Miguel Angel Campano

Palacio de Velázquez

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, a group of young figurative painters living in Madrid— Guillermo Pérez Villalta, Manolo Quejido, Carlos Alcolea, and Rafael Pérez Mínguez, among others—emerged as a generation of artists who freely mixed intellectual gamesmanship and art-historical references with veiled autobiographical allusions and an often strong psychoanalytic component. Although they enjoyed much critical support, they are, thirty years later, something of a “lost generation.” Perhaps because their work was so conceptual and laden with personal references, it had little influence on the artists of the ’80s, though there are some affinities (for example, the use of autobiographical elements and an interest in psychoanalysis).

Born in 1948, Miguel Angel Campano is one of the younger members of that lost generation. His work makes constant reference to the history of painting and contains a strong, if cryptic, autobiographical component. However, his influences are not those of a Pop artist. A great admirer of the American Abstract Expressionists, Campano has often explored the tension between figuration and abstraction. In the early ’80s, he painted a series entitled “Vocales,” inspired by a Rimbaud poem, in which clear references to AbEx emerge.

Later in the ’80s, Campano moved away from abstraction and took up the legacies of Cézanne, Poussin, and Delacroix, with several series of landscapes painted “after” the masters. As the decade drew to a close, however, Campano began increasingly to purge the figure from his work, a progression most clearly manifested, perhaps, in the series “Ruth y Booz,” 1989–93. The last cycle of the series, painted in ’92 and ’93, comprises mostly paintings with black fields on white grounds. Simple yet intense, these works, with their expansive black-and-white surfaces, are arguably his best to date. With Franz Kline now as his historical model, Campano created a series that synthesizes in exemplary fashion his interest in formal construction and his desire for self-expression.

The recent exhibition mounted by the Reina Sofía at the Palacio de Velázquez presented sixty-five paintings realized between 1991 and 1998. The show reveals the extent to which his recent work is a variation on those “black paintings,” although he never again reaches the same level of intensity, and his explorations of the earlier series at times feel mannered.

Campano also showed Elías (d’après Daniel Buren), 1996–99, an installation on which he has been working for four years. A painting-based construction made up of 3,003 small oils on canvas, the montage climbs over the walls and doors of the space, thematizing ascension through painting—and its dangers. Twenty-five years after his beginnings, Miguel Angel Campano continues to be an artist interested in the influence of painting (its practice and knowledge) on personal life.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Vincent Martin.