Riera Roura Collection
The Riera Roura Collection celebrates the effervescent art scene of the 1970s and 1980s, at a time of unprecedented political transformation and cultural explosion. This is a sample of the collection, open and passionate about painting that represents the dynamism and diversity of that period, with artists whose works are found in international museums and private collections. Discover and reflect on this collection that connects with our identity, aspirations and way of seeing the world.
Works of Art
Commissioned by Mr. Enrique Juncosa
JOSÉ MANUEL BROTO
It is likely that the best works by José Manuel Broto (Zaragoza, 1949) were the ones he produced in the second half of the 1980s such as Cinquième journée. In that decade, Broto created a language in which geometrical and gestural elements shared the same space just as figurative and abstract elements sometimes did. The paintings are spatially ambiguous and their imagery refers to everyday things, such as a dog or a beer; to strange and desolate landscapes; to weather events, such as clouds and fog; or to the starry sky and the cosmos. Over these somewhat empty spaces linear forms often float which trace winding paths and suggest ideas of time and travel. In this period, Broto paid tribute in his titles to several composers including Frenchmen Ravel, Satie, Debussy and Olivier Messian (he dedicated a whole series of paintings to the latter) and to others such as Palestrina, Bach, Stravinsky and Arvo Pärt. He also gave some works the names of places including cities like Madrid and Toledo and countries like Egypt and India; and concepts which conjure up events, visions, transformations or symbols, such as apparitions, journeys, dreams, secrets, missions, cults, figures, letters, etc. All these references suggest at least an appearance of meaning and perhaps also a desire to explore the territory of the ineffable.
In turn Cinquième journée is part of a series of nine paintings entitled Journées, all the same size and square in shape and which together again speak of a journey and a period of time. All these paintings, except the second, present an image we might call geometrical together with another gestural one. The former is smaller and added to the picture as a collage, thus heightening the contrast between both images. These shapes float on monochromatic gestural backgrounds of ambiguous colours. The background of Cinquième journée is red, alluding to the symbolic associations of this colour such as passion, fire and blood. In the right of the painting there is an image in the shape of an elongated vertical zero, suggesting a closed route. This elongated zero is marked out by the movement of winding orange lines. It is not a shape cut out on the background but rather it rises out of the viscosity of the matter. In the upper left-hand corner there is another dark shape similar to a metal structure with angular forms which could be part of a cage or latticework, broken and open.
The whole Journées group suggests in some way a metaphor for the artist’s career up to that point. Broto began his artistic journey influenced by the Supports/Surfaces trend, something like the French version of Minimalism, which advocated painting should be metalinguistic. In other words, its aim was to be a mere index of its materiality, dealing exclusively with its formal aspects such as texture, colour, light, transparency, viscosity, brushstroke, pattern, etc. and thus eschewing any possibility of meaning. With Xavier Grau and others, Broto had been part of the Trama group in the 1970s, championing the idea just described. Soon, however, as his fellow group members also believed, Broto came to the conclusion that the strict dogmatism of metalinguistic formalism was somewhat restrictive and he began to explore a freer and more complex type of abstraction which is gestural, emotional and metaphorical, referring to diverse experiences and memories.
Chema Cobo (Tarifa, 1952) is one of the leading artists of what is known as the Nueva Figuración Madrileña, a group of painters who rose to prominence in the 1970s or even earlier in the late 1960s, many of them Andalusian and who to some extent anticipated the Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s. Their work is cultured, sophisticated, hedonistic and celebratory, seen as a means of freedom. All the artists in the group admired Marcel Duchamp, David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, liked pop music and embraced lifestyles unlike the ones which had been customary until then. The youngest member of the group was Chema Cobo, who had directed some experimental short films. After a first period of figures which can be described as Picassian, his mature work, moving in architectural spaces of unreal and bright colours, is marked by irony, games and narrative or discursive content, questioning the very idea of representation, which in his view is always unfinished. Juan Manuel Bonet described his painting as “labyrinthine, alexandrine, of masks”. Chema Cobo has lived in Rome, Brussels and New York over the course of a very long international career.
