Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above in 1991)
Sotheby’s, London, 5 February 2004, Lot 53 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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 its varying stages in a series of paintings, illustrating the varying stages of the fight in works such as Faena de muleta, La cuadrilla and La suerte de varas. Engaging with key historical tradition and fully aware of the artistic and literary legacies tied to this subject, Barceló invokes a fundamental aspect of Spanish 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 archetypal part of Spanish national culture: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí 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.
In En Los Medios one can visualise the artist as the torero in complete solitude, battling with his materials. Just as the bullfight is invariably a tragedy in three acts, one can find a similar ritual in Barceló’s painting. The preparation of the canvas is followed by the most intense period in which he violently attacks the composition, working and re-working, wrestling with the form and construction of the media he is applying. Here he offsets the bulbous almost ceramic feel of the exterior of the ring with the flattened circularity of the interior which he massages into place in a manner reminiscent of Antoni Tàpies’ ethereal sandy surfaces. Just as the bullfighter is balletically swoops back and forth and adjusts his positioning in relation to the bull, so Barceló engages in a frantic push and pull between the addition of natural material and the outburst of controlled expression, between natural, wild form and intellectual content, which finds its ultimate ‘truth’ in the realised image. What results is a masterpiece of ‘total composition’, which finds Barceló at the pinnacle of his career, employing his unique cultural experiences to penetrate the depths of symbolic form and create a poignant metaphor for the human condition, past and present. Then, the final act, the brushwork echoes the choreography of the torero’s footwork, as he lays the painting to rest, allowing its spirit to break free.
The bullfight remains a focal point in Spanish culture, its recent ban in Catalonia 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 En Los Medios 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.
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