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Juana Francés: Informalism Was Also Female

Mayoral presents 'Juana Francés: Informalism Was Also Female', the first monographic exhibition of the Alicante artist (1924-1990) to be held in Barcelona. Curated by Tomàs Llorens, the show focuses on her Informalist period and presents a selection of 14 artworks from different museum and private collections that emphasize the great intensity and creative freedom of the only female member of the founding group of El Paso.
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Juana Francés: Informalism Was Also Female

Being a woman artist has been — and still is — an additional difficulty in the recognition of artistic talent, but this difficulty was much more accentuated in the patriarchal and repressive society of the Franco dictatorship. It was in such a context that towards the mid-1950s Juana Francés got into abstract, gestural and materic painting. This turn, as the curator observes in his essay for the catalogue of the show, coincided in time with the one also effected by other painters of the day and, in a similar way to them, was largely due to the awareness Spanish artists were henceforth to have of the new artistic currents developing in the international arena: European Informalism and American Abstract Expressionism.

The artist consolidated her Informalist phase between 1957 and 1962. In the works from this period she combined sand and pigment with other materials to obtain dense textures that lend the picture a certain three-dimensionality. This subtle volume is further emphasized by the luminosity arising from the superimposition of patches of colour in an austere palette and through the golden tones of the earth that can be readily observed in the MACA’s two Untitled paintings from 1959. The compositions are open-ended and dynamic, with energetic, impulsive brushstrokes midway between the graphism of Franz Kline and the Tachism of Hans Hartung, two of her chief sources of inspiration. We can see this in the grattage in black of Como tierra, nº 51 (Like Earth, No. 51) (1959-1960) or the broad brushstrokes of the same colour predominating in Algaiat (1960). Francés herself explained that in order to create these highly expressive artworks, “I regularly used broad brushes; the impressions I did with big palette knives. I also used gestural watering, mainly to move sand and grit; this consisted in flinging water, with or without colour, on top of the textures. On occasion I strewed sand and grit on the base of acrylic glue, which I later 1. modified with the brush, producing rhythms with the brushstrokes.”[1]

The materic Informalism of Juana Francés, observes Tomàs Llorens, presented “a purity and a radicalness that was consistently remarked upon by the critics of the day. As it was, the rejection of all iconic reference and the concentration on the most extreme tactility converted the pictures […] we are presenting in this exhibition into radically ineffable presences. Presences that go on speaking to us today even though more than half a century has elapsed since their creation.” The fact of the matter is that as well as being one of the original members of the El Paso group and signing its founding manifesto in 1957 — despite taking her leave of it that same year — Francés was assured of recognition at the national level and abroad. In the international arena it is worth recalling her participation in different editions of the Venice Biennale (1954, 1960 and 1964), in the exhibition Before Picasso; After Miró at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1960, and in Modern Spanish Painting held at the Tate Gallery in London in 1962.

Thus, as Carles Guerra and Agustín Pérez Rubio conclude in the discussion they conducted on the occasion of this exhibition, included in the catalogue, we are in the presence of a creative person who was adept at appropriating a practice traditionally associated with masculinity, thereby vindicating herself as an artist and situating herself at the same level as the male counterparts of her generation, among whom were to be found Manolo Millares, Antonio Saura, Antoni Tàpies and Eduardo Chillida, whose works have also been seen at Mayoral in exhibitions held in recent years.



Tomàs Llorens Serra (Almazora, Castelló, 1936) is an art historian and critic of Spanish art. A Law graduate and Bachelor of Arts, he has been director of the IVAM, Institut Valencià. d’Art Modern, director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), and chief curator of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza from 1991 to 2005. As well as being the author of numerous articles and essays about twentieth-century art history and criticism, architecture and semiotics, he has curated some of the finest exhibitions seen in Spain in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He was warded the Gold Medal of Merit in the Fine Arts in 2007.



Juana Francés (Alicante, 1924 – Madrid, 1990) After studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, Juana Francés participated in 1953 in the International Congress of Abstract Art organized by the Summer University in Santander. Following an initial phase marked by a hieratic geometrical figuration full of symbolism, in the mid-fifties she immersed herself in the world of abstract painting and Informalism. In February 1957 she founded the El Paso group along with the critic José Ayllón and the artists Canogar, Luis Feito, Manolo Millares, Manuel Rivera, Antonio Saura, Pablo Serrano and Antonio Suárez but after exhibiting in its first two shows in Madrid and Oviedo she severed her connections with the group, as did some other members, during that same year. From 1963 onwards Francés foregrounded form in her work, incorporating the human figure in an attempt to focus on the problematic of humankind’s inability to communicate. In recent years the artist has been subject to re-evaluation by different researchers and art historians. Among the most notable retrospectives of the artist’s work are those organized by the Caja de Ahorros de Asturias in Gijón (1994); the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Alicante (1995) and the IAACC Pablo Serrano in Zaragoza (2019).


[1] FRANCÉS, Juana. n.d. In: Juana Francés. Una voluntad investigadora [exh. cat.]. Zaragoza: Gobierno de Aragón, 2019, p. 4.

Ministerio Cultura y Deporte