Lot 9
  • 9

Miquel Barceló

1,400,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Miquel Barceló
  • Pluja Contracorrent
  • signed, titled and dated VIII. 91 on the reverse
  • mixed media on canvas
  • 300 by 200cm.
  • 118 1/8 by 78 3/4 in.


Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
Galeria Soledad Lorenzo, Madrid (acquired from the above in 1992)
Banco Zaragozano Collection, Madrid (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004


Seville, Pabellon Mudejar, Barceló - Al Aire De Su Vuelo, 1991-1992, p. 49, illustrated in colour
Madrid, Galeria Soledad Lorenzo, Miquel Barceló, 1992, p. 27, illustrated in colour
Barcelona, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Miquel Barceló 1987-1997, 1998, p. 103, illustrated in colour and p. 59, illustrated in the artist's studio
Palma de Mallorca, La Lonja de Palma, Miquel Barceló, 2003


Exhibition Catalogue, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Valencia, IVAM Centre del Carme, Miquel Barceló 1984-1994, 1994-95, p. 15, illustrated in colour
Jean-Marie del Moral, Barceló, London 2003, pp. 4 and 42-43, illustrated in colour in the artist's studio
Exhibition Catalogue, Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga; Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Miquel Barceló: Obra africana, 2008-09, p. 10, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

"Vertical, over his canvas, superb creator, he is totally involved in his violent gestures, his voluptuous manipulation of the paste and his virtuous drawing." (Catherine Flohic, 'Miquel Barcelo' in: Ninety, no. 6, 1991, p. 10).

Documenting the very genesis of this work in 1991, a photograph shows Barceló standing immersed at the edge of Pluja Contracorrent. As if contemplating the very depths of the void, the painter's total absorption in his creative process has precipitated a visual experience for the spectator that is close to sublime submersion. A spectacle of boundless materiality and resplendent colour, Pluja Contracorrent is articulated via a painterly technique wholly individual to Barceló's methodology. Broadcasting an array of experimental techniques deployed to spectacular effect, this work is archetypal of the large-scale paintings produced during the seminal early 1990s period. In the present work the depths of sensorial experience, art history, and culture past and present, are penetrated and fused into a paragon of breathtaking artistic expression. Epitomising the very small and highly celebrated body of works inspired by the artist's expedition down the River Niger in 1991, the compositional resolution, immensity of scale, intensity of colour, and plasticity of paint combined with plant material unequivocally mark Pluja Contracorrent as the masterwork from this series – if not the very apotheosis of Barceló's illustrious career to date. Among the elite handful of other works of this series, Issa Beri is housed in the prestigious Colección Masaveu in Oviedo, while Kulu Be Ban Kan became the auction world record for the artist when it was sold by Sotheby's in London in 2001.

In recent years, Barceló's ascendant reputation has precipitated numerous commissions, museum acquisitions and exhibitions in major institutions worldwide, prominently including the monumental ceiling work for the Human Rights Room at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Barceló has truly cemented his status as, in the words of the eminent French writer Hervé Guibert, "the first great painter of the Twenty First Century" (cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Miquel Barceló: 1984-1994, 1994, p. 16).

Central to Barceló's unique aesthetic is a relishing of geographical displacement. Renowned for his artistic nomadism, the varying locations of Barceló's domicile evidence a diverse itinerary of cultural absorption and inspiration. For Barceló, movement provides the energy and fundamental exegis of his work. Anchored by his native Mallorca to which he continually returns, Paris, Barcelona, Naples, and Portugal constitute the diverse cultural repository pivotal to the painter's encyclopaedic vernacular. Since 1988, Barceló's cultural engagement has been principally rapt, to remarkable effect, by a fascination with West Africa.  The epitome of this fascination, Pluja Contracorrent, represents the dynamic culmination of Barceló's phenomenological experience via a reflection on the River Niger.

In early 1991, during a period of particular political unrest in Mali, Barceló traversed 1,500 kilometres of the Niger between Ségou and Gao in a pirogue, a long thin indigenous river boat, witnessing, sketching, and collating material to document the fishing culture and life surrounding the river's banks. Upon arriving back to his studio in Mallorca later that year, Barceló began work on Pluja Contracorrent. Signifying a culmination of his experience, this work stands as the very climax in the evolution of the river paintings. A colossal elaboration verging on the limits of representation, Barceló masterfully wields the sculptural physicality of paint and organic matter itself to depict a pirogue overcrowded with bustling fishermen casting their rods, set against the swell of tumultuous waters. Contra to an ethnographic portrayal of cultural alterity, this is not the Africa of ancestral culture, but a contradictory mosaic in which all the eras of history exist.  Concurrently atemporal and historically specific, Barceló's subject calls to mind the political difficulties confronting progress in African society, whilst alluding to the timeless and romantic ideal of man alone against elemental nature. It is relating to the latter that this painting evinces Barceló as a fundamentally Romantic artist.  

