Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1998
London, Whitechapel Gallery, Miquel Barceló 1984 - 1994, 1994, p. 44, illustrated in colour
Valencia, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Miquel Barceló: Retrospective, 1995, p. 44, illustrated in colour
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Miquel Barceló, 2006-07, p. 59, illustrated in colour
Having been commissioned to create a poster for the Nîmes bullfighting festival in 1988, Barceló returned from his extensive travels around Europe and Africa and spent the summer of 1990 in his home in Majorca, where he began to depict the quintessentially Spanish tradition of the corrida de toros. Paying tribute to the full spectacle of the iconic tradition, Barceló vividly rendered the varying stages of the fight in a series of paintings, illustrating the initial stages of the fight in other works from the series such as Faena de muleta, La cuadrilla and La suerte de varas. Engaging with the key tradition of Spanish history and fully aware of the artistic and literary legacies tied to this subject, Barceló invokes a fundamental aspect of his national culture.
An event replete with raw physicality and meticulous skill, the corrida de toros is considered an art, famously glorified by Ernest Hemingway as "the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor" (Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon, London 1932, p. 80). Along with Hemingway a number of great artists throughout the centuries have acknowledged and underlined the importance of the bullfight as an archtypal part of Spanish national culture: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dáli and Francisco de Goya all heralded the iconic spectacle. Goya’s series of aquatint etchings entitled Tauromachia for example, created at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, are often considered an historical and documentary account by true aficionados of the art. Goya’s highly detailed depiction portrayed the frenzy of the arena through a plentitude of spectators enthralled by the action. Barceló on the other hand has expressed the craze and energy of the event through expressive brushstrokes and dynamic movement. Focussing purely on the ancient triumph of man over beast, Barceló has removed the spectators from the scene. Depicting the primordial essence of the event, Barceló not only venerates a Spanish cultural heritage but continues a longstanding artistic tradition. With the torero and bull inextricably linked in the primal cycle of life and death, the purity of this essential struggle reflects on the human role within nature, a principal subject captured by modern masters such as Francis Bacon, for whom the Bullfight was an embodiment of the violence of reality, the brutality of fact he restlessly strove towards in his own art.
A reverence to the splendour of the Mediterranean countryside, Barceló invokes the earthy richness of his homeland through dynamic swirls of deep ochre tones and warm gleaming highlights. As described by the title of the work, Ad Marginem, pushed to the margins, the material subjects have been forced to the edges of the work, as if pulled by the unrestrained momentum of rotation. The matador and beast stand at opposite ends of the ring, the moment of suspense before the merciless struggle begins, is palpable. The bull’s ferocious energy is marked by forceful grey swirls in the ground around him, while the matador approaches, armed with a small red cape and sword. Tracks running along the centre of the ring bear the trace of the previous battle; their steady parallel lines mark the dead weight of a carcass having been dragged from the arena. The sand is stained with the events of the day, a violent visualisation of the fierce struggle. The thick areas of dark impasto and unrestrained brushstrokes imbue Ad Marginem with a violent urgency, truly representative of this historically iconic tradition and spectacle.
Often described as a ‘nomad’ and ‘itinerant’, Barceló had been travelling extensively, seeking new and stimulating experiences early on his career. In 1988, after having worked between Majorca, Paris, Naples and New York, with acclaimed exhibitions around the world, he felt a pressing desire to escape the Western art scene in search of a pure, primal inspiration, and embarked on his first trip to Africa. Establishing a deep connection to the mystifying culture and innate physicality of this fascinating country, he would return on a regular basis. For Barceló the challenging working conditions and his growing fascination with the primal landscape of Africa inspired a new, profound engagement with the materialism of painting. “Africa represents a kind of overall cleansing. … I get back in touch with the essence of the act of painting” (Miquel Barceló in conversation with Mariano F. Sánchez, La Esfera, no. 10, March 1992). With his visual language invigorated by a new appreciation for natural light and colour and the textural pertinence of painting, Barceló vividly rendered the harsh, rugged environment of his surroundings in works such as Saison des Pluies No. 3 (1990), a visual intuition and physical intensity also apparent in his subsequent bullfight paintings.
The bullfight remains a focal point in Spanish culture, its recent ban inciting a fierce debate throughout the country. An avid supporter of his nation’s iconic tradition Barceló created the poster for the last ever fight to take place in the Catalan capital. A poignant portrayal of this spectacle of universal machismo Ad Marginem is a culturally specific yet universally resonating response to sensation. Capturing the archetypal event not in the traditional sense, but with extraordinary dynamism and vigour Barceló’s abstraction and materiality consume something of its essence. Through a striking textural physicality and vibrant visual expression the artist invokes the work with a distinctly visceral quality, continuing his overarching dialogue with the cultural and physical facets of his surroundings.
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