Bermúdez and the Enlightenment 

In that era, art and painting were characterized by their ironfisted academicism. Neoclassicism cast a long shadow over artists forced into ironclad and stereotypical constraints based on centuries-old rules. Goya rebels against these impositions and chooses his own path, something that will characterize his work and attitude for most of his life. The 1780s bring him both successes and failures; from the rejection of audiences and academics alike to his Virgin Mary frescoes for the Basilica of the Pillar, to the unreserved acclaim for his "Saint Bernardine of Siena preaching to Alfonso V of Aragón" (1873), created for an altar of the Basilica of Saint Francis the Great. With his fame now well-established, Goya devotes time to painting the portraits of important families and members of the upper classes such as the Duke of Osuna and the Earl of Floridablanca. In fact, the patronage of the Dukes of Osuna was to win him numerous commissions.

 

06. San Bernardino de Siena Goya 

"Saint Bernardine of Siena preaching to Alfonso V of Aragón” (1781-83).  Basilica of Saint Francisco el Grande

 

Goya's anxious soul propels him towards certain environments, individuals and ideas that would become fundamental throughout his life. At this time, he makes the acquaintance of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos and the art collector Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez. Through these friendships, his career as a painter continues to rise, thanks to the numerous commissions they secured for him. However, these commissions were by no means the most important benefit he receives from his friends: they open the doors to intellectual and reformist circles advocating for the Enlightenment to come to Spain. It is a discovery that impacts the artist, who immediately identifies with these new views on education and politics. These are critical and revealing moments which also affect his painting; his canvasses begin to abandon idealist and perfectionist concepts in pursuit of expressionism, as represented by the exaggerated and the grotesque. Unknowingly, Goya becomes one of the forerunners of a movement that would soon spring up throughout Europe: Romanticism.

 

Ill health, nudes and war. The time of realism.

 

08. Maja vestida Prado

"The Clothed Maja" (1800-1807). Prado Museum

 

1792 is a dark year in the life of Francisco de Goya. While travelling around Andalusia, he suffers a terrible illness that leaves him profoundly deaf at the age of 46, a deafness that will accompany him until his death and infuse many of his thoughts and paintings with blackness. The painter finds refuge in his art and creates a series of small paintings where the presence of tragedy and crime is strong. However, Goya rises phoenix-like from the ashes and in 1795 becomes Director of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. He continues as a portraitist to the nobility, even securing the patronage of the recently-widowed Duchess of Alba. The artist continues to develop his interest in the grotesque, popular folk traditions and social criticism through his engravings, as evidenced in the "Caprichos" (1799). At this time, he also paints his famous works "The Clothed Maja" and "The Naked Maja", which would later bring him the wrath of the Inquisition.

  

09. El Tres de Mayoby Francisco de Goya 

“The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid" (1813-14). Prado Museum

 

On the outbreak of the War of Independence (1808-1814), Goya is obliged to be seen to take the government's side, although his output does remain critical in series such as "Disasters of War". His wife, Josefa, dies in 1812 which is when it is believed he begins a relationship with Leocadia Zorrilla. After the war, he continues to work as Court Painter to the king and nobility, even going so far as to paint the portrait of Ferdinand VII, the "Felon King" and self-declared absolute monarch he neither liked, respected nor accepted. However, despite only showing the regime-critical drawings and prints to his most trusted friends, his prudence was insufficient protection from the Inquisition which, in 1815, brought a tribunal against him for his "The Nude Maja". Undeterred, he continues his production of etchings with two emblematic series: "Tauromaquia (Bullfighting)" and the unfinished "Disparates (Follies)".

 

10. Disparate de carnaval

“Carnaval Folly”. Etching 14 from the series “Disparates” (1815). Prado Museum

 

Final years. The Deaf Man's House and death in Bordeaux.

 

11. Francisco de Goya Saturno devorando a su hijo 1819 1823

“Saturn Devouring His Son" (1819-23). Prado Museum

 

By 1819, Goya is 73 years old. The illness, the deafness, his disillusionment with the absolutist government and his problems with the Inquisition have taken their toll on his body, mind and spirit. He acquires the Madrid property he had fallen in love with for its views and ample grounds and it will come to be known as The Deaf Man's House. The elderly painter suffers another severe bout of his illness but lives through it to leave his swansong reverberating around its walls. I refer here to the famous "Black Paintings", where Goya returns to focus on the subjects that had always nested in the depths of his art: death, man's humanity to man, the degradation wrought by the passage of time and the evil hiding in the human soul. In 1824, Goya goes into self-imposed exile in Bordeaux in an attempt to distance himself from the absolutist government he both despised and feared. He is accompanied by Leocadia Zorrilla and her two children, the youngest of whom, Rosario, Goya considers his own daughter and instructs in the art of painting.

 

12. la lechera de burdeo

“The Milkmaid of Bordeaux” (1827). Prado Museum 

 

In 1826, Goya is finally able to retire and live out his final years quietly and comfortably-off, dedicated to his graphic work, enriching it with series such as the "New Caprichos", and bullfighting-themed engravings. Standing out among his last works is "The Milkmaid of Bordeaux" (1827), painted a year before his death, that dazzles with its free use of brushstroke, framing, composition and theme, displaying a surprisingly creative and pictorial freedom which foreshadowed the Impressionism of masters such as Renoir and Manet. It should also be pointed out that today, the painting has sparked no little controversy with some experts doubting Goya's authorship and suggesting the possibility that it could actually have been by the hand of his student Rosario. In 1828, Goya dies in Bordeaux, leaving to posterity an oeuvre that is unique in the world, full of creative freedom, modernity, social engagement and beauty.

