Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Manolo Millares
1926 - 1972
oil, burlap, string, cans and cardboard on canvas
81 by 65.5cm.; 31 7/8 by 25 3/4 in.
Executed in 1961.
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This work has kindly been authenticated by Elvireta Escobio.


Galería Val i 30, Valencia
Private Collection, Madrid
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Having moved from his hometown of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Madrid in 1955, Manolo Millares was able to perfect the abstract language that already informed his work and that today is so synonymous with his practice. Shortly after, in 1957, the artist became one of the founding members of the ‘El Paso’ group, along with Rafael Canogar, Antonio Saura and Luis Feito amongst others. In their founding manifesto, the artists declared how El Paso, more than just a group of people with shared interests and concerns was “an activity which aspires to create a new state of mind in the Spanish art world […] It will fight to overcome the acute crisis which Spain is now suffering in the field of the visual arts. […] We are trying to attain a revolutionary plastic art which will include both our dramatic tradition and our direct expression, and be our historic response to a universal activity” (José-Augusto Franҫa, Millares, Barcelona 1978, p. 64). Executed in 1961, Sin título perfectly embodies the revolutionary and transformative spirit with which El Paso set about; with its knotted, highly textured surface, the present work seems to have a life of its own, as if the canvas was contorting to create its singular composition.

It is precisely during his first years in Madrid that Millares started using the materials for which he is so well known nowadays; burlap and strings, or collaged elements such as pieces of wood, clothes, shoes or even cans, as is the case in Sin título. The painter’s use of the former two relates to his own childhood, as in the years following the Spanish Civil War rationed supplies of basic foodstuff such as beans and flour were stored in sacks of these materials. Moreover, burlap was used by the Guanche people, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands who used this material to mummify their dead in a similar way to the Ancient Egyptians. Millares, whose uncle was a palaeography professor at the University of Madrid, felt a profound interest for these mummies and other artefacts of the Guanche culture, whose influence permeates the artist’s early work. On the other hand, and following an opening of the Spanish economic policy in 1957-59 that allowed liberalisation and better access to imported goods, Millares’ use of everyday objects such as the cans in Sin título can be seen as his own take on artistic currents such as Pop Art and Arte Povera. Indeed, Millares’ work gained international recognition in the late 1950s, when after being shown at the IV Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna in Sao Paulo in 1957 the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired Cuadro 9 from that same year. This enabled the artist to travel and discover the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Jean Dubuffet, whose gestural, highly energetic brushstrokes and textured canvases can be seen to follow a similar direction as the Spanish painter’s.

Here, Millares masterfully utilises humble materials and elevates them to express his inner anguish, derived from his own experience and his need to fight the status quo of his homeland. Twisting and writhing the very material the canvas is made of, in Sin título Millares revolutionises pictorial tradition and creates a work of great emotion and significance.

Contemporary Art Day Auction