Emboscada de máscaras (2003) is a picture far removed from the painting Chema Cobo did in the 1970s and early 1980s. For starters, his initial exaggerated use of colour has been considerably softened. The canvas is spatially divided in two by the wire of a light bulb dangling from the top, crossing a large part of its surface. This dividing line is shifted to the right. In the two resulting parts the background is whitish with yellow squares in the shape of an inclined and incomplete chequerboard, which forms an upward diagonal movement to the right. On this side there is also an owl and the silhouette, like a shadow, of a joker, the figure in card games who is dressed as a jester or harlequin and has the demeanour of a prankster.
The owl is a night bird that stands for wisdom and in some cultures is considered as a messenger between the earthly and heavenly realms. On the left-hand side of the painting there are seven human faces, or masks, arranged in two parallel horizontal rows with four of the faces in the upper part and three in the lower part. Albeit in another order, four are men’s faces and three are women’s faces. A masquerade is a party at which attendees wear masks and costumes. This painting thus suggests a world of appearances and hidden meanings which are difficult to pin down.
The oeuvre of Carlos Franco (Madrid, 1951), another artist connected with the Nueva Figuración Madrileña, was influenced initially in the 1970s by the work of Luis Gordillo, who was sort of the group’s leader. Even so, Carlos Franco uses autobiographical references in self-portraits and a long sequence of works on paper in which he narrates an accident which shattered one of his legs. His painting would always be fairly narrative and in the 1980s it featured mythological and historical themes drawn from classical painting and literature, such as Judith saliendo del campamento de Holofernes (Judith leaving Holofernes’ Camp) (1984) and La ninfa y el centauro (The Nymph and the Centaur) (1985), with which he reconstructs the traditional genres of painting. Carlos Franco has also illustrated Virgil’s Aeneid. In the 1990s, his images once more gained greater complexity to form genuine jigsaw puzzles of colours and shapes with very rich textures and a decidedly baroque style. He has also used digital methods to create his images.
La caridad is a piece from the late 1990s painted on aluminium. Its theme is allegorical and has been addressed before by many painters from Zurbarán to Goya, usually showing a young woman breastfeeding several children. In Carlos Franco’s painting, charity is represented by a robust female figure with bare buttocks and a huge head and visible eye. She is sitting with her legs spread wide and breastfeeding a baby who has a monstrous aspect, with a green and yellow fringe. The figure of the woman has a Picassian aspect since she is seen from several points of view at the same time; for example her breasts, one from the front and the other from the side.
The woman’s torso makes it possible to see a large area of the aluminium making up the background on which the work has been painted, which creates sparkles and reflections. The brushstroke and colours are expressive and somewhat violent. Carlos Franco has spent time in Brazil taking an interest in its syncretic rituals, and here and in other paintings of this period he moves towards psychedelia. The baby and the woman feeding him are grotesque figures typical of a dreamlike and visionary world. When discussing his work, he has said he is interested in the images generated by the subconscious.
FERRAN GARCIA SEVILLA
Ferran Garcia Sevilla (Palma, 1949) was one of the most internationally renowned Spanish painters of the 1980s, exhibiting individually in public institutions in London, Nimes and Tokyo as well as participating in shows such as Documenta 8 (Kassel, 1987) presenting the zeitgeist of the period. When he exhibited his paintings for the first time at the Maeght Gallery in Barcelona in 1981, he already had behind him a busy decade as a conceptual, political and provocative artist. He was not the only artist at that time who decided to embrace painting and give up earlier disciplines due to their dogmatism. The practitioners of this painting known as Nuevos expresionismos championed artists such as Francis Picabia, talking about deliberately painting badly and creating different and simultaneous styles, garnering influences from all over the world and from any historical period. Garcia Sevilla’s paintings in particular look like hieroglyphics, and although they may refer to his personal experiences they are hard to interpret from a specific standpoint. In the 1980s he was a prolific painter, creating an enormous repertoire of diverse images that are juxtaposed in an apparently capricious way, expressed in erroneous or distorted scales, and with no shading or perspective. His first images alluded to prehistoric and primitive art, suggesting a desire to return to the primordial.
Garcia Sevilla worked on series to which he gave a generic title and then numbered them. Over the years, his paintings gradually become more complex. The ones in series such as Palestí (Palestinian) (1982) and Imperi (Empire) (1983) encouraged anti-war political readings. Cora (1984) is about the birth of his daughter who was given this name. In other works such as the series Tata (1984) he writes provocative lines in graffiti with sarcastic irony. Cima 2, which comes from this period of creation of his own pictorial language, is part of the Cima series made up of at least eight paintings of the same size and square in shape. Several of the pictures in this series depict images of closed or compartmentalised areas. They also show signs, such as dots, circles, rhombuses, numbers, borders and stripes, mixed with other figurative images.
The creation of his own sign language is a Miró influence, as is the shaping of forms into constellated structures, floating over ambiguous and monochrome spaces, in this case white. Here, inside a red circle, there is a small mammal which might be a cat or a dog. At the bottom right of the picture there is a shape which calls to mind a pot with a black plant from which ambiguous animal shapes emerge. Also on the right at the bottom of the picture there is a kind of digital clock. It is hermetic imagery which perhaps refers to paintings on adobe walls in Saharan Africa, or in countries such as India, and to the signs of shops and businesses in these same geographical and cultural realms which are still painted by hand. The inclusion of popular imagery from other cultures signals a readiness to shake up established hierarchies along with a wish to create a direct language which is immediately responded to. Garcia Sevilla’s output is also indebted to Paul Klee, another traveller to North Africa, who said of his work that it was abstract but steeped in recollections.
Xavier Grau (Barcelona, 1951-2020) was a member of the Trama group, mentioned earlier when talking about Broto encompassing artists such as Gonzalo Tena and Javier Rubio and which was active between 1973 and 1978. The subsequent evolution of Grau’s work is similar to Broto’s as he discarded the metalinguistic painting of his earlier days for another style which without neglecting previous theoretical concerns was more complex and open to interpretation, metaphor, humour and hedonism.
His mature painting, produced since about 1980, is performative as it is not the outcome of preliminary drawings but rather done during the very act of painting, responding with other blotches, lines and gestures to the first strokes made in the painting as if he were entering into a dialogue with it. The drawing expresses the relationship between content and form, building an intricate, ambiguous and dynamic space in which recognisable shapes can sometimes be glimpsed, captured with an ironic language close to the comic.
An example of this is Sub-1 (2008), where on an interlocking background of blue, yellow, grey and white fields with ambiguous boundaries, a tangle of fast linear lines is drawn which occasionally suggest pipes, wires or wheels, as if forming the crazy inner workings of a non-operational machine or engine. The whole is dominated by a thick black angle which takes up the upper part of the picture, going in and out from the top, to end up coming out again on the right.
Everything is in motion, hinted at by the diagonals, which are always unstable and form the black angle, but also by the repetition of quick strokes and lines in other areas of the picture suggesting unfocused images and vibrant movements. Moreover, the drawing is not always on the surface as it is sometimes covered by colour fields, adding depth and complexity to the final image, which is reached after numerous layers and strata. This final image is like a fragment of another more extensive one which could be continued from the sides, but also inwards or outwards.
Dennis Hollingsworth (Los Angeles, 1956) is an American painter, at first involved in the West Coast Neo-Expressionism in the US and from the same generation as the other Spanish painters gathered here. He exhibited in Spain for the first time in 2006 at the Miguel Marcos gallery after which he spent some time in Catalonia. His work is abstract and characterised by its thickness with densely smeared gestural areas and small delicate ornamental mounds which sometimes look like pastries. He thus explores the physical aspects of the paint, adding several layers wet-on-wet and achieving colour intensity and movement. The final aspect is similar to bas-relief, resembling sculpture in its thickness.
Laocoön is a character in Greek and Roman mythology. He and his two sons were attacked by giant snakes sent by the gods. Besides being the subject of a lost tragedy by Sophocles, the story also gave rise to the sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, one of the most famous and representative of the Hellenistic period and made on Rhodes. This sculpture is endowed with great movement emphasised by the curves of the bodies of the snakes and the humans who squirm trying to escape. The most famous account of the incident experienced by Laocoön is in Virgil’s Aeneid. Laocoön was a priest of Poseidon and died with his sons after trying to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse. The Trojans did not believe him, so he tried to set fire to the horse by throwing torches at it, at which time the snakes sent by Athena emerged from the waters and killed him and his sons.
