Luis Gordillo

Superyo congelado” (Frozen superego) spans forty years of Luis Gordillo’s career. Born in 1934, Gordillo has been a central figure in Spanish art from the ’60s on, though he is far less well known abroad—a surprising fact considering his work’s affinity with that of such widely acknowledged figures as Terry Winters and Jonathan Lasker. At each stage of Gordillo’s development, his approach to the art of the moment (informalism, Pop, geometric, etc.) reveals a synthesis between his subjective impulses and the traces of external influences. In reality, each work, or even each moment in the process of a work’s construction, stems from the tension between the artist’s ego and foreign elements of any kind.

Despite his sequential adoption of diverse artistic frames of reference, Gordillo’s point of departure remains a kind of informalism—although it is his own dynamic version, based on this tension between the interior and the exterior. In the more self-absorbed stages of his artistic development, external reality might scarcely affect paintings that are the product of largely internal processes. At other times, an extensive interchange with the environment is evident (for instance, in a key work, Developmental Material for the Photo of Peter Sellers, 1978, a deconstruction of a photograph of the actor). This irruption of the external into Gordillo’s work gained full force in the mid-’60s and dominated the next decade as well. During those years color was of primary importance to the artist, as was the reorganization of forms, and his work even took on a narrative dimension.

The exhibition at MACBA reflected all of these developments, synthesizing a complex oeuvre that can be difficult to comprehend if it’s known only in part. There have been other retrospectives, but none so all-encompassing, so this is perhaps the first time that all the stages of Gordillo’s development could be viewed as a coherent progression. Moreover, the exhibition demonstrated how important photography has been for this artist, a committed painter who has nonetheless been open to the use of other media and techniques. And the show was balanced, offering well-chosen examples from each stage of Gordillo’s progress, starting with his “Second Abstract Series,” eighteen fascinating drawings from 1959. Their synthesis between the two opposing poles of interior and exterior was the seed for Gordillo’s development at least through the “Cabezas” (Heads), 1964–65, which were clearly influenced by Pop, but with a more disquieting atmosphere. And the exhibition clarifies the turn Gordillo took around 1980, when he began making very large paintings with objectified gestures and labyrinthine forms that could be read in a symbolic manner, a change that alienated the young painters of Madrid who had hitherto cited him as a key influence.

Superyo congelado” amply demonstrates why Gordillo has been consistently claimed as a father figure by several generations of Spanish artists: the Madrid-based New Figuration of the ’70s; the young, conceptually oriented artists of the ’90s with their Surrealist and Symbolist influences; the recent New Abstraction. Each subsequent movement has considered Gordillo an exemplary figure because he is not an example of anything, nor has he ever been one to cling to established practices. His work is based, instead, on doubt, evolution, and the relativity of all certainty.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.