 

Exhibitions

Goya in Madrid (2014-15)

 

The cartoons Goya painted as pattern studies for tapestries were historically considered "minor works". However, these are magnificent paintings in themselves that reveal the master's inimitable hand and foreshadowed artistic movements that would come many decades later. The Prado Museum held an entire exhibition of these cartoons, showcasing them along with those of other artists of the time as well as the paintings and sculptures that served as model and inspiration.

 

Goya: The Portraits (2015)

 

In 2015, London's National Gallery celebrated the dazzling work of Goya the portraitist in an exhibition of seventy portraits that, in the institution's own words, "demonstrate his daringly unconventional approach and remarkable skill at capturing the psychology of his sitters." The exhibition included paintings, drawings and miniatures rarely or never-before-seen in the British capital.

 

Goya and the Enlightened Court, Illustrated (2017)

 

The Museum of Fine Arts, Bilbao organized this exhibit in collaboration with the Prado Museum and the La Caixa Foundation. The selection included ninety-six works that reflect Goya's activity during his years as a court painter, allowing the public to admire such famous works as "Blind Man's Bluff" and "The Straw Manikin". It was the first ever exhibition dedicated to Goya in the capital of the Biscay province.

 

Masters of Spain: Goya & Picasso (2018)

 

Goya shared space with another of Spain's artist greats, Pablo Picasso, in this exhibition organized by the Polk Museum of Art in Florida (USA). More than 50 works of art were on display, including the famous "Tauromaquia" (Bullfighting) series, showcased alongside several pieces created by Picasso on multiple types of media from ceramics to cardboard. Most works were on loan from The Art Company, located in Pesaro, Italy.

 

Goya. Drawings. "Only my Strength of Will Remains" (2019)

 

Again in 2019, the Prado Museum dedicated a portion of its exhibition calendar to the work of Francisco de Goya. On this occasion, the exhibition was based on the research and documentation undertaken for the new catalogue raisonné that the museum intended to publish, based on an agreement signed by the Prado and the Botín Foundation. It was the first time that over 300 of Goya's drawings, comprising the Prado's own holdings and loans from collections around the world, were gathered together.

  

Books

 

Goya and His Critics. Nigel Glendinning (Yale University Press, 1977 & 2017)

Nigel Glendinning was a renowned scholar on the work of Francisco de Goya. This book, written in 1977 and republished in 2017, is the first document to study the artist and his work through its contextualization in time. The author, who died in 2013, was a pioneer in reflecting on different analyses and studies of the painter's work over decades. The book adds other later studies by the author himself, as well as texts by other experts. In general, this book is considered the most complete study carried out to date on the work of the artist.

  

Francisco Goya. Life and Works. Valeriano Bozal (TF Editores, 2005)

Valeriano Bozal is a renowned expert on the work of Francisco de Goya and whose contribution can be  found in reference books, such as the above-mentioned new edition by Nigel Glendinning. His book Francisco de Goya. Life and Works is an important text for, among other things, the innovative and original point of view it brings regarding the passions and obsessions of the painter. The scholar begins the book with the phrase: "Goya does not lend us his eyes, he opens ours. To the past, to the present." Comprising two volumes, it is an essential work with which to enter the personal world and turbulent times of a once-in-a-lifetime artist.

Goya In Literature. Leonardo Romero Tobar (Marcial Pons, 2016)

Professor of Art Leonardo Romero Tobar has done sterling work on this study, a well-organized and annotated monograph that sheds new light on the work of Francisco de Goya. The text is an extensive collection of annotated bibliographical references, a magnificent contribution for any scholar on the work of the artist. Far from being a collection of quotations and text by the master, the book is a compilation of references that add an interesting analysis of the painter's work, interests and context. 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

- Francisco de Goya. Biografía, obras y exposiciones -                        - Alejandra de Argos -

London's Tate Modern is currently hosting a visit from a very different Van Gogh. The exhibition comes courtesy of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and includes a painting that seemingly brings with it the air of a Soviet billboard, a kind of propaganda, a punishment, a coldness. It is a far cry from Van Gogh's most iconic sun-soaked canvasses - no lilies, no sunflowers in vases, no wheatfields.

Colaborating author: Marina Valcárcel
 
 Marina

 

 

 

 Van gogh 

Vincent Van Gogh, Self-portrait dedicated to Gaugin (1888), Fogg Art Museum, USA 

 

London's Tate Modern is currently hosting a visit from a very different Van Gogh. The exhibition comes courtesy of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and includes a painting that seemingly brings with it the air of a Soviet billboard, a kind of propaganda, a punishment, a coldness. It is a far cry from Van Gogh's most iconic sun-soaked canvasses - no lilies, no sunflowers in vases, no wheatfields. This is his most tragic painting and features a prison courtyard. Painted in February 1890, by which time Van Gogh was an inpatient at St Rémy asylum, rarely venturing outdoors to paint the countryside around him, instead feverishly reproducing the postcards his brother Theo sent him. This painting, based on an engraving by Gustave Doré, is a scream in the dark. It is his terror of madness and confinement. A group of 33 prisoners, heads down, drag their feet around a circle of oppressive and alienating exercise, enclosed inside a  wall without end, two symbolic butterflies hiding between its bricks. A feeling of the absence of freedom permeates it. Only a small ray of light trickles down from an unseen sky to illuminate the face of one of the prisoners, the only one to lift his head and look at us. A blond-haired man, white-skinned. Vincent Van Gogh. On 27 July 1890, five months after completing this painting, he would go out into the wheatfields surrounding Auvers with a revolver and shoot a bullet into his stomach.

