Madrid

View of “Miki Leal,” 2014. From left: La pared de Raymond (Raymond’s Wall), 2014; Juego de lápiz (Playing with the Pencil), 2014; De como todo es posible (About How Everything Is Possible), 2014; Proyecto para una alfombra (Project for a Carpet), 2014.

View of “Miki Leal,” 2014. From left: La pared de Raymond (Raymond’s Wall), 2014; Juego de lápiz (Playing with the Pencil), 2014; De como todo es posible (About How Everything Is Possible), 2014; Proyecto para una alfombra (Project for a Carpet), 2014.

Miki Leal

F2 Gallery

View of “Miki Leal,” 2014. From left: La pared de Raymond (Raymond’s Wall), 2014; Juego de lápiz (Playing with the Pencil), 2014; De como todo es posible (About How Everything Is Possible), 2014; Proyecto para una alfombra (Project for a Carpet), 2014.

In 2009, the Seville-born, Madrid-based painter Miki Leal traveled by motorbike to Martin Heidegger’s Hütte in Germany’s Black Forest; the journey occasioned a series of works in acrylic and watercolor on paper—the signature medium through which Leal has built his unique position among the artists of his generation—depicting the hut, its physical surroundings, and, more broadly, imagery evoking the philosopher’s inner world. Leal seems to have been struck by Heidegger’s need to create in isolation—something that surely took the artist back to his own childhood, when he would eagerly daydream of faraway places while growing up at his family’s house in the countryside not far from Seville. More recently, however, much of Leal’s work has revolved around references to American culture—not so much the country’s modern or contemporary art but rather its traditions of music and, as in parts of this recent show, design.

In “Lo feo no se vende” (Ugly Doesn’t Sell), Leal presented fifteen paintings on paper inspired by the aesthetic legacies of Charles and Ray Eames, the Wiener Werkstätte, the Memphis Group, and, above all, Raymond Loewy—the exhibition’s title was Loewy’s byword. The result was his best gallery show so far and a fitting successor to the stunning body of work he presented at his hometown’s Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in 2013–14. A sense of freedom is visible not only in the freshness of Leal’s brushtroke but also in his choice of iconography. Many of the individual or collective figures he turns to are famous for the heterogeneous nature of their work and their innate tendency to fight the norm. In one of the bigger works on view, Proyecto para una alfombra (Design for a Carpet; all works 2014), he invoked the Wiener Werkstätte, the alliance of artists active in Vienna in the first decades of the last century that strove to reform the applied arts. Right before the corridor that leads to the office, Leal installed a kind of pediment, titled Pirámide, tímpano Memphis (Pyramid, Tympanum Memphis), that looked far from classic with its rare asymmetry and its playful and kitschy chromatic range. It was indeed a nod to the Memphis Group, the 1980s Milanese collaborative founded by Ettore Sottsass, who attempted to soften the severity of industrial design. In the corridor, a number of small works invoked the legacy of the Eameses. It was definitely the best part of the show, with both abstract and figurative works touching on the hybridity of the couple’s practice.

In the gallery’s main space, three large works—a landscape, a portrait, and an abstraction, all of them related to Loewy, one of the fathers of industrial design—summed up Leal’s varied subject matter. The portrait, La pared de Raymond (Raymond’s Wall), eschewed the frontality one would expect in favor an odd and oblique angle. Juego de lápiz (Pencil Game) evoked a domestic setting with a pool and, in the background, some woods. Leal’s palette of striking greens and blues in this work appeared at once melancholic and oneiric, in a style reminiscent of both Peter Doig and Victor Man. But with his typical insouciance Leal had painted a Loewy wrapping-paper design right over the bottom of the landscape.

Javier Hontoria