El Roto, Untitled, 2012–13, ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper, 11 x 16 1/2".

El Roto, Untitled, 2012–13, ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper, 11 x 16 1/2".

El Roto

El Roto, Untitled, 2012–13, ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper, 11 x 16 1/2".

Though almost a stranger to the art world, El Roto is one of the best-known draftsmen in Spain. For more than forty years, he has contributed to a number of publications, among them El País, the country’s leading newspaper, for which he publishes illustrations on a daily basis. On the art scene—in which his participation is recent and sporadic—he signs his paintings with his real name: Andrés Rábago.

El Roto is not the only pseudonym Rábago has assumed. As early as the 1970s, he used the name OPS to sign drawings with a Surrealist iconography and spirit that delighted readers of the satirical press. And he still indulges in parody and even in a certain sense of cruelty. But while OPS ended up making something like visual poetry, his successor El Roto engages in a more direct, concise, and biting analysis of social reality. Though he has constructed a readily identifiable personal style, El Roto—against the dominant tendency in contemporary art—is not much concerned with leaving an authorial mark on his work. Instead, his drawings are guided by an interest in reality and its possible readings. Many newspaper readers look to his images on a daily basis for a succinct explanation of the social issues that concern them. He sums up general ideas in single images drawn with acid.

A recent exhibition at La Nau at the University of Valencia, Spain, “OPS / El Roto / Rábago. Un viaje de mil demonios (y un par de ángeles)” (OPS / El Roto / Rábago. A Trip of One Thousand Demons [and a Couple of Angels]), brought together a wide range of work under all three of the artist’s identities, while a simultaneous exhibition in Madrid, titled “Oh, la l’art!,” was smaller and more concentrated. Its focus was a critique of the economic and social networks of contemporary art. El Roto joins the lineage of artists, from William Hogarth on, who have looked on the art scene of their times with a measure of skepticism. Like Honoré Daumier, he expresses that vision in graphic works published in newspapers. And like Goya, he partakes in a specifically Spanish tradition of black humor. El Roto formulates a complementary and symbiotic relationship between image and written word as he renders simple and direct forms in a tone both didactic and biting. Images like the ones titled Grandes firmas son las que firman grande (Big Companies Are the Ones with Big Signatures) (all works 2012–13) and Parecían grandes ideas pero era la megafonía (They Seemed Like Big Ideas but It Was the Loudspeaker), for instance, address the tangled connections between commercial and critical success. Turning Duchamp on his head, El Roto ventures a possible, and defiant, response to the question of what art is: “Arte es lo que se expone donde se expone arte”—Art is what is exhibited where art is exhibited, he asserts, in a statement both accurate and critical insofar as it points out the solipsism of the art world. Something similar is expressed in a drawing of a row of identical paintings hanging on a long museum wall, at the end of which are the words ETC., ETC. With astonishing force, this drawing describes the link between assumed artistic value and the stereotype of authorship. The trap of repetitive style is one that El Roto himself has never fallen into.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.