 

Van Gogh 1

Vincent Van Gogh, Prison Courtyard (1890), Pushkin Museum, Moscow


A meditation on painting

Van Gogh died at the age of 37. Other visionaries who revolutionized the art of their time also died young - Basquiat at the age of 27, Egon Schiele 28, Modigliani 35, Raphael 36, Caravaggio 38 ...


Unlike them, however, Van Gogh's biography (1853–1890) stands out for something unusual - the bulk of his output came in the last two years of his life. Just over 700 days and 900 works that would blow the roof off Western painting. Two years in and out of hospital, devouring oil paint of the colour that obsessed him - yellow lead chromate. Making the most of any periods of calm for frantic painting, sometimes a picture a day, sometimes two, and battling the dazed stupor produced by the potassium bromide injected into his veins to prevent seizures. Painting so as not to go mad, painting every lily and every ear of wheat until his senses absorbed them, painting the sun and the moonlight, painting so as not to die, painting whilst dying.

In addition to his paintings, the Dutchman also left a key legacy - his correspondence, which has survived essentially intact to the present day. From August 1872 until his death, Van Gogh wrote over 800 letters, of which 668 were sent to Theo his younger brother, his confidant, accomplice, double. All of them begin "My dear Theo" and are written in Dutch, English or French.

This spring of 2019, all roads lead to Van Gogh: the Tate Modern has inaugurated its first exhibition dedicated to him since 1947 - Van Gogh in Britain - whilst the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is delighting visitors with a beautiful exhibition in which his landscapes dialogue with those of David Hockney. In Barcelona, there are long queues for the interactive Meet Van Gogh exhibition and Julian Schnabel's biopic - At Eternity's Gate - is still showing in cinemas. 

 

Van Gogh 2

Vincent Van Gogh, Almond Blossoms (1890), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Holland


Long before Vincent picked a brush with the intention of learning to be a painter, he was already looking at the world through the eyes of an artist. As a child, he became practised at observing Nature during his long walks in the Brabant countryside: he examined birds' nests and wondered at the Dutch flatlands broken up only by the sharp spire of some church or by the red strip of sunset on the skyline. 

Through his father, a Calvinist pastor from the Dutch town of Zundert, he was immersed in a traditional learning method then prevalent in northern Europe, namely, that everything we observe is full of metaphorical and symbolic meanings. Much of this teaching to children was done through the holy prints that surrounded them in their homes. In his father's studio hung three engravings that impacted Vincent as a child: The Return of the Prodigal Son, The Harvest and a baby in his cradle by Rembrandt; simple scenes that lit the flame of a profound religious sensitivity in Van Gogh from a very early age.

The search for salvation

Behind those blue eyes, Vincent's life revolved around the inner workings of his own mind. Long before art made its appearance, there  was not only  the need to seek his salvation but also a voracious amount of reading - the Bible first and foremost, along with Shakespeare,  Dickens,  Hugo, Homer and Balzac, to name but a few. Between the ages of 16 and 30, he and his brother Theo worked as assistants at the Goupil Art Gallery and travelled throughout Holland, London and Paris. It was in these cities that Van Gogh immersed himself in museums and galleries, deciphering the works of the painters he most admired: Rubens, Frans Hals, Delacroix and, of course, Rembrandt. In Paris, he encountered the Impressionists, Japanese prints with their bright colors and lack of perspective or shadow and the dotted brushstrokes of the Pointillists. And everything learnt from museums and books served to expand the treasure trove of images and memories he would carry with him like baggage.

At 30 and in less than a decade, this fragile and confused young man decides to learn to paint, assimilating all contemporary innovation and emerging as the pioneer of the most modern, expressive forms of painting. And so, in February 1888, Vincent boards the train to Arles where his painting would reach maturity while his life begins to fall apart. Living in the Yellow House and obsessed with Gaugin's arrival, he churns out, at the rate of sometimes six canvasses a day, his legendary paintings: the Sunflowers series, A Pair of Boots, Gaugin's Chair, his Bedroom in Arles ... the same room where he would soon be found dying. In Van Gogh As Prometheus, Georges Bataille asserts that  it is precisely on the night in December 1888 that he handed over his severed ear at a brothel "... [w]hen his painting turns into lightning, explosion and flame; while at the same time he himself disintegrated in ecstasy before a beam of radiant light, exploding, on fire."

 

Van gogh3

Vincent Van Gogh, Gaugin's Chair (1888). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Holland

 

Dawn of the collapsible paint tube

In Provence, he embraced the landscape, turning its abundant indigenous bamboo and reeds into brushes and pencils. He was also able to benefit from advances in the chemical industry as new colours appeared in the form of coal tar pigments, mauve and magenta aniline dyes and synthetic lacquer tints. But, more importantly, came the invention of the squeezable paint tube, which made painting with oil outdoors possible for the first time. 

When he took his easel out into the countryside, he would turn his head like sunflowers in search of sunlight and colours, sensing nature in all its glory: temperatures, sounds, mistrals, scents ... and then falling into a state of hypnosis. The last snows had just washed the fruit trees in the orchards clean. There were paths and yet more paths lined with trees of all kinds and everything was starting to shine with an intensity that Vincent painted in short, stenographic lines. It was then that he discovered the motivation for his painting: in nature he found the power of suggestion in the colours he used to convey poetic ideas and to express feelings or moods. In his film, Julian Schnabel enables us to experience Van Gogh's catharsis through optical illusions. He recounts how one day, in a second-hand shop, he came across a pair of bifocal glasses. While wearing them, he realized that his field of vision was altered, blurred or expanded and believed he had hit upon how to convey on screen the artist's trancelike way of seeing the world.

