Before Picasso; After Miró | James Johnson Sweeney

Nonell’s painting is essentially linked to the abstract and non-figurative researches that were to follow it. His work is already an embodiment of the credo “Art should be born of the raw material and the tool and should keep the trace of the tool and of the struggle between the tool and the material. Man should speak, but the tool and the material should speak also.” And for the younger men in Spain today, interested primarily in such expression, Nonell represents a reverd precursor.

This is the type of contemporary artist represented in the present exhibition. Of the eighteen, the oldest of the group is Manuel Viola born born in 1919, the youngest, Rafael Canogar, bornn in 1934. None one of them known outside Spain before 1946 and several of them are now shown in the United States for the first time.

What is particularly striking about the work of the younger Spanish artists is the variety of expression they achieve in their pictures in spite of the fact that for the most part, they limit themselves to an austere color gamut of browns, grays, slates, gray greens and ochres so characteristic of Spanish taste and, at the same time, concentrate principally on the exploration of textural effects and on the suggestions of space relationships through contrasts of picture surface. This variety is still more surprising when we consider that all these eighteen are located in two urban centers, both relatively small cities, Madrid and Barcelona. They are also thoroughly aware of the directives and suggestions their predecessors, notably Picasso and Miró, offer and do not hesitate to acknowledge their debt to either of these artists. But in the work of the younger men these influences are healthily assimilated and have been personalized in the translation to such an extent that they already point to fields of pictorial exploration quite foreign to those worked by either of the two older men.

Finally, what this apposition of the paintings of lsidro Nonell with the art of the younger Spanish contemporaries of today most surprisingly and effectively illustrates is the links which both have with the enduring tradition of Spanish painting in certain quarters where on might not normally look for such a common denominator: namely, in their basic regard for the material expression, in their pride of independence from alien influence, in their chromatic constraint and understatement, in their concrete, pictorial, yet basically non-illustrative, intensity.


Before Picasso; After Miró by james Johnson Sweeney.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, 1960). [excerpt]

State of James Johnson Sweeney, Raith House, Newport, County Mayo Ireland.

Published in With rebellion, awareness is born. Barcelona, 2018. Mayoral. p. 22 – 23