Madrid

Patricia Gadea, El adiós visto desde fuera (Goodbye as seen from the Outside), 2006, acrylic on canvas, 31 7/8 x 28 3/4".

Patricia Gadea, El adiós visto desde fuera (Goodbye as seen from the Outside), 2006, acrylic on canvas, 31 7/8 x 28 3/4".

Patricia Gadea

Patricia Gadea, El adiós visto desde fuera (Goodbye as seen from the Outside), 2006, acrylic on canvas, 31 7/8 x 28 3/4".

Patricia Gadea died in 2006 at the age of forty-six. Though she was fairly well known in the 1980s and early ’90s, her late work has been seen only occasionally—owing, perhaps, to changes in the style of her work and her decision to distance herself from the art world by moving to Palencia, a small city in the north of Spain where she supported herself by giving art lessons to children and caring for the elderly. Her recent exhibition in Madrid, “Patricia’s War,” was the first in six years. Though not a large show, it encompassed more than twenty years of production, from 1984 until her death, in a careful selection of paintings and works on paper—a sort of summary, albeit a partial one, of the work of an artist who maintained a certain consistency throughout her career, even as the spirit of her work changed with time.

This balance of constancy and variation was quite evident in the show, which began with Sobre la pista (Homenaje a Raymond Chandler) (Following the Clue [Homage to Raymond Chandler]), 1984, a large painting representative of Gadea’s work from the ’80s, when she was associated with the Movida Madrileña. This piece demonstrates her ability to strike a balance between the gestural painting fashionable in those years and her own personal approach, which also used a pictorial idiom derived from comics. Gadea’s role in Spain in the mid-’80s, along with that of a group of painter friends including Juan Ugalde, Manolo Dimas, and César Fernández Arias, was as crucial as that of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg in the United States three decades earlier. Both sets of artists engaged in the appropriation of expressionist forms as they moved toward a language in which concrete objects and preestablished visual codes were given a great deal of weight. Gadea’s use of comic strip–based forms allowed her to devise humorous scenes that offered incisive observations about Spain, at a time when the country, though attempting to modernize, was unable to shed its past.

As Sobre la pista demonstrates, Gadea’s approach to making paintings in the mid-’80s was brilliant and forceful. Her slightly later works are more intimate, if obliquely so. Patricia’s War, 1987, for instance, demonstrates an apparent paradox in her work: The less gestural it is, the more expressive and personal it becomes. Yet despite the fact that her work came to seem more subdued, in essence it changed little over the course of the roughly two decades of her career. The conjunction of two works in this show, MSCLP, 1990, and El adiós visto desde fuera (Goodbye as Seen from the Outside), 2006, made that continuity clear: Though one was made sixteen years before the other under very different personal circumstances, the two paintings are akin in composition, and both seem motivated by similar intentions to deliver a message that is specific yet hard to decipher. In MSCLP, three specific forms give shape to an enigmatic hieroglyphic: a ham leg, a floating penis, and a woman with an open mouth and a question mark above her head. El adiós visto desde fuera, painted shortly before Gadea’s death (possibly by suicide), shows a woman turning around to say good-bye as she heads into a house. Inside, we see only a painted scribble.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.