A Happy Laocoön is a vertical format painting with a red background. It is divided by a vertical white band that runs right up the canvas, half-hidden by thick black strokes and which set limits to its sides as well as twisting in on themselves to form a kind of hollow volume and oval shape, loosely suggestive of a mask or a helmet and also a flower. The wavy black strokes are an obvious reference to Laocoön and his struggle with the snakes, although here the end result is happy as the lines turn into ornamentation. The material in the upper middle of the canvas is very thick, giving rise to volumes in the shape of leaves or petals. The image is also rounded off with small star shapes made sculpturally with the oil paint to take on the bas-relief aspect discussed above and which is typical of Hollingsworth’s painting.
Many of the Spanish painters of the 1980s such as Barceló, Sicilia, Broto and Campano spent time in Paris, or live or lived there. By contrast, Victor Mira (Larache, Morocco, 1949 - Breitbrunn am Ammersee, 2003) lived in Germany and his work is thus connected with German and Austrian Neo-Expressionism. Nevertheless, Mira’s painting is deeply embedded in his native country. His favourite colour is black, which ties him to Goya and Solana, and his work features crosses, bulls, skulls, Spanish flags and other Hispanic symbols. His painting is also marked by its material thickness. In addition to their symbolism, his images draw the viewer into the realm of dreams and visions and always from a dark or disturbing perspective.
Río con tres avatares (1985) is in spite of its vertical format a landscape of heraldic simplicity. A gestural and transparent large blue rectangle floats on a black background, showing the black in the background and which can only be clearly seen on the sides of the painting. The winding course of a river with several meanders has been drawn on the blue. It is an ascending course that begins and ends suddenly. This winding, snake-like shape includes bright white flashes suggesting foam and therefore choppy water or rapids.
The avatars of the title are three capital A’s, two on the right and one on the left, set in the bends of what hints at a river due to its shape and also the title of the work. The avatars are difficulties or events detrimental to the smooth progress or flow of something, so they stand for obstacles in the course of this rushing river. Knowing other works of the artist, it is not difficult to read this image as a metaphor of life and death, a journey with difficulties, a beginning and an end.
As its name suggests, Montserrat is a painting inspired by Montserrat, a rocky massif featuring stunning irregular geological shapes and which reaches 1,236 metres above sea level at its highest point. The massif is thirty kilometres from Barcelona and an extremely symbolic site. There you can visit a Benedictine monastery where a much venerated image of the Virgin Mary is kept which was found in a nearby cave. It is a late twelfth-century polychrome Romanesque carving popularly known as La Moreneta (‘the little dark one’) and the patron saint of Catalonia. The Monastery has a vibrant cultural life including a large library, a museum, a publishing house and a celebrated choir. Around the Monastery there are also several small chapels and churches which underline the place’s spiritual importance.
Going back to Victor Mira’s picture, Montserrat presents a striking image. It consists of a curved, black matter shape running across the surface of the vertical painting from the bottom right to the top left. This shape vaguely suggests the head of a mythological animal, perhaps a dragon. A line, also red and curved, would then be its mouth and oesophagus.
This purported head ends in a number of semicircular shapes which in turn refer to the odd morphology of the Montserrat massif. The black shape is covered with sixteen red crosses which bring the image more movement and an upward thrust. The crosses refer to the Via Crucis, a devotion centred on the sorrowful mysteries of Christ which are reflected on and observed in fourteen stations during a symbolic ascent to Calvary and which depict the most significant events in the Passion. It is easy to see this as a metaphor for the hardships of life and its inevitable tragic end. The red and black hues accentuate this reading, as black is a symbol of death and red of blood and life.
