The poster

A Mercè of colour, by Maria Corte

 

When she was little, she would look out of the window of her first home from where she could make out one of the towers of a nearby manor house with a wondrous garden. She never found out who lived there, but that view often sent her imagination soaring. After that, she moved to Gràcia, a neighbourhood she now considers home, but ever since gazing at that view during her childhood her imagination has not only been a constant companion in her life, but also a rather useful tool in her career. Her parents, both Argentinian immigrants fleeing the military dictatorship, liked painting; her sister studied the History of Art; her aunt was an artist; and her grandfather was excellent at drawing. It is no wonder, then, that she felt most at home with a pencil in her hand, or that she decided to study illustration at the Massana School. She remembers that experience fondly and, unlike many, is happy to daydream that she is a student again.

It was ten years ago that she got her first real commission, a poster for the 2009 Santa Eulàlia Festivities, which was to be just a taste of things to come. Maria Corte started to be offered work here, there and everywhere. She began to win the odd prize and, realising how hard it was to be an illustrator, had no alternative but to work long hours just to keep her head above water. One day, she decided to take the plunge, unsure of what to expect: a New York agent was organising a competition for illustrators. And although she didn’t win the competition, the images produced by the girl from Barcelona - images that sometimes evoked Russian constructivism, sometimes Fernand Léger, sometimes Picasso’s most cubist work and sometimes even Botero - well, they certainly caught the agent’s attention. Straight away, international commissions started to come in, which she now combines with work on publications here in Catalonia. You may well have seen her illustrations in La Vanguardia’s Cultures supplement, Barcelona Metròpolis or Descobrir magazine, and you will have certainly come across them while flicking through The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and European newspapers such as The Times, La Repubblica and Le Monde.

 

 

As is often the case, Maria Corte is more famous abroad than at home. But that may well change, because from now on many will remember her as the creator of a Mercè of colour, a Mercè who could be an immigrant, a Mercè that may be both things at once. When going through previous La Mercè Festivities posters, Maria Corte noticed there were endless pictures of the city and few of the woman herself. And the only ones she found (apart from América Sánchez’s poster from 2005) depict a Mercè who could be Mediterranean, but is undoubtedly Caucasian. On exploring the saint’s iconography she found that she was a popular image in South America and the Caribbean too, where she is often unquestionably black. So, Maria decided to design a Mercè who, while not a saint, is from Barcelona. And who, like so many of Barcelona’s population, is a woman of colour, a woman who may have been born here or who could be an immigrant, just like Maria’s parents. If Maria’s parents had not felt at home in Barcelona, they may have left and never met and this talented illustrator would not have been born. And we, today, would not have this Mercè of colour who is wearing an entire city in her hair. Emerging from her locks are human towers, musicians, Miró-style sculptures and even the odd fire monster, all awash on a sea where there is a boat . Take a closer look, because it is one of those boats that rescues immigrants from the sea. If she could speak, this Mercè would say loud and clear: ‘May you all feel at home in Barcelona.’