“The Schizos of Madrid”

"Los Esquizos de Madrid. Figuración madrileña de los años 70” (The Schizos of Madrid. Madrid’s Figurative Movement of the 1970s) was an attempt to analyze the creative work of a group of painters who, bound by friendship and shared artistic concerns, worked in Madrid in the 1970s and early ’80s. Well known in Spain at the time, they are now largely unknown to a younger art public. Most of the artists in the group were born around 1950; some have died (Carlos Alcolea, Rafael Pérez Mínguez, Javier Utray), some are still quite active (Luis Gordillo, Guillermo Pérez Villalta), and others less so (Carlos Franco, Chema Cobo, Manolo Quejido, Herminio Molero). The term esquizos (schizos) was uncommon at the time, but some of the group’s Catalan colleagues used it to refer to this group due to its members’ interest in Deleuze and Guattari and their theories of capitalism and schizophrenia.

Until now, no exhibition has offered a cohesive analysis of this group or of the unique moment in Spanish art when it was active. This show attempted to rectify such omissions, offering useful insights into the difference between how these painters were understood at the time and how they might be understood today. Three surprising figures emerged: Sigfrido Martín Begué is a young artist whose presence was not sufficiently explained by the curators, but probably represents an attempt to demonstrate the continuing influence of the Schizos. The second is the photographer Luis Pérez-Mínguez, who was both professionally and personally close to the group, but mainly as its photographic chronicler; he had no connection to the aesthetic convictions of his friends—mostly dedicated painters who ceaselessly reflected on painting. The third surprise is the prominence given to Molero, who is better known as a musician than as a painter. Through the generous display of his varied body of work (comics, album covers, and other publications as well as paintings), one sensed that the curators were attempting to forge a connection between a painting-centered movement and the diverse media of contemporary art. Of all the artists in the show who painted, Molero is decidedly the least painterly.

To understand the importance of Nueva Figuración Madrileña and its impact on Spain in the ’70s, one must bear in mind that the supposed association between progressive political thought and progressive art was more intense here than in other European countries. Yet critics, many of them Marxist, could not understand something that was key to this artistic practice: the conviction that painting was the best instrument for conceptual pursuits. Delighting in eclecticism, these painters were fascinated by a Pop iconography much more joyous than anything else found in gray Spain under Franco. They tried to synthesize, often successfully, the aesthetics of David Hockney and Marcel Duchamp. One crucial series, Quejido’s “El Taco,” begun in 1974, showed that all styles could arouse interest. But the pivotal figure was Gordillo, the eldest of the group, born in 1934, who guided the others in their interest in psychology (fundamental to Alcolea, for instance), as well as in their understanding of the tension between color and drawing. If in Spain there was ever a group of intellectual artists who expressed both visually and conceptually the ideas of postmodernism, this was it.

Today, the Nueva Figuración Madrileña still seems a heterogeneous movement. But its eccentricity, both at the time and within the history of art, was its strength. Although its proponents could be seen as figurative artists, they could by no means be considered “wild” like some of their German contemporaries or historicist like some of the Italians. Due to their difference, their anomalousness, the attempt to export their work beyond Spain failed and, except for Gordillo, they have not been widely recognized by later generations of artists. “Los Esquizos” should change that.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.