Miquel Barcelò

Galleria Lucio Amelio

Through the five large paintings and the series of watercolors shown here, Miguel Barcelò explores the theme of the desert. He chooses it, not as a figurative idea, but as a mental and sentimental location—as the site for his discourse on painting. Barcelò uses painting as an instrument of investigation and awareness; he faces the problems of European pictorial culture, at the same time revealing a profound connection with the great Spanish tradition. In terms of technique, he shows a virtuosic ability to bring together areas of extremely condensed material and others more fluid and rarefied, at times tending toward an infinite spatiality, at others toward an investigation of visual and formal properties. Barcelò starts with the desert and progresses to the description of still lifes, suspended and lunar scenes, images of interiors. The painting seems to be made up of contrasts between pale backgrounds and objects of relief; between metaphysical suspension and tormented, vivid material; between an aspiration toward an absolute stillness and a sense of inner movement. It almost seems as if the artist were trying to point out the unresolved and eternal conflict between the classical and the romantic.

Barcelò articulates this conflict in L’ombra del tuberculus (Shadow of the tuberculus, 1988), where the shadow, the chiaroscuro play, the conceptual choice of whites and blacks, measure up against the reality of the pictorial material, which is so dense it folds and deforms the canvas support. And he does so again in Taule amb productes europeus (Table with European products, 1988), where the movement is indicated by a centrifugal force that spreads all the elements well beyond the limits of the table, barely suggested by a pale white paint. The circular motion moves out from the empty center, so violent that it invades the entire composition, to the point of breaking the shapes into fragments, upsetting the suspended and metaphysical arrangement of what was meant to be a perfect, almost mystical still life. The reality of the painting, the color, and the material are the absolute protagonists of Barcelò’s poetics. The fact that the problem is exclusively pictorial is also demonstrated by the absence of ulterior suggestions; these pieces have no action, narration, perspectival indications, backgrounds, or skies. The painting could continue ideally upward or downward, to the right or the left. What is exhibited is only a fragment, analyzed with the eye of an entomologist, accustomed to observing the life of an infinitely small world. But this specific fragment reaches the roots of painting, capturing its metaphysical silence.

Barcelò’s choice is so radical that it distances him somewhat from current problematics in art. For him, the destiny or meaning of art doesn’t seem to be at stake, only the linguistic possibilities of painting understood as an instrument of investigation and awareness, burdened by history. If the metaphysical suspension of the work refers to Zurbarán and the tormented and vivid material recalls Goya, the game is openly declared when he titles one of his large canvases, inhabited by pale and anemic fruits, Le déjeuner sur I’herbe N.2. Even here, Barcelò takes only a single idea from Manet’s celebrated canvas—the fruits in the basket, which Manet painted in overturned and revolutionary perspective, and which signal a point of no return in the history of painting.

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.