Miquel Barceló

Galería Juana de Aizpuru

Of the current generation of Spanish painters Miquel Barceló has achieved most recognition internationally, and it is paradoxical that he has had to wait until now for a one-man show in Madrid. Since its first appearance in 1981 the work of this Majorcan artist—the only Spanish representative in Documenta 7—has become increasingly pictorial, increasingly robust. It has gradually given up the crudely humorous, polymorphous, fragmented images of the earlier paintings, with their gamut of human figures, objects, and animals, for a greater serenity. Barceló’s own immediate environment and his own needs—his activities in living, thinking, and painting—are his new focus. If one looks first at his Desnudo subiendo una escalera (Male nude ascending a staircase, 1981)—a work that derives from but inverts Duchamp, and is painted in a raw style defined by straight and jagged lines—then at Giorgione a Felanitx (Giorgione to Felanitx, 1984), the evolution is clear: the later painting evokes both classical and Mannerist styles, and is constructed to suggest a variety of volumes and perspectives which enclose paintings within paintings, synthesizing the external and the temporal. Here as in previous work Barceló delights in his materials, creating an orgy of sense-enveloping color. Perhaps to balance this effect, he often allows a single object in the center of the canvas to dominate the compositional space, as in two of the better paintings in the show: Georgica (Georgian) and Sopa marina (Seafood soup), both 1984. This is also his technique in his various paintings of boats, none of which were shown here.

With the kind of unpretentious narcissism that is encountered throughout history, Barceló paints self-portraits. His work obeys the strong contemporary tendency to refer itself back to the artist; we see him painting, reading, and surrounded by books, which seem as indispensable to him as the food in his still lifes. As with many writers whose narratives reflect autobiographical elements, grounding himself in his daily context provides Barceló a kind of security of vision. Although in principle everything is grist for his mill, nature particularly inspires him, especially the Mediterranean views of his native Majorca.

Barceló’s work is both intuitive and cerebral, and in this sense it is a little reminiscent of Picasso, though Barceló has hardly mentioned him as an influence. The colors seem exuberant and incendiary even when they are actually somber. If Giorgio de Chirico preferred the term “natura silente” to “natura morta” for still life—in other words, preferred to think of these scenes as silent rather than dead—in Barceló’s case we might speak of “foodscapes”: the soup in Sopa marina is a blue and greenish whirlpool, with the feeling of waves.

Aurora Garcia

Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah.