Palma de Mallorca

Rafael Tur Costa, untitled, 1987, graphite, colored pencil, and paper on canvas, 51 1⁄8 × 38 1⁄4".

Rafael Tur Costa, untitled, 1987, graphite, colored pencil, and paper on canvas, 51 1⁄8 × 38 1⁄4".

Rafael Tur Costa

Born in 1927, Rafael Tur Costa spent his entire life in Ibiza. There, having survived the Spanish Civil War, he studied at its Escuela de Artes y Oficios (School of Arts and Crafts), as it was then called, but then went on to run a fabric store. Despite the insularity of the place where he lived, Tur Costa, who passed away in 2020, maintained contacts with artists who vacationed on the Balearic Islands, among them a group from the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Berlin. He also connected with the art scenes of Madrid and Barcelona. These internal and external influences were reflected in “La luz del fragmento” (The Light of the Fragment), a retrospective of his work curated by Soad Houman, Imma Prieto, and Pilar Rubí.

With some ninety works arranged chronologically and with abundant documentary material (sketchbooks, correspondence with poets such as Rafael Alberti, and so on), the exhibition showed the evolution of Tur Costa’s visual language over the years: from origins marked by his contacts with the artists of Grupo Ibiza 59 (Erwin Bechtold, Erwin Broner, Hans Laabs, and Robert Munford, among others) to very formally and conceptually refined work in which the artist gradually relinquished color and synthesized forms in an almost austere manner.

Over the years, a concern with the unseen was a constant in Tur Costa’s work, which was consistently untitled. We see it in the off-white lumps mimicking walls swollen by the salt residues of the sea in his collaged canvases of the 1970s. This is also the case in works with a more overt political reading, such as one from 1973, in which bone-white paper filled with discreet colored drawings almost completely conceals a cover of the magazine Triunfo (an anti-Franco publication that experienced numerous problems with censorship), whose title protrudes through cut-out holes.

These works gave way to others where the presence of a crack or a wound is evident, possibly connected to Tur Costa’s childhood memories of the Civil War and the silence that subsequently surrounded that period. Here, the artist covered his canvases with layers of paper, like accumulations of posters pasted onto walls, and then tore into them to reveal the layers buried under the surface. Through his use of bulges, overlaps, and cuts, Tur Costa focused more on texture than on color, which he nevertheless deployed in a decisive if discreet manner, always in response to the omnipresent whiteness of typical Ibizan houses. Later on, his work became more relief-like, its large surfaces or strips of paper, wood, or canvas superimposed onto a background that remains hidden and from which scattered bits of color stand out. This line of investigation culminated in pieces that are essentially aerial views of models, where the ground plan (white, of course) of a building rises above the surface of the collage.

I was unfamiliar with Tur Costa’s work until learning of this show. Thanks to the centralism of the Spanish art system, work made outside the metropolis can easily pass unnoticed. For this reason, the archival and exhibition work being done by regional institutions is admirable. Fortunately, Tur Costa had the opportunity to see his retrospective inaugurated shortly before he died of Covid-19 late last year. The museum plans to republish his memoirs, titled Un al·lot eivissenc a la Guerra Civil (An Ibizan Boy During the Civil War, 2007), along with the exhibition catalogue.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.