Carlos Franco

Galería Gamarra y Garrigues

In the mid ’70s an idiosyncratic figuration surfaced amid the abstraction then prevalent in Spanish art, an abstraction still very much under the influence of American Abstract Expressionism and, to a lesser extent, under the dictates of the French “support/surface” tendency. Carlos Franco, born in 1951 and unfortunately little known internationally, is an early representative of this movement, one of a group of painters in Madrid who instigated a provocative gallery of neofigurative images that spoke with vitality of everyday life as well as of history.

Franco has continued to develop in this direction, yet now with a marked preference for smaller formats and for works on paper. Extending the narrative context of his earlier work (a context pointed out in 1972 by the critic Juan Antonio Aguirre), Franco has enriched his themes and techniques in search of a multifaceted expression, as the more quickly and directly executed works on paper show.

In pieces that are more slowly worked, in which the artist seems to linger over each detail, he narrowly avoids realistic representation in his overt references to nature. In his more recent work, though, Franco has developed scenes taken from mythology and classical Greek literature, as well as passages from the Bible. His interest in man situated in a virginal natural environment seems to reflect characteristics of the Hellenistic myths, narratives that, however concerned with human life, embrace the irrational and the fantastical. Nature, with which there is an almost all-inclusive identification, plays the primary role in his work, constituting an inexorable force that has not yet been tamed or impoverished. The painter doesn’t attempt to analyze his fascination for the now tenuous dialogue between man and nature; it appears to inform his work unavoidably and irresistibly.

Franco’s current work, especially the oils on canvas, has lost some of the economy of line with which the artist could condense the humor that characterizes his work of the mid ’70s. In fact, if we recall his 1974 paintings and drawings based on Sandro Botticelli’s Nastaglio degli Onesti (Nastaglio the honest) painting in the Prado, or pieces such as O Mago do carnaval (O Magus of the carnival, 1977, again based on Botticelli), it is evident that Franco has thrown aside his earlier broken edges and images—at times an affront, but usually offset by the use of rich and lively color—in favor of landscapes and figures treated in a sweeter style, including an abundance of ornamentation.

In the work on paper, Franco’s imagination takes form with immediacy. The gouaches and watercolors are suggestive because he doesn’t put the brakes on or force his spontaneous line. Yet the formal elements imply a meditative process which risks being thought of as simply academic virtuosity. This possibility, though, is contradicted by the oneiric atmosphere that Franco introduces in some works, or the humorous note he evokes in others. In other instances, arabesques, opulent colors, and other qualities seem to refer to Oriental art; for example, one can discern the influence of Chinese painting in the fluidity of line of the ink drawing El Dragón y la perla (The dragon and the pearl, 1985).

This artist offers an extraordinary diversity. His work is stronger when he gives free rein to his imagination without diminishing it through an overly deliberate execution. But in one way or another, disturbing elements emerge from it; contemplating them is like opening a box of surprises.

Aurora Garcia

Translated from the Spanish by Hannah Hannah.