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  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Paintings, November, 1989; Florida, The Orlando Museum of Art, 24 July – 31 October, 2004; New York, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, 5 February – 10 April, 2005; New York, Chelsea Art Museum, 21 April – 29 May, 2005, Co-Conspirators: Artist and Collector; New Mexico, Albuquerque Museum of Art, A Century of Art from Spain: From Picasso to Plensa, 18 December, 2005 – 23 April, 2006; Florida, Salvador Dali Museum of Art, Salvador Dali and a Century of Art from Spain, 5 May – July 30, 2006

  • Literature

    Exhibition Catalogue, The Orlando Museum of Art, Co-Conspirators: Artist and Collector, Orlando, 2005, p. 21 (illustrated); Exhibition Catalogue, Albuquerque Museum of Art, A Century of Art from Spain: From Picasso to Plensa, Albuquerque, 2005, p. 277

  • Catalogue Essay

    Miquel Barceló’s initial visit to the Saharan countries of Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso between the years 1988 and 1989 undoubtedly impacted his approach to painting, and served as inspiration for the ‘white pictures’ one of his most celebrated bodies of work. During his time in Africa, Barceló began to experiment with small works on paper, comprised of indigenous pigments and river sediment. These studies continued his interest in connecting art to the sites in which they were created, rendering each work highly personal and reflective of the environment’s natural materials.This working method became synonymous with Barceló’s aesthetic in which materials as varied as ash, sand, seaweed, food, cigarette butts, rocks and stones all found their way on to the canvas and became indicators of the artist’s local at the time of production. “…Barceló is essentially a nomadic artist, for whom variation and movement, as well as density, design, texture, surface, the sensual substance of the most varied of places, can permeate like a shadow through to the very heart of a work, infiltrating and saturating the substance of the canvases and sketches themselves…he truly seems to need to tear something out of raw material, and inversely, to leave behind him the muscular imprint of the human body.” (J. Marie del Moral, Barceló, London, 2003, p. 9). The daily experiences of life in Mali’s arid landscape changed Barceló’s approach to painting dramatically. For the next three years, he would focus almost exclusively on the white abstract paintings inspired by the blinding white light reflected off of the desert’s landscape. Barceló would remove much of the compositional clutter that dominated his earlier canvases: human bodies, books, glasses, plates, pots and pans, and food. Perhaps most notable is the absence of a wide range of colours, a trademark of the works from the early and mid-80s.The paintings became pared down, now almost exclusively bathed in heavily worked white paint that echoed the colour palette of the desert he grew so familiar with. The intensity and purity of the light with which Barceló became intimately acquainted was the primary catalyst for the ‘white paintings’ and helped to shape their overall structure and concept. Barceló was sharply aware of how light moved through his surroundings on a daily basis; in raking shafts through his studio and home, sparkling on the nearby river bank, whitening the dusty soil and terrain under his feet.The dominance of the layers of white, gray and earthen coloured paints along with a variety of mixed media provides the paintings with a unique sense of texture and depth. Each object imbedded in the canvas is obscured under the multiple layers of paint, their forms often times acting as stand-ins for the rough terrain which Barceló was referencing. The rocks and stones, water, animals and insects that he saw outside his studio became imbedded in his mind and later found their way into the canvas’ surface. Each work in the ‘white paintings’ series is built up methodically, with careful attention to the positive and negative space, shadows becoming prominent below the abstracted forms – further crafting the landscape. “This white landscape is one of an extensive series of white canvases… painted by the artist over the course of three years.They depict what could be described, more or less, as desert landscapes, at times even cosmic landscapes. They suggest, vast, romantic and transcendental vistas, and coincide with his first visit to Africa in 1988, when he crossed the Sahara through Algeria to arrive in Mali. Barceló has alluded to the milky pale landscapes of Tanguy when discussing these paintings, describing them as phenomenological. In creating some of these pieces, Barceló cast seeds, nuts and dried fruits on the surface of the canvas, which after being brushed with wide brushes loaded with white paint created all of these lumpy features which later become fruits or stones. In general, in any case, the human form disappears from Barceló’s paintings…” (R. Chiappini, Miquel Barceló, Milan, 2006, p. 88). Miquel Barceló in the studio, 1988 The present work, Locus, 1989 is a stunning