 

Van Gogh4

Vincent Van Gogh, A Wheatfield with Cypresses (1889). Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA


In Amsterdam recently, Hockney spoke with devotion: "I think my debt to Van Gogh is obvious here. For me, he's a contemporary artist. He still speaks to me today, like Brueghel." Van Gogh and Hockney lived a century apart but their landscapes, on display side by side, are like stars colliding: "Although it's obvious we both have a fascination with nature, what links me most to Van Gogh is not his colours, brushstrokes or landscapes, it's the clarity of his spaces." Insisting on their similarity of brushstroke, he replied with a smile: "Well, sometimes I steal things from Van Gogh. Great artists don't borrow, they steal." He added, seriously: "With a photograph, the whole surface is uniformly flat. Between a photo taken of a Van Gogh painting and the actual canvas, the difference is the brushstrokes. We can't look at a photo for long, no more than a fraction of a second, because we don't see the subject in layers. The portrait Lucian Freud painted of me required me to pose for 120 hours and that can all be seen in the layers of the painting. That's why it's of infinitely higher interest than a photo."

The London exhibition, the one in Amsterdam and Schnabel's film converge miraculously in one standout picture currently at the Tate Modern. It is At Eternity's Gate, the selfsame title as Schnabel's film. Along with The Prison Courtyard, Van Gogh painted it in April 1890 during his days of isolation at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum and this time it is based on a drawing of his from the Dutch period. It depicts a man sitting in a chair with his head buried in his hands. A symbol of despair and, more likely, of Van Gogh's own anguish. Two weeks before starting it, his doctor, Théophile Peyron, wrote to Theo: "He usually sits with his head in his hands and whenever someone comes to talk to him, it seems as if it causes him immense pain."

Conversely, for Hockney, At Eternity's Gate signifies a rebirth. In March 2013, one of his assistants, Dominique Elliot, committed suicide at the artist's house while he was painting the Yorkshire landscapes that are currently on display in Amsterdam. For several months, Hockney was unable to paint. In July of that same year, Hockney sent a drawing to his friend and curator Edith Devaney. It was a portrait of his friend Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima, sitting in his studio with his head in his hands. Devaney instantly spotted the similarities with Van Gogh's painting. Hockney acknowledged that this was not only a portrait of his friend but was also a kind of self-portrait in the face of tragedy. After that portrait came many more, which, in 2016, would become  an exhibition at the Royal Academy: 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life. Van Gogh had persuaded Hockney to take up painting again.

 

 Van Gogh 5 

Vincent Van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate (1889). Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Holland

 

Silent contemplation

In 1890, during his confinement, Van Gogh found himself even more deeply affected by everything than before. He breathed every breath behind the bars and felt his spirit vibrate behind the window panes, letting it merge with the changing landscapes, light and seasons through his brushes. In the monastery's walled garden, he became a silent contemplator. Sitting under the trees, his eyes captured everything he saw. He would lie next to the lilies, face to face, and paint them, as if one of them, at one with them. When we look at his paintings today, we can almost feel the air, the freshness under the shade, the grass and lavender moving. Vincent wrote at the time that he was in his heaven.

 

 Van Gogh 6 

Vincent Van Gogh, Irises (1889). J.Paul Getty Museum, California, USA


However, towards the end of his life, the struggle inside his head between art and madness took on heroic proportions. The recurrence of crises was terrifying. In moments of calm, he painted furiously as if trying to ward off the next attack that would inevitably come the following day. For Van Gogh at this time, painting was both his destruction and at the same time his salvation, because it was precisely between episodes that he could see with greater intensity and lucidity and when his pictorial faculties seemed to be totally under control. These were works of wild abandon, painted on the edge of the abyss. Over and again, he painted barley-sugar cypresses like Solomon's columns, wheatfields with never-ending paths, starry night skies speckled as if by glistening gas lamps, cloud chains moving like ship sails tossed by the wind.

 

 Van Gogh 7 

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889). MoMA, New York, USA


In May 1890, Theo knew that his brother was going through the most terrible time. He could see that Vincent was about to pull off a miracle and turn his mental disorder into a revolution. Theo feared that all of the internal intensity tormenting van Gogh was sure to explode inside his head once and for all. And he found a place for the explosion to be a controlled one - the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, 20 kilometres north of Paris. There, accompanied by Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh found the strength to unleash his final creative fury. Over the 70 days his spell in Auvers lasted, he produced 90 paintings. Many of them are his most exceptional works, almost always landscapes - solitary, disturbing and absolutely novel. His last painting, Three Roots, featured at the Amsterdam exhibition, is a manifesto to abstraction..

 

 Van Gogh 8 

Vincent Van Gogh, Three Roots (1890). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Holland


In one of his last letters to Theo, Vincent lamented the fact that in the absence of any children of his own, his paintings would be his legacy. But Van Gogh did have a descendant - Expressionism. And along with it, many heirs - Kokoschka, De Kooning, Jackson Pollock ...
Within a few months, Theo, exhausted and ill, had lost his mind and also died. In 1914, his remains were moved to the cemetery in Auvers where he rests beside Vincent, with a matching headstone. From there, the two brothers observe Van Gogh's triumph - "Flowers die, mine will live on."

