Francisco Leiro

Galeria Montenegro

Even in the broadening panorama of new Spanish art, the discovery of the young sculptor Francisco Leiro is still an event of note. A native of Galicia, Leiro is practically self-taught; his manual dexterity is amplified by a creativity that does not renounce its roots but maintains a passion for popular regional themes which Leiro obviously knows well. His figurative wood sculptures show a predisposition toward legendary topics, but these are given a free, modern interpretation—without losing their accessibility, however. Enigmatic, nostalgic, and ironic characters are seen in action and at rest; a love of masquerade is evident, and an ambiguous play with the animalesque. Leiro’s sculpture is rich in color, ambiguity, and imagination.

Xan Quinto, 1983, uses the early bandit after whom it is named as an expression of plastic creative force. This watchful figure pauses as he looks backward in a twisting movement registered mainly in the muscles of the neck, the center of tension for the whole piece. The work is over 7 feet tall, and its anatomy is powerful, particularly in the elongated arms and large hands; the figure is not realistic—on the contrary, the artist deliberately deforms and distorts in service of his esthetic idea. The whole is accentuated by touches of paint, at times attenuated to mere patina, allowing the patterns of the wood’s grain to show through. In other pieces—Eva expulsada del Paraíso (Eve expelled from Paradise), for example—the color is more strident.

The most dramatic work is certainly the convulsive Caín. Carved from a single pine trunk, as are many of Leiro’s pieces, Cain announces his fall through an agitated physicality culminating in an almost amorphous head, a disjunctive crown to a body whose upper anatomy seems to have been mutilated. Yet the baroque, twisting movement of some of the works can be contrasted with the static frontality of others: in O Peiteado, an ambiguous figure, Leiro arrests dynamic force by concentrating the work’s energy at the high and low points, head and feet. The result has some of the corporeal rigidity of the archaic kouros, and some of the same sense of abstraction. The frozen gesture of the piece, and its vacant stare, suggest that it is not individuality that matters to Leiro. Something similar happens in other works, including Camarero de Gerona (Gerona waiter). Here an armless trunk is reduced to a column, bifurcating into limbs which end in the solid feet that support this finely calibrated piece in a precarious equilibrium.

That Leiro’s work coincides with a current tendency in contemporary sculpture is accidental; he is not concerned with fashion, but simply uses those materials most easily at hand, in terms of both medium and subject. Leiro is interested by the archaic as well as the classical, his own environment as well as the unknown, irony and humor as well as serenity and pathos. His works range from the play of popular, celebratory elements to the religiously transformative. Most important is his authenticity, the richness of his expressive means, the wisdom of his hand, and his control of his own vocabulary.

Aurora Garcia

Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah.