32 MIN

Alfons Borrell


In the context of the culture of the spectacle, a ‘quiet’ oeuvre like Alfons Borrell’s (Barcelona, 1931) was in danger of being overlooked, as the poet and essayist Vicenç Altaió points out in the documentary ‘Reconèixer Borrell’ (2012). But Borrell has managed to sustain a tenacious, consistent practice over more than six decades of creative research in which pigments, experiences with nature, personal memories, and a dialogue with the surface of the canvas merge, giving rise to an austere, vitalist abstraction that runs unerringly through Catalan painting from the seventies to the present. Borrell makes no distinction between painting and life. ‘There are two types of painters, those who paint what they see, and those that are, themselves, painting. I identify with the latter,’ he says.

Even though Borrell is basically self-taught, over the years he crossed paths with a series of art world figures who went on to play a key role in his life and career. Meeting Hermen Anglada Camarasa in Pollença, Mallorca, in 1950, and frequenting his studio introduced young Borrell to a new way of understanding painting, beyond the impositions of realism. On his return to Sabadell in 1952, Borrell broke away from his former figurative naturalism and threw himself into dramatic abstract expressionism, by means of which he tried to capture the throbbing pulse of the reality around him. These were the years when Antoni Tàpies’ materic painting dominated the Catalan and Spanish art scenes, but Borrell never felt altogether comfortable within the parameters of Informalism.

In 1960 he became one of the members of Grup Gallot, along with Antoni Angle, Llorenç Balsach i Grau, Joan Josep Bermúdez, Manuel Duque, Josep Llorens, Joaquim Montserrat, Lluís Vila Plana and Gabriel Morvay. This Sabadell-based artists’ collective worked with a series of actions – halfway between action painting and surrealist automatism – that challenged the limits of authorship and of the pictorial medium. Borrell’s participation in the group was brief but crucial to his later development, because the communal and at the same time destructive action advocated by the ‘Gallots’ made him face the need to wipe the slate clean and reconsider his entire conception of painting.

At this point, Borrell embarked on a decade of research, introspection, and artistic reflection that, at the personal level, coincided with the birth of his three children and with the most intensive years of work in the family watchmaking shop. It was a period of apparent creative silence, but beneath the stillness an increasingly polished and personal style was brewing, which would lead to the precise, enveloping fields of colour that characterise his later output.

The seventies, on the other hand, was an expansive decade punctuated by various events and exhibitions: in 1973 Borrell held his first solo show in Room 2 of the Acadèmia de Belles Arts, after almost a decade of introspection; in 1976 he participated in the group exhibition ‘Pintura 1’ at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona; two years later, he held a solo show at the Fundació Miró’s Espai 10; and that same year (1978) he was selected to take part in the group exhibition ‘Seny i rauxa. 11 artistes catalans’ at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

In 1977 he also met Lluís Maria Riera, artistic director of Galeria Joan Prats, and the poet and artist Joan Brossa, two men who would have a lasting impact on his personal and professional life. From that point on, Borrell began to exhibit regularly at Prats. And his close, enduring friendship with Brossa connected him to new universes of poetic freedom.

Borrell is part of a generation of Catalan painters whose work fell between the Informalism of the fifties and sixties and the neo-figurative trans-avant-garde of the eighties. A heterogeneous generation that was nonetheless, as Elvira Maluquer says, ‘united by a style of “painting” – in the traditional sense of the term – that emphasised essentiality and colour as a vehicle of expression’. This group included artists such as Albert Ràfols Casamada, Joan Hernández-Pijoan, Pic Adrian, Joaquim Chancho and Borrell himself, to name a few. All of them were heirs to a tradition that could be said to start with Miró, and inevitably also passed through Tàpies.

In parallel to his paintings, Borrell produced an enormous amount of graphic works on paper, which exude a raw, incisive gestuality that place us directly before the void. This line of works includes the series that was acquired by the MACBA Collection in 2010: ‘Untitled’ (1976-1979).

01:01 From the land to painting
02:15 An apprentice without a master
02:59 Anglada Camarasa and Port de Pollença. A new way of understanding painting
06:18 Return to Sabadell (1952): the path to abstraction
08:14 Grup Gallot (1960): collective gesture and total destruction
10:42 1962-1969: years of silence
12:42 The first studio
13:41 The seventies: Fundació Miró, Galería Joan Prats, Joan Brossa
17:08 Cotton canvases and acrylic paint
18:53 ‘Seny i rauxa.11 artistes catalans’ at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1978)
19:56 Painting is the painter’s life
22:20 ‘Sense títol’ (1976-1979) series of works
26:05 Nature, a source of emotional inspiration
29:14 Memories and memory
30:10 Finished work

Specials FONS ÀUDIO abstraction Alfons Borrell Creative Commons MACBA Collection
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