The representation of the solitary vessel within turbulent and changing waters takes on an emblematic allusion to the vicissitudes of the artist's nomadic lifestyle and solitary work. As Catherine Flohic has identified, Barceló "represents himself as Ahab in his small boat drifting on the seas." (Catherine Flohic, 'Miquel Barceló' in: Ninety, no. 6, 1991, p. 10). Indeed, the Romantic urge "to know and understand the elemental" is evident in Barceló's peripatetic quest, and redolent in both subject and material of his painted canvases (Enrique Juncosa, 'De Rerum Natura' in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Miquel Barceló 1984-1994, 1994, p. 15). In this respect Pluja Contracorrent I traces a Romantic lineage back to J.M.W. Turner's storm-wrought ships at sea; paintings steeped in Turner's mythology of having himself strapped to the mast of a ship during a storm, in order to experience the sheer power of sublime nature. In comparing Barcelo's Pluja Contracorrent to Turner's 1842 painting Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth, the shared allusion to the deluge, with its classical credentials as vehicle for the aesthetic sublime, is underpinned in both by an adherence to the enveloping effects of light. Nonetheless, where Turner is fêted for capturing light's immateriality, material tangibility constitutes the innovation of Barceló's contemporary translation of light's dynamism.

A recurrent concern throughout the artist's oeuvre, light embodies a strikingly physical presence for Barcelo. His very conception of the light in Africa evidences this physicality, as the artist has stated: "Because in Africa, light isn't colour. Light is much stronger than colour. Colour is almost corroded by the light" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Miquel Barceló: Obra sobre papel 1979-1999, 1999, p. iv). Barceló's diaphanous treatment of water also testifies to a material presence of light: the sculptural frothing of waves and violent incisions of rain deliver a masterfully visceral and layered translation of water's translucency and depth. He harmoniously wields pigment and colour to effect a dramatic and tonally rich distribution of chiaroscuro; a sense of light and shade moreover compounded by the tangible materiality and physical application of paint. 

Advocate and successor to Jackson Pollock's innovation, Barceló paints above the horizontal canvas with vigorous energy. In working on the floor, the artist is afforded a heightened freedom of movement around the peripheries of the canvas, therein delivering an amplified degree of surface saturation. As resplendently demonstrated in Pluja Contracorrent, the viscous lumps of paint and organic flow of drips negotiate a delicate balance between abstraction and figuration. Herein Barceló is acutely aware of his standing within the history of his artistic predecessors, announcing: "At the time of Pollock's quick death, Barceló was born, Pollock was near the death of Monet and as Goya was dying: he was born at the moment of Watteau's death.  Watteau was born at Velazquez's death.  As Caravaggio was born, Tintoretto had just died.  Tintoretto came just after Giorgione." (the artist cited in: Jean-Luc Chalumeau, 'From Tintoretto to Barceló' in: Ninety, no. 6, 1991, p. 12). Across time, from the light of Tintoretto and Turner, to the abstraction of Jackson Pollock, Barcelo's grand dialogue with art history posits his practice as determinedly post-modern. 

He is a painter of utter singularity within contemporary art today, and the superlative Pluja Contracorrent represents the very epitome of his unrivalled artistic achievement. Not only metaphorically multifaceted, art historically broad in evocation and endlessly overwhelming in material splendour, Barceló's monumental tableau is emblematic of his artistic core: "Wherever he may be, Miquel Barceló surely seems to be embarked on a voyage without an end.  Behind him he leaves a wake of fragmented visions, sparkles that gleam in the night.  This Southerner from the Mediterranean shores, with a mind full of dreams like any islander, mixes the present and the past, sails though the sea of painting and discovers worlds." (Francisco Calvo Serraller, 'Miquel Barcelo's trace', in: Exhibition Catalogue, Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miquel Barceló: Paintings from 1983 to 1985, 1986, p. 21).