Shortly after moving to Madrid in 1955, Millares began to experiment with burlap and strings, or collaged elements such as pieces of wood, clothes and shoes. Many of these rough materials were reminiscent of the crude sacks of rationed food that populated the artist’s childhood. 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. These mummies, along with other artefacts of Guanche culture, generated a profound interest in Millares and deeply influenced his early work. With the relaxing of Spanish economic policy from 1957 to 1959, a sudden influx of imported consumer goods flooded into the country, providing a greater variety of everyday items for Millares to appropriate and introducing the artist to concurrent international developments such as Arte Povera and Pop Art. Along with Rafael Canogar, Antonio Saura and Luis Feito, Millares co-founded the ‘El Paso’ group in 1957. In their founding manifesto, the artists declared that the group constituted “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 1960 Cuadro 109 perfectly embodies the revolutionary and transformative spirit with which El Paso set about. Millares began to gain international recognition in the late 1950s, after being shown at the IV Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna in Sao Paulo in 1957. His success enabled him to travel and discover the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Jean Dubuffet. Their gestural, highly energetic brushstrokes and textured canvases deeply inspired Millares’ own exploration of painting in the 1960s. Marrying the archaeological heritage of his native land with an expressive re-evaluation of everyday materials, Millares explored the possibilities of paintings beyond formal restrictions. Indeed, Cuadro 109, which combines archaic references with humble materials, holds a powerful and mysterious presence over the viewer.
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