JUAN NAVARRO BALDEWEG
Juan Navarro Baldeweg (Santander, 1939) began painting in the 1960s when he produced a series of works that were unique on the Spanish scene at the time. They included large fields of colour covered by mechanical brushstrokes with a gestural-like appearance and which suggested an analytical and reflective stance. In the 1980s, his work became much more hedonistic, featuring vibrant and bright colours. From then on, his paintings stand out for their colour richness and their free and loose brushstrokes. Navarro Baldeweg’s work is based on thematic series which include Moons, Academies, Baths, Smokers, Swifts, Landscapes, Chinese Dragons and Lanterns.
Copa azul y ventana II (2003) is one of a series of paintings inspired by 18th century English cut glass goblets and depicting pastoral scenes, in this case a goatherd with several of his goats. It is a classic representation of the bucolic. The goblet is placed next to a window, capturing the evolution of light in its reflections and, one might imagine, other forces of nature such as dampness, temperature or wind.
Glass is a medium which appeals to the artist because it is transparent yet refractory and shiny, creating a complex image which merges with its surroundings while altering them, and also allowing the artist’s feelings and thoughts to be added to it as it is depicted on a canvas. Everything is transformed into painting which is a new self-contained order; painting that is a multicoloured feast and an Arcadian conceptual place of infinite nuances. Navarro Baldeweg’s painting is ultimately an analysis of the same vision, pointing out that perception alters over time and the alterations it brings with it.
Antón Patiño (Monforte de Lemos, 1957) is one of the most outstanding artists of the Atlántica group, founded in 1980 and possibly the main Galician contribution to the art of that decade. In addition to painting, he has also published numerous theoretical essays including studies about other artists. His painting is expressionist, large-scale, with fast and gestural strokes, and with intense colours, used for their expressive potential and going beyond a representational zeal. Atlántica’s artists sought a balance between local traditions and international languages. They recovered mythical Celtic signs and symbols and in sculpture they used stone and wood in line with autonomous traditions.
This interest in a mythical and legendary realm also meant taking an interest in what is known as primitive art. Patiño’s works show schematic figures painted immediately, masks, animals and palm trees, which take us back to a time when the forces of nature were sacred, albeit doing so with irony. Masks are strongly symbolic, suggesting ideas of transformation. In many tribal societies they represented animals and forces of nature which were magically conveyed to the shamans who used them.
Caretos is an iconic work of the time when it was produced, just like Cocoroa e Tombuctú (Cocoroa and Timbuktu). The titles of both works are ironic. Both are vertical format paintings divided in half into an upper and lower part. In both areas there are anthropomorphic figures schematically depicted, naked, with their heads and torso inclined and their legs bent as if they were quadruped animals. The face of these figures is hidden by a mask. In Caretos, both figures are red. The lower figure floats on a blue gestural background and the upper figure on a white background with black dots, suggesting the pattern of a leopard’s fur. The images lean towards abstraction and their heraldic simplicity lends them the appearance of a flag or banner. The mask is also a common motif in the first modern painting, from Picasso to Jawlensky.
Manolo Quejido (Sevilla, 1946) is another of the key artists in the Nueva Figuración Madrileña. In his early years his work revealed an interest in assorted subjects ranging from experimental poetry, pop art and psychedelia to the painting of Bonnard and Matisse. His painting has changed its register regularly over time, displaying a restless eagerness to investigate. Like others of his generation, he has also sought to embrace the great themes of painting such as the artist working in the studio, still lifes, portraits and landscapes.
I love Mallorca 55 is one of a series presented at the Buades Gallery in Madrid in 1990. They are paintings in the same format and almost graphic composition in their simplicity which vary only in their colours, using just one or two besides black and white. In them there is the image of a painter painting his model, a naked woman sitting in a rocking chair, on a terrace, framed by the blinds opened on the sides and with a tree and landscape in the background.
The artist, as his title suggests, is inspired by Majorca, known as the island of calm and a renowned tourist and holiday destination which has attracted numerous painters from the Impressionist era including Sorolla, Rusiñol and Sargent, Sicilia, Campano and Broto, and Joan Miró. The series I love Mallorca is an exercise in chromatic restraint and formal analysis which Juan Manuel Bonet, a great admirer of Quejido, compared to the music of Erik Satie, a precursor of minimalist repetitive music. Like Satie’s music, indeed, these paintings by Quejido are at once atmospheric and ironic in their simplicity, referring also to Matisse’s characteristic luxury, calm and voluptuousness in an essential way and in exact balance.
