Known for his Miró-esque command of line and form, likened to the organic existentialism of Francis Bacon, and inspired by the gestural abandon of l’arte Informel and Abstract Expressionism, Saura came to prominence in the early 1960s for his emotive response to political unrest. After a brief association with the Surrealists in Paris at the beginning of the 1950s, Saura’s return to Spain at the end of the decade precipitated the founding of the El Paso group (1957-60) and a concurrent transformation of his own production. Moving away from the influence of Miró and Surrealism, he began to limit his palette to black and white and would thence begin the series of emotively charged paintings for which he is today best known.
Using the traumatised human body as his anchor, Saura looked to internalise a sense of collective violence and thus began painting crucifixions, imaginary portraits of historical figures, and imposing clutches of anonymous faces. Collectively known as the Crowds series, this corpus encompasses the present work and its rare polyptical form. Usually articulated across a singular expanse of canvas, there are only a handful of other known polyptics in existence (Acumulación, 1961), one of which today hangs in the esteemed Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid. Nonetheless, in alignment with further major iterations in this corpus, Metamorfosis stands alongside the Tate’s Imaginary Portrait of Goya and the Guggenheim’s Crucifixión in conveying the artist’s overarching battle with Grand Tradition. Referring to the inspiration behind his swarms of undefined scarified faces, Saura stated: “Goya, Munch and Ensor are the painters who most poignantly felt the frightening and unrealistic din of the crowds” (Antonio Saura, 1992). Taking his cue from these Grand Masters, Saura's ‘Crowds’ are confrontational and imposing. Meeting the viewer head-on, the many panels of the present work evoke the threatening chorus of a nameless crowd.
Representing the missing link between the painted throngs of Goya or El Greco, the abstraction of Miró, and latterly the scarified heads of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Saura’s Crowds masterfully vent the psychological power and distress of the Twentieth Century’s collective consciousness.
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