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- Van Gogh, painting from hell -                        - Alejandra de Argos -

"Art has nothing to do with ugliness or sadness. Light is the life of all it touches; so the more light there is in a painting, the more life, the more truth, the more beauty it will have." It is no coincidence that Joaquín Sorolla is known as "the painter of light". The spectacular effects that the Valencian master imprinted on his canvases have yet to be matched by any other artist.

Life through light 

 


sorolla retratado por la fotografa gertrude kasebier en 1908 3832291e 1109x1481

Joaquín Sorolla photographed by Gertrude Käsebier, 1908

 

"Art has nothing to do with ugliness or sadness. Light is the life of all it touches; so the more light there is in a painting, the more life, the more truth, the more beauty it will have." It is no coincidence that Joaquín Sorolla is known as "the painter of light". The spectacular effects that the Valencian master imprinted on his canvases have yet to be matched by any other artist. The search for life through light was a constant in his work, often imbued with the brightness of the beaches and landscapes of his native Valencia. However, Sorolla's work is not limited to just seascapes, beaches or figures on the seashore. As a painter, he was also a magnificent portraitist and an exceptional portrayer of Costumbrista scenes.

The sheer magnitude of his output would be near impossible to equal, his works coming to almost three thousand paintings, in addition to the more than twenty thousand drawings and sketches he produced throughout his life. His prodigious visual memory enabled him to adopt one of impressionism's remits: that of capturing ephemeral moments or incidents and turning them into works of art. Sorolla was able to remember the light and movement of a scene from a single moment and then capture that scene in his studio. Today, Sorolla's paintings embody and convey the full light of the Mediterranean in each brushstroke and, due to their impressive, innovative qualities, they enjoy a special place in the most important museum collections and art galleries in the world.

 

Painting, an innate vocation

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was born in Valencia in 1863. At the tender age of two years old, the future artist and his sister Eugenia lost their parents to the cholera epidemic sweeping the city. The two orphans were taken in by an aunt and uncle, who assumed responsibility for their education and upbringing. From his earliest years, Joaquin demonstrated an innate passion for art, drawing and painting. His locksmith uncle tried to steer him towards his own trade, to no avail. It was the headmaster at his secondary school who realized how gifted he was and suggested he train at the School of Craftsmen of Valencia. Sorolla enrolled at the age of 13 and two years later moved up to the High School of Fine Arts in Valencia where he was already proving to have extraordinary skills in brushwork and the rendering of realistic images, heavily influenced by Valencian seascape painters such as Rafael Monleón y Torres, among others.

 

Marina Sorolla 1880 wikipedia

Seascape (1880)

 

After finishing his studies, Sorolla meets the painter Ignacio Pinazo who introduces him to brand a new way of treating light in painting, a recent trend he had discovered on a trip to Italy. It is the young artist's first contact with Impressionism and, for the rest of his life, his work will adhere to many of its tenets. The fundamentals of this school are already reflected in his first seascapes, three of which he will send to Madrid for participation in the 1881 National Exhibition of Fine Arts. It is around this time that Sorolla met the photographer Antonio García, who would offer him work in his photography studio and whose daughter, Clotilde García, he would end up marrying.

  

“To get famous, you have to paint dead people"

 

el grito del palleter wikioo

The Cry of the Palleter (1884)

 

The stringent artistic constraints of late 19th century Valencia did not lend themselves to the restless spirit of the young painter, who nevertheless adapted to its demands in order to succeed. In 1884, the Provincial Council of Valencia convened a painting competition with the winning entry to be awarded a scholarship to complete their studies in Rome. The theme was the 1808 War of Independence. Sorolla submitted his work "The Cry of the Palleter" which made such a deep impression on the jury, they granted him the scholarship. Sorolla accepted the prize with skepticism and irony, confessing to a friend and colleague: "Here, to get famous and win medals, you have to paint dead people."

 

During this stay in Rome, Sorolla discovers the work of the great Italian Renaissance painters but his admiration is not limited to the classical as he also comes into contact with the work of Mariano Fortuny, whose canvases exert a powerful influence on his future work. This influence is clear in paintings such as "Moor with oranges" in 1887. From Italy, he travels to Paris where he acquires a new social conscience that will see itself reflected in many of his future works. In his early Italian period, he developed the long, powerful brushstroke that would characterize his work in the ensuing years. The presence of light will continue to gain importance in his canvases although this earned him serious criticism in Spain, where it still took precedence over technique and innovation. 

 

Light and social realism. In search of his own style

 

800px Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Another Marguerite

Another Margarete (1892)

 

By 1889, Sorolla  had completed his scholarship and learning period and, accompanied by his now wife Clotilde García del Castillo, returned to Spain where he began a time of consolidation, continuing to search for his own style, which was now beginning to appear in his work. His painting combined passion for the portrayal of an instant in time and light, characteristic of Impressionism, with personal touches (such as long brushstrokes or the use of earthy and black tones). Sorolla also opted to portray topics of a social and realistic nature, which also distanced him from the Impressionism that was triumphing throughout the rest of Europe. A good example is "Another Margarete" (1892), a work depicting an inmate being taken to prison in a train wagon after murdering her son. The title refers to the character of Margarete, one of the protagonists of Goethe's play "Faust". The oppressive and dramatic atmosphere of the canvas is accentuated by the use of light and the depiction of the characters' expressions. It won first prize at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in 1892.

 

 1112px Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida La vuelta de la pesca

Return Of The Fishing Boat (1894)

 

In the ensuing years, Sorolla continued to gain recognition, with works such as "And they still say fish is expensive!" and "Return Of The Fishing Boat", both painted in 1894. This latter work in particular marked the moment when he finally hit upon a way to depict light that he had been seeking  from the very beginning and which he would adopt in his future works. During these years, he achieved widespread success and popularity, the painting being acquired by the French Government and also winning the Second Place Medal at the Paris Salon in 1895. 

 

On the beach. Brushstrokes and seascapes

 

800px Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida Sol de la tarde

Evening sun (1903)

 

On the advice of his friend Aureliano Beruete, Sorolla then began working as a portrait artist. He went on to achieve considerable success, painting some of the most important figures in the social, intellectual and political spheres of the day. At the same time, he and his family spent three summers in Jávea, where he painted numerous landscapes, seascapes and beach scenes. The presence of bathers, swimmers, children on the shore and fishing boats became a constant, giving rise to works such as "Evening Sun", from 1903 (considered by Sorolla himself as his best painting).

  

el bote blanco sorolla

The White Boat (1905)

 

Sorolla's treatment of light, framing and colour in these paintings is masterful and as personal as it is unique. On the one hand, his work is very much in the vein of Impressionism but, at the same time, breaks away from it, through long brushstrokes and his colour palette. In 1905, he painted one of his masterpieces, "The White Boat",  followed by even more famous and lauded paintings such as "Children at the Beach", "A Horse Bathing" or "Seaside Stroll" (all painted in 1909).

 

1309px Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida The Horses Bath Google Art Project

A Horse Bathing (1909) 

 

The Hispanic Society panels: the work of a lifetime

 

hsa sorolla gallery north wall1

The Sorolla Gallery (north wall), Hispanic Society of America

 

1911 was a momentous year for Sorolla. The Hispanic Society of New York commissioned him to paint fourteen panels to decorate the library at its headquarters, an enormous task he undertook with enthusiasm, producing a series of paintings depicting scenes from different Spanish regions. Sorolla would define it as his "lifetime's work" and dedicate his final years to its completion. He was then living and working in Huelva from where, in 1919, he sent a telegram to his family announcing he had finished the last painting. The following year, he suffered a stroke that left him unable to travel to New York where he had planned to deliver, assemble and attend the inauguration of his work. The commission would thereby remain unresolved and the contract unsettled until after Sorolla's death in 1923 on the reading of his will.  

  

Panel hispanic society thissen

Sorolla Gallery (detail), Hispanic Society of America

 

In 1926, the gallery was finally inaugurated, bringing to a close a work that perfectly sums up Sorolla's style and technique. Although for a large part of the twentieth century, the advent of avant-garde and new pictorial schools forced Sorolla's work into the background, the latter decades saw a renewed interest in his paintings which, from then on, were to sell for astronomical prices and become much sought-after by museums and private collectors alike. Today, Sorolla is considered one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century and the most skillful at capturing the light of the Mediterranean on canvas.

  

 

Exhibitions

Joaquín Sorolla. 1863-1923 (2009)

 

In 2009, the Prado Museum organized its first retrospective of Sorolla's work. The exhibition was at that time the largest ever held to date, either in Spain or abroad, and brought together more than a hundred paintings. For the occasion, the Prado was loaned all fourteen of the panels that Sorolla painted as a commission for the library of the Hispanic Society of New York.

 

Sorolla: A Garden To Paint. Bancaja Foundation Valencia (2017)

 

A total of 120 paintings were selected for this exhibition in his hometown, organized by the Bancaja Foundation. Away from the classic seascapes and beach scenes that make up his best-known works, the exhibition focused on his passion for gardens and his depiction of them in paint. According to Sorolla, these places contained the "emotional parameters" so sought after by himself and other avant-garde painters.

 

Sorolla and Fashion. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Sorolla Museum (2018)

 

In collaboration with Madrid's Sorolla Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza offered here an unprecedented and novel point of view. The paintings selected for the exhibition analyze the influence of fashion and clothing trends on Sorolla's painting. Seventy works, some of them never before exhibited, were displayed alongside outfits, accessories and garments of the period. Sorolla's canvases are a magnificent chronicle of the trends and fashion of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, painted with the mastery and freedom of technique that characterize his work.

 

Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light. National Gallery, London (2019)

 

This retrospective by one of the most important museums in the world was one of the largest exhibitions of the Valencian painter's work ever organised outside Spain. For the occasion, London's National Gallery selected sixty masterpieces that cover the painter's entire trajectory from genre scenes of Spanish life to seascapes, beach scenes, portraits and garden views.

 

Books

 

“Eight essays on Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida”. VV.AA. (Nobel)

Successful republication of 'Eight essays on Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida', first published in 1909 on the occasion of the exhibition held that year at the headquarters of the Hispanic Society of America (New York). The exhibition welcomed some 170,000 visitors, which led to the publication of the texts in response to its resounding success. According to Blanca Pons-Sorolla,  great-granddaughter and Sorolla expert, it is one of the most important books about her great-grandfather, that deserves to be "in every important museum and library in the world".

 

“Sorolla. Masterpieces”. Blanca Pons Sorolla. (El Viso)

The aim of this splendid compilation is to become the definitive publication about Joaquín Sorolla and his painting. The book uses high-resolution photographs of the artist's best works, including those that have been restored in recent years. Blanca Pons-Sorolla has personally ensured that the images remain as faithful to the originals as possible, as well as being responsible for the selection and writing of the accompanying texts.