The artistic work of Bernardí Roig (Palma, 1965) encompasses sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs and films in which he explores issues concerning our identity as individuals and as social beings. This multimedia output, often featuring life-size figures of men in polyester resin performing odd actions, is always physically and psychologically unsettling, suggesting as it does issues such as loneliness, claustrophobia and difficulties in communication; pain, fear, madness and disease; pleasure and erotic desire; and even the limits of the body and death, seen as an end but also as a gateway to the transcendent. His use of black and white coupled with theatrical lighting which brings out light and shadow affords his works a dreamlike, dramatic quality which underscores all these disturbing meanings.
Nature morte IV is one of a series of works on paper produced in the early and mid-1990s and was unveiled at the Miguel Marcos Gallery in Zaragoza in 1997. Realised with charcoal and graphite in square formats and framed in iron, some works from the series also included other organic materials in their technical description such as ash and semen. Still life is a classic painting genre whose allegorical meaning refers to the transience of everything. It was very common in the Baroque period and at the beginning of modernity from Impressionism to Cubism. Classic still lifes depicted natural objects, such as animals, flowers, fruit, vegetables, skulls and shells, and also man-made objects, for instance tableware, cooking and hunting implements, books, jewellery and antiques.
Bernardí Roig restricts the components of his still lifes to skulls, flowers and crucifixions, which suggests a reflection on death and what awaits us after it. Sometimes there are other objects, such as a butterfly which stands for brevity and the moment, or here in Nature morte IV a vase with handles and decorative items which almost looks like a sports trophy and holds a large bouquet of flowers. The vase and bouquet float in a white space at the top of the picture unsupported by the floor or a table, suggesting an idea of ascension and therefore a transcendent meaning. There are several types of flowers and leaves and they are not dried, although the black of the charcoal and graphite, materials made with the help of fire, underscore their ultimate end and symbolic meaning. In the Baroque period many flowers had a specific symbolic significance such as love, purity, melancholy, modesty, devotion, sleep or death, thus employing strategies close to the taste and interests of the Majorcan artist.
Juan Uslé (Santander, 1954) now divides his time between New York and his native Cantabria and played a key role in the international discussion on abstraction which took place in the 1990s, taking part in numerous programme exhibitions at the time in various countries. His initial expressionist paintings in the 1980s gave way in the early 1990s to some intense, dark and romantic works concerning the character of Captain Nemo and also a shipwreck that Uslé witnessed as a child on the Cantabrian coast. His work in New York under the influence of the great masters of Abstract Expressionism, especially Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, is more colourful, exploring several formal alternatives and working with luminous pigments. After working on a number of series in a range of styles, he has produced a large number of vertical black paintings by repeating short brushstrokes which hint at visions of the sublime.
Condenado (El último sueño) (2002) was shown at the large Juan Uslé retrospective organised by the Reina Sofía Museum in 2003 and which travelled to Santander, Ghent and Dublin. The exhibition was arranged by families of works, including a section entitled Celibataires in reference to Marcel Duchamp and which brought together works such as this one which did not belong to any other series. Condenado portrays an almost figurative image of an architectural space, a long corridor formed by four diagonal lines, which converge in a white rectangle with horizontal lines that might be a door.
The floor and ceiling of this corridor is painted with horizontal stripes which are also blue. What might be called walls are made of black diagonal stripes. Everything looks fast, chock-full of irregular brushstrokes, which also give it an unfinished look. To the left of this composition in the left of the painting there is a thick strip like a column, made from vertical and horizontal bands of many colours. At the top, a curved line floats and twists. It is an imprecise and dreamlike space in a composition jam-packed with mysterious movement and meaning which at the same time is spatial and constructive. When asked about this work, Uslé told me that when painting it, and hence its title, he thought about what a prisoner on death row would dream of before their execution. Dreams are a running theme in Uslé’s work, like the series of dreams of Jules Verne’s character Captain Nemo.