Permanent Collection

José Guerrero

Granada, 1914–Barcelona, 1991
Somber Red, 1964Somber Red, 1964

Older than most of the artists of his generation, Guerrero started painting in Granada in the 1930s. In the 1940s he moved to Madrid, where he studied at the School of Fine Arts under Daniel Vázquez Díaz, who recommended that he paint "as if wielding an axe." During the latter half of the 1940s Guerrero visited several European countries, bringing up to date his pictorial knowledge, but it was the year 1950 that proved to be a watershed in his career. He then moved to New York and began to work in the spirit of action painting, the dominant tendency at the time, most of whose representatives he dealt with frequently. During the 1950s José Guerrero Granada, 1914–Barcelona, 1991 Guerrero fully incorporated himself into this artistic stream. However, his work of the 1960s is more significant, as well as more personal, as it connects the intellectual background of American avant-garde painting with his Spanish roots. Hence, from 1963 on he produced such works as the Alhambras, the Generalifes, the Arcos and the Andalucías. Later would follow the first version of La Brecha de Víznar [The Breach of Víznar], a tribute to Federico García Lorca, who was assassinated near this small town in the province of Granada.

In Rojo sombrío we are struck by the violent contrast between reds and blacks, which is reminiscent of bullfighting. This same contrast is also a feature of other contemporary works, such as Guerrero's White Center. However, alongside the red and the black, Rojo sombrío incorporates subtle suggestions of white and blue. It is a lyrical, powerful and energetic piece, painted with the artist's return to Spain on the horizon, and at the same time very American in its concept—it should be remembered that his Homenaje a Kline [Homage to Kline] was painted that same year. However, behind this and other similar images, there beats a Spanish passion that always accompanied Guerrero.

Blue Intervals, 1971Blue Intervals, 1971

Intervalos azules is a large painting, as was characteristic of his work during the brief but intense period in which Guerrero chose these flat matches, united by a cardboard base, as a figurative pretext for his work. Published by this museum, his portfolio of silkscreen prints Fosforencias [Phosphorences], which was the result of a return visit to the United States, also bears testimony to this period. Both in the portfolio and in Intervalos azules, as in the rest of paintings from this series, the matches are just a pretext, as they offer Guerrero a monumental and constructive motif, suggestive of a frieze or a group of columns—on being applied to canvas, the matchheads resemble semi-circular arches.

As is always the case with Guerrero, in this work color is more important than form. The idea is to make the painting burn, as he graphically explained to the writer Bill Dyckes: while travelling on an airplane, he was once given some flat matches and from the plane he contemplated the reverberation of light on the sea.

As regards color, Intervalos azules

is based on a frank dialogue between blues and greens—the indigo blue of his childhood and the green of the countryside. The presence of other colors, such as white and red, at the joints should not be forgotten either, as they produce a vibrating effect. And perhaps most important of all, that intense black that is always present in Guerrero’s work—in 1958 he presented a solo exhibition in New York entitled The Presence of Black, although, of course, it also included many other colors. The same year he produced Intervalos azules, Guerrero also painted a similar work entitled Intervalos negros [Blue Intervals] in which black and its antagonist white are the principal players.

Crossing, 1975Crossing, 1975

It was in the United States that Guerrero understood that painting is reduced to the chromatic events that occur on the surface of the canvas. A painting is not, therefore, a representation of anything that occurs outside the canvas itself but a field on which shapes and colors are arranged and set against each other.

The purpose of painting is therefore to achieve an arrangement of pictorial elements that makes the canvas act as a magnet for the eyes, and Cruce is without doubt such a work. Its background, its color field, is intensely red, vibrant, and possesses a luminous quality only Guerrero has been able to achieve. Above it, two opposing elements cross each other, one white and the other black. But this does not occur in the geometric center of the painting —the crossing has been relegated to the margins in order to leave most of the canvas free for the triumph of the intense vermilion that advances towards us from the background.

The powerful black line that calmly occupies the upper part of the painting persistently attracts our gaze, while the vertical line, whose white emerges within gentle blue tones, appears to want to break the balance established between the red and the black. To restore the balance, an element that appears removed from the dialogue of the thick, straight lines, a sort of white tear, rests at the opposite end of the great black line. In summary, this work is a marvelous example of a composition based on colors. It follows the logic of some of Piet Mondrian's works but avoids the harshness of his precise contours, which are blurred in an aura that allows for a fluctuation of the shapes and the vibration of the colors.

Juan Manuel Bonet, en Catalog Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, Cuenca, Fundación Juan March, Madrid, 2016