Alberti Ràfols-Casamada

After a successful show in Paris and shortly before a long-awaited retrospective at the Fundación Miró in Barcelona, Alberti Ràfols-Casamada exhibited a selection of his recent work here. Ones first impression of the show was of continuity and richness—the former to be understood not as repetitiveness but as an absence of hesitation, the latter in the sense that Ràfols-Casamada’s spirit is clearly very much alive despite the fact that his work is already an obligatory reference in any discussion of contemporary Spanish and Catalan art. He has established and maintained an unmistakable artistic personality which may be included in a community of such Spanish artists as Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Julio González, Pablo Gargallo, and Antoni Tàpies. This personality arises not only from the works themselves, but from an impressive involvement in teaching and in the writing of poetry.

The main features of Ràfols-Casamada’s approach and technique have undergone little modification since their articulation in the late ’50s. With the persistent attachment of the mature temperament, he has also returned to specific subjects. His beginnings, though, were marked by difficult times. He and his colleagues of the late ’40s were trying to learn in a void; it was difficult for them to establish a sense of connection with the earlier Catalan avant-garde of the ’20s.

The Noucentisme, the Catalan movement linked to the Italian Novecento group and to particular elements of French Symbolism, was being revived generally, and Ràfols-Casamada was much involved in this new reading. He rejected academicism and post-Impressionism, and consolidated his ideas by studying Picasso and Matisse. He finally found a path that reconciled lyrical interiors and landscapes, mostly depicted through color and light, with the structuring of space. In doing so he very early achieved the difficult goal of projecting his own identity into the works while at the same time distancing them from the conflict always present in creation. His approach was strongly rooted in the Mediterranean tradition of emotional quiet, contemplation, and sensual contact with a nourishing environment.

The dialogue with reality in this work moves in more than one direction. Sometimes an abstract stimulus can be suggested by a shadow or a partial view through. a window; conversely, a still life can be sensed in a group of abstract lines and colors. Rhetoric is absolutely avoided. Ràfols-Casamada gives equal value to shape, internal structure, and color; perspective is almost absent in these frontal compositions. The artists chromatic vocablulary has been carefully built up over the years: using acrylics and his own home-made pigments, he applies pure white to embody light, and counterbalances it with a dark cobalt blue reminiscent of the sea off the coast of northern Catalonia. Pink suggests an intimate energy; sky blue, ocher, green, and sienna are more related to the configurations of material objects. In the recent works colors are spread more generously and over more of the canvas, brushstrokes are more visible, and the general tone is darker. Images of interiors and landscapes are given a little more contour, and charcoal sketch marks, though still present (to emphasize process), are less profuse.

Balance and stylistic consistency are the dominant qualities of these compositions. They are achieved precisely, without drama; clean color fields—the color sometimes carefully graded, though without suggesting the effect of depth—and straight simple lines build structures of subtle counterpoints in which the lyric content prevails. These bare structures compensate for the emotionality of the color. In these pieces the artist seems to be enlarging the details of the subjects, as if to invest painting with zest and humanity. He feels reality in his work, makes clear what he wants from it, and portrays art as free poetic knowledge.

Gloria Moure