 

“The Collected Letters of Joaquín Sorolla”. (Anthropos Barcelona)

This book includes the five hundred letters that Joaquín Sorolla exchanged with his friend Pedro Gil Moreno de Mora, who he met in Rome in 1885 during his stay and scholarship there. Although they rarely met up in person, they both kept up the friendship over decades through their correspondence. The letters are documentation of great historical relevance, revealing the intimate personality of the painter as well as his pictorial and artistic concerns.

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- Joaquín Sorolla: Biography, Works and Exhibitions -                        - Alejandra de Argos -

Tamara de Lempicka never gave up her independence and freedom. She maintained both thanks to her inate talent for painting, which gave her fame and fortune during her time. Nowadays she is considered the Queen of Art Déco, and her paintings are included in the best public and private colections of the world.

 

An artist in constant self-reinvention 

 

 image 1534787000

Tamara de Lempicka painting “Suzanne Bathing” (1938)

 

Tamara de Lempicka was not always acclaimed as an artist. At various times in her life, she enjoyed huge recognition and was, in fact, one of the few women who managed to earn a living as an artist. But in her later years, during the heyday of American abstract expressionism when anything remotely resembling the figurative was shunned, her work lost critical acclaim and even interest. In recent decades, however, de Lempicka's work has been rediscovered and reappraised, and although she figures today as one of the most sought-after artists of the 20th century, her life and character are still somewhat of a mystery - her inherent mythomania having driven her to invent her own narrative in which reality coexisted with pure fabrication.

What we do know to be true, however, is the power, solidity and innovation her paintings brought to the art scene in the first half of the 20th century. In particular, her portraits and female nudes have become the iconographic paradigm of the Art Deco movement, being very much in demand by celebrities and collectors alike. De Lempicka was very clear about who she was and, above all else, who she aspired to be. "I was the first woman to paint pictures that were neat, precise and finished and that was the secret to their success. Out of a hundred paintings, it was always possible to recognise mine. And the galleries tended to centre me in their best rooms because my art was attractive to the public." - something that remains true today with de Lempicka's work attracting thousands of visitors to museums and exhibitions for their remarkable modernity, harmony and timeless qualities.

 

Childhood in Russia and first contact with classicism

 

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of de Lempicka's birth. Her penchant for reinventing her own story meant she blurred biographical data to such an extent that even the experts are confused. However, many biographers are agreed that she was born in Warsaw in 1898 while, according to the artist, she was born in Moscow in 1907. What is unequivocal, though, is that her father, a well-to-do Russian lawyer, moved the family to St. Petersburg when she was still a child.

 

bronzino lempicka artsy 

The Holy Family (1527-1528), Agnolo Bronzino. The Polish Girl (1933),Tamara de Lempicka

 

During her childhood, de Lempicka's first contact with art had a deep impact on the budding painter's impressionable young personality. Her aristocratic grandmother took her on a trip around Italy in 1911 when she was just 13 and which she later described as: "Suddenly, I came across works painted in the 15th century by Italian artists. Why did I like them so much? Because they were so clear, so sharp ..." The clean lines and saturated surfaces characteristic of Italian Mannerists were to exert a powerful influence on her art, an influence that would last for the rest of her life. 

  

Escape to Paris and years of artistic training

 

 Tamara de Lempicka Portrait of Irena Kleinman 1915 Tamara de Lempicka Portrait of a Polo Player 1922 

“Portrait of Irena Kleinman” (1915) and “Portrait of a Polo Player” (1922)

 

Despite her obvious passion for art, the future artist did not take up painting during her teenage years. As was usual at the time and in the wealthy social class to which she belonged, at just 18 she married the Russian lawyer Tadeusz Lempicki and had a daughter, Kizette. It is a year of luxury and glamour and the couple are the toast of society salons and dinner parties just before the eruption of the Russian Revolution in 1917. And then things change radically: Lempicki is imprisoned and only freed thanks to the perseverance of his young wife, who leaps into action and appeals time and again, office by office, for his release. The Lempicki family flees to Denmark and then to Paris, where they are forced to confront a new adversary in the form of financial hardship and a lack of the luxuries to which they had been accustomed. Her sister Adrienne, who lived in Paris at the time and was fully integrated into the modernity of the city (which advocated for the liberation of women and their equality with men in terms of rights and obligations), gives her the best advice of her life: "get a career and you won't have to depend on your husband."

In later life, de Lempicka would define herself on various occasions as a self-taught artist. During her early adulthood, however, she studied at several Parisian institutions, from the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére (where she trained under the Symbolist painter Maurice Denis) to the Académie Ranson, founded by the Fauvist Paul Ranson. She also spent whole days at a time in the Louvre, soaking up the work of the masters. But, without a doubt, her greatest mentor was the fauvist André Llhote, from whom she absorbed and internalized the ability to capture solidity and volume in forms, while applying some of the fundamentals of Cubism (especially the fracturing of perspectives and the distortion of shape). 

 

On society's margins: the 1920s

 

El beso 

“The Kiss” (1922)

 

"I live life on the margins of society, and the rules of normal society don't apply to those who live on the fringe." de Lempicka once said. She always considered herself an exceptional, privileged person and took pains to create and maintain a close relationship with the highest aristocratic circles and uppermost echelons of the avant-garde of her time. It was in 1922 that she added the "de" (of) to her surname and began modifying and creating her new biography. De Lempicka was a regular at literary salons where cocaine, hashish and alcohol flowed freely and, as Jean Cocteau once commented, she adored "art and high society in equal measure". Her bisexuality, widely tolerated by the circles she moved in, is faithfully reflected in many of her works. The artist's paintings leave no doubt as to their celebration of the female body in all its potency and solidity, and in their depictions of love and sexual attraction between women. 

