José Guerrero

Galeria Juana Mordó

José Guerrero belongs to the same generation of artists as Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock. This fact may seem anecdotal in speaking about Guerrero now, but it helps us understand the orientation to which he has held for over 30 years, since settling in New York in 1950 while continuing to sojourn regularly in Spain.

Guerrero’s abstraction, although related specifically to American Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism, is also rooted in a Spanish sensibility, an ambience manifested in the evocative and symbolic way in which he uses color. In his landscapes and figures of the ’40s forms were progressively dissolved, until the artist arrived at an abstraction in which color functioned spatially and autonomously, emerging as the painting’s protagonist. When the Spanish vanguard of the ’50s and early ’60s was oriented toward European art informel, Guerrero turned to American Action Painting, in which color is used structurally, a lesson first learned from the Fauves, Henri Matisse in particular.

The choice of colors has special significance for Guerrero and is strictly tied to his childhood experiences, recollections of his hometown of Granada and its surrounding landscape. Blue, red, yellow, and black tend to appear in his work as pure substances that only require breath and movement to reclaim life itself, to overcome their limitations in the realm of the inanimate. In 1980 the artist stated, “My painting has been what painting has always been . . . clarity, simplicity, tension . . . it’s alive; it palpitates. ” Frigiliana, 1985, is a knowledgeable exponent of that statement. The brushstrokes are uniform yet loose enough to permit the canvas to show through, infusing the composition with clarity. The work is structurally uncomplicated and appears diaphanous, almost liquid, and far removed from the pronounced impastos of neo-Expressionist painting. Only a black tonguelike shape, encompassed by some red spatters, proclaims its presence in the lower half of the painting. Perhaps this piece could be seen as an Andalusian landscape, limited by its borders, its frontiers, in whose calm and blinding luminosity the restlessness of existence (red) and the threat of impending tragedy and death (black) come into play.

Guerrero has developed his work through a gradual process of elimination. Situated both within and outside temporality, his work transcends the ephemeral and the accidental. Color modulates space, establishes the necessary tensions, and speaks for itself alone. Similar to the verbal “brushstrokes” of another illustrious Granadian, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, color conveys both day and night, the lyrical and the tragic, with the difference that years of experience have brought Guerrero to a more serene vision.

This show was a controlled explosion of energy, a celebration of life. Along with the dark forces that surround man, Guerrero asserts there is room for hope. The spirit of the neo-avant-garde is present in these works, although in spite of this, Guerrero finds himself at a stylistic and ideological remove from younger artists. However, until the invasion of Spain by the new figurative imagery in the ’70s, he was regarded as a true master, and he continues to be given the respect and consideration he deserves.

Aurora Garcia

Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah.