PRINT December 1965

Julio Gonzalez

BORN IN GAUDI’S BARCELONA IN 1876, Julio Gonzalez was familiar from his youth with the working and forming of metals. In the tradition of the individually employed craftsman, his goldsmith father (as his father had done before him) trained both sons, Julio and his older brother Joan, in that calling. Their work was exhibited in international expositions and were said to be proficient juvenilia and of an ornamental nature, one catalog entry recording a flower ing branch. The older brother’s position of primacy both in the workshop and in his own creative inclinations caused Julio to pursue independent goals with the study of drawing and painting at the local School of Fine Arts. During this period he was acquainted with the young Picasso, a friendship renewed in Paris, where, after the death of the head of the family, the Gonzalezes moved in 1900.

His brother’s death in 1908 was a critical blow, interrupting Julio’s never-to-be-fruitful painting career. Withdrawing from all contacts but Picasso and Brancusi, the period was one of, as yet, undocumented difficulty. Thus relatively isolated he was to pass through the epochal rise and flowering of Cubism (Picasso modeled his Head of a Woman (1909–10) in Gonzalez’s studio) as a silent observer. Picasso and Gris were, however, joined by other fellow countrymen, the sculptors Manuel Manolo and Pablo Gargallo. Gargallo, subsequently regarded as a decorative but technical innovator is credited with producing iron masks with an African influence between 1911–13. Manolo was directly involved with the Cubist core group during the summer of 1913, the Ceret period. It was during this time that Gonzalez executed a few tentative pieces. The direct association of the innovators and the followers disintegrated with World War I, and 1916–17 found Gonzalez as a workman in a Renault factory where he learned and practiced oxyacetylene welding.

During the twenties he occasionally experimented with unique welded iron sculpture, at times superficially including elements of the Cubist style. But it was not until nearly two decades after Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Joan’s death that he came to assume, at the age of fifty, the new stance—sculptor.

The limited editions of bronze casts, authorized by the artist’s daughter and currently shown at the Felix Landau Gallery, begin, chronologically, with Mask M of 1927–28. Tiny, almost the scale of a brooch, it was created, along with the 1930 Pointed Head, from a single heavy-gauge sheet cut as easily as one might cut cardboard. Hammered and bent, they convey a monumental gravity and terse reserve; their anima is withdrawn behind the torch forged facade of a jutting iron (now bronze) brow, escaping somewhere through the opened seams. They are both fragmented shells, simplified and reduced, yet complete and concentrated.

The most referential, Don Quixote, (1929) is a linear caricature, salient forms and details compressed to a delicate skeletal structure of symbols.

On Picasso’s part, his interest in monumental sculpture became aroused in 1927, and his intentions were partially satisfied in 1930–31. Requesting Gonzalez’s technical assistance they together constructed a series of welded iron and steel sculptures: one type an open lattice-work of wirelike bars and another of assemblages of found materials in anthropomorphic arrangements.

As though all his life had prepared him for this rendezvous with history, Gonzalez was quick to follow the master’s initiation into this “altogether new and unprecedented type of art” (H. Read) with newly found enthusiasm and dedication.

Daphne (1932) demonstrates the pattern of his most familiar figurative units. A canon of proportions rarely departed from is one third to one half legs, one-third torso, and a third, the extensions of arms and head. His vocabulary of forms consists of planal plates, rods, spikes, bars, and smaller irregular detail. Each part has a specific character, not as an abstracted anatomical reference, nor simply for its organic necessity in the design, but both. The parts are not simply abstracted or assembled, but invented anew for each sculpture. In combining the real and the imaginary there are no clichés, no mannerisms. Relationships between the highly individual parts are utmost, so that each retains its character; while the front view is primary, obliquely placed sections always enliven the profile. The figures are always affirmed yet deeply involved in the negative of their surroundings, fully realizing his goal “to draw in space.” The “Daphne” rises from an all too firm base and torso (the transforming tree trunk of the Greek legend), and her topmost extensions act as finely wrought antennae or sensory devices. Gonzalez’s barest reduction, “Maternity” (1933), too, is construction, figuration, and possesses the implication of reception.

The fretwork of Cactus Man #1 and(1939–40) maintains the solidity of a columnar shaft while combing, provoking, and snaring the space. The two heads The Lovers and The Tunnel and Dancer called ‘A La Palette’ (all 1933), Seated Woman #2 (1935), and Gothic Man (1937) are easily included among his masterpieces of nearly absolute assembly. Though appropriately hand-wrought in scale they approach the monumental in their self-contained and self-sufficient nature.

Establishing points and perforations, he created unique and startling forms which are straightforward and completely convincing, and contain in their combination of dry humor and serious grotesqueness a “mysterious, fantastic, indeed diabolical aspect.” The youthful flowering branch returns, its appearance enhanced by a new technique, the iron images forged out of solitary suffering, search, and dedication, and tempered by Cubism, Constructivism, and Surrealism.

Cerni has described Gonzalez’s career as being divided by several silent deaths. His phoenix-like resurrection, as intense a vision as his hard, burning torch, is all the more amazing and precious. What the first war had given him, the second took away. Due to the shortage of welding materials the sculptor turned to the traditional forms of plaster and clay. In the crisis of war he modeled the shrieking visage of the second “La Montserrat,” and with that final, unfinished silent cry of pain and defiance frozen forever, Gonzalez, in 1942, died.

Fidel A. Danieli