New York

Josep Grau-Garriga, Pell del poble (Skin of the People), 1976, jute, rope, cord, 60 × 30 × 7".

Josep Grau-Garriga, Pell del poble (Skin of the People), 1976, jute, rope, cord, 60 × 30 × 7".

Josep Grau-Garriga

Salon 94 | Bowery

Llum de febrer (February Light), 1978–81, was the centerpiece of this exhibition by the Catalan artist Josep Grau-Garriga (1929–2011) at Salon 94’s Bowery location. The tapestry, which took Grau-Garriga four years to complete, takes care with its undoing. More than twenty feet in length and majestically suspended from the ceiling, it cast a soft shadow on the wall; the result was an arresting spectacle, a secular reredos softly aglow in pink, cherry red, and earth tones. True to its name, the work deferred to space and air on powerful trapezes of string and fiber that swung across textural variations. By minimizing warp density in certain areas, the artist accessed negative space for an effect that was heftier than but not unlike the fiber artist Lenore Tawney’s pioneering work with open warp.

Grau-Garriga began as a painter whose early commissions included murals in Catalan churches. The gravitas of sacral architecture and iconography is evident in his tapestries, but a wildness—rebellion against the dictates of form and function—dominates every filament. Grau-Garriga grew up in close contact with nature, and came of age artistically during the fraught era of the Franco regime, gradually transitioning from painting to textiles, which, according to him, were a “warmer means of communication as they are so familiar to us.” The 1970s were a defining decade for him: During this period, he developed his tactile expressivity through the inclusion of discarded fabric scraps, old garments, and mixed fibers until his objects assumed the depth and dimensionality of bodies.

The ecru, umber, and ivory Untitled, 1974, bore a folksy humility and a compelling topography of meandering lines and fibrous eddies that frequently erupted in fringy outgrowths. Delicate rope work and knots formed a tangle of entrails spilling from a tightly woven jute skin in Pell del poble (Skin of the People), 1976. Its irregular form was echoed by 1990’s Untitled, a totemic composite of multiple panels and protrusions that conspired to suggest a colorful Marian relic. De l’avia (From the Grandma), 1978, could have been seen as a paean to liberation, with a winglike crimson shape theatrically emerging like a bas-relief from a beige background.

Grau-Garriga’s soft sculptures are as communicative as stories: Some assume the properties of ceremonial attire, while others take after sculptural landscapes. The wall hanging Ser sofisme (To Be Sophism), 1975, sprouted like a vibrant continent—a dreamworld of watery indigo, coral, and deep magenta, rich and fertile. The colors of the dyed fabrics were so saturated the textiles seemed to be wet, and this implicit seepage was also evident, if flattened, in the artist’s collages on paper and cardboard. Five, which were similar in style and spanned nearly twenty-five years, were on view. They were in conversation with the tapestries, speaking the same dexterous language of palpability. Dripping ink resembled loose thread, and their aggregations of textures and materials—among them mortar, newspaper, and upholstery scraps—revealed the artist’s lifelong predilection for changing forms in an ever-changing world. Grau-Garriga’s organic experimentalism continuously wends its way through pastoralism, reverence, and political turmoil—past, present, and future.