 

artsy

“La Belle Rafaela” (1927)

 

Works such as "Group of Four Nudes" (1925) or "La belle Rafaela" (1927) show tightly-cropped areas totally occupied by close-ups of naked female bodies in openly sexual positions and with the flat, geometric and sharply outlined style that have made de Lempicka's work the paradigm of Art Deco. The influence of 19th century masters is evident in these works and clearly linked to the paintings of Ingres and Manet. Like the latter's "Olympia", Rafaela was a prostitute from Marseille (and also one of her lovers) but, unlike the woman portrayed by Manet, de Lempicka's Rafaela is virile, voluptuous and totally indifferent to 'the male gaze' and male judgment. Also around this time, she paint the portraits of many aristocratic figures, thanks to the sale of which she was able to maintain her high standard of living.

 

Success, separation and war: getaway to the U.S.A.

 

 Autorretrato Tamara en un Bugatti Gris 1929

“Self-portrait in a green Bugatti” (1929)

 

In the 1920s, de Lempicka became the darling of the aristocratic, high society set but it was in the late 1920s and early 1930s that her success reached its height. In 1929, she painted one of her most famous works, "Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti", that would become the most famous and recognizable icon of Art Deco painting. On the canvas, the subject looks defiantly at the camera and paints herself in the driving seat usually occupied by men. It was commissioned for the front cover of the German fashion magazine Die Dame (The Lady) and is a compendium of the artist's unique and personal style: fully covered surface, geometric and outlined areas, metallic reflections that make it almost impossible to distinguish between metal and fabrics, and a blatant challenge to 'the male gaze'. This period of success is followed by a dark time for de Lempicka: that same year she divorced her husband and, in 1933, her commissions began to dry up due to the economic crisis occasioned by the Great Depression.

  

la sagesse 1940 41 

"Wisdom" (1940-41)

 

In 1939 and on the brink of  WWII, de Lempicka marries Baron Raoul Kuffner and the couple move to the United States.  She chooses a destination to match her aspirations and lifestyle: Hollywood. However, the reception afforded her in the United States is not what she expected - in her new home she is considered a "hobby" artist who painted for fun. In 1949, they move again, this time settling in New York where she continues to paint but in a style more reminiscent of the Old Masters than her work from the 1930s. She also dabbles in interior design, creating makeover projects for the homes of high society clients.

 

Final years in Mexico

In 1962, Lola's Gallery in New York held a solo exhibition of de Lempicka's work. The critical reception was lukewarm but she persevered with her painting, regardless. That same year, her husband died suddenly and she moved to Houston to be closer to her daughter who lived there. In her final years, de Lempicka decided to move to Mexico, a country that became her final home, having always been close to her heart.

In 1972, the Luxembourg Museum in Paris organized an exhibition that rekindled public interest in her work and brought about the artist's reconciliation with critics. In 1980, de Lempicka died and, following her express  wishes, she was cremated and her ashes scattered around the foothills of Popocatepetl volcano.

  

Exhibitions

Tamara de Lempicka (2015)

 

In 2015, the Italian city of Turin exhibited the well-known "Girl in Green", on loan from the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which triggered a large retrospective of de Lempicka's work that filled out galleries in the Polo Reale museums and the Chiablese Palace.

 

The many faces of Tamara de Lempicka (2019)

 

“The many faces of Tamara de Lempicka” was the name the Kosciusko Foundation of New York chose for its retrospective of the artist. The exhibition afforded the public an opportunity to admire a wide selection of paintings and drawings documenting the artist's life during the nearly six years she spent in the artistic capital of America.

 

Tamara de Lempicka: Queen of Art Deco (2015)

 

In 2019, The Gaviria Palace organized a grand exhibition on the "Queen of Art Deco", with a view to reigniting the Madrid public's interest in de Lempicka's painting. The retrospective brought together over 200 works in total, loaned by nearly 40 public and private collections against a backdrop of magnificent Art Deco design objects from the period.

  

Books

 

“De Lempicka”. Giles Néret (Taschen)

The German publisher Taschen does an excellent job of compiling de Lempicka's oeuvre in this essential guide. In it, historian, journalist and art conservator Gilles Néret frames the painter's work within the collective memory of the 1920s and the history in general of women artists.

 

“Passion by Design. The art and times of Tamara de Lempicka (Revised)”. Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall (Abbeville Press)

Who better than her own daughter, Kizette, to do a fascinating analysis of Tamara de Lempicka, the person? To this day, the book remains the definitive compilation of her life and work. The new edition is illustrated with excellent reproductions of her most famous works and includes never-before-seen documentation, including private photographs from family albums. The introduction is written by Marisa de Lempicka, great-granddaughter of the painter.

 

“Tamara de Lempicka”. Virginie Greiner and Daphné Collignon  (Planeta Cómic)

Nothing like art to illustrate (or recreate) part of de Lempicka's life. In this case, it is that of V. Greiner and D. Collignon, creators of a graphic novel full of beauty and passion. A book that reflects de Lempicka's talent, freedom and powerful personality in fictional form. 

 (Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- Tamara de Lempicka: Biography, works and exhibitions -                        - Alejandra de Argos -

 
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