example within Barceló’s ‘white paintings’ series and is distinctly important in that it is the first of the group to be produced by the artist. The gradations of white range in colour from steely silver to warm gray and elegantly move across the canvas, defining both the positive and negative space. A landscape begins to emerge and can be interpreted as either eye-level or topographic. If considered from a bird’s eye perspective, the rocks and mounds that occupy the whole canvas, most heavily in the lower half, seem to naturally sculpt a crevice or path for the shimmering white paint in the center of the canvas. This large sweeping section of white, gray and ochre resembles rushing water, possibly the same tones as the river which Barceló familiarized himself with during his initial visit to Mali. The darker patches within the composition may be a result of additional layers of white paint having been worked up, or possibly the slight addition of darker pigments. These denser sections resemble deep waters seen from overhead or stormy clouds obscuring a blinding white sun. They add a sense of drama to the composition and help frame the central focus of the work which appears to be a group of flying insects distributed in the center of the canvas. It is possible to interpret these insects as large mosquitoes or even locusts, which not-coincidentally plagued west-Saharan Africa for centuries and which were particularly problematic in Mali during the year 1988. Barceló would no doubt have been affected by their presence, and as such may very likely have been compelled to include their likeness in his artwork. The swarm enters the canvas along the far right edge, migrating from right to left. Barceló has masterfully depicted these insects with short and deliberate brushstrokes, making reference to their wings and wiry legs with darker paint – their heads contain bright white spots, easily read as eyes reflecting off of the blinding white light of the sun. Just below the line of insects, a small bird can be made out, perhaps perching, his beak pointing to the left edge of the canvas. These slightly obscured creatures effortlessly blend into the composition and compliment the background of white, gray and blue that could be considered as a horizon line or oasis. In Locus, Barceló’s attention to the reflectivity of each surface, be it the ground, insect, or water, is particularly beautiful. The multiple layers of paint and shimmering qualities of the lacquer contribute to the bathed-light quality which Barceló strived to recreate. “Barceló’s painterly technique, as always, is altered to accommodate the particular emotional response as he tells his story of what he has seen. For, these are stories, or rather, prose poems, as told by one who has seen, pondered, and distilled. The fact that they are largely painted in black and white, with just a few judicious touches of carmine (sometimes visible only as underpainting) or yellow or blue, only signals the artist’s ability to transform both the act of drawing and the act of painting into an experience of light…If we view Barceló’s oeuvre to date, it is obvious that to him, the world and all its phenomena change with the slightest turn of his gaze; that his interest in the grand sensorium never flags, can be renewed constantly.” (R. Chiappini, Miquel Barceló, Milan, 2006, p. 48). In Locus, the first of the ‘white paintings’ Barceló has captured on canvas his experiences of living as a young man in Mali near the beginning of his career, defining the work as particularly important within the series. It then also functions like a time capsule, or snapshot. When viewed at a later date by an objective audience, Locus depicts the sights, sounds and emotions the artist was feeling during a monumental period in his career, and further helps to strengthen our understanding of Barceló’s highly personal approach to art making.

  • Artist Biography

    Miquel Barceló

    Spanish • 1957

    Drawing inspiration from work by Diego Velázquez and art-making practices of the Avant-garde, Miquel Barceló is perhaps most popular for his hybridization of traditional Spanish figurative aesthetics and thick, abstract brushstrokes. Barceló is inherently drawn to that which is multimedia, having received training in installation work, painting and ceramic. This ability to work across various mediums comes from the artist's hunger for travel and exploring new lands.

    Currently based between Mallorca, Mali and Paris, Barceló incorporates the visual aesthetics of his disparate countries seamlessly into his work. The artist's concern involves how to translate different modes of travel and culture into art-making. One recurring topic in his body of work is the ocean — the ultimate symbol of movement, displacement and the unknown.

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152

Locus

1989
Oil and varnish on canvas.
199.4 x 305 cm. (78 1/2 x 118 1/2 in).
Signed, titled and dated ‘Barcelo IX.1989 LOCUS’ on the reverse.

Estimate
£350,000 - 450,000 ‡ ♠

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

28 Feb 2008, 7pm
London