La Pedrera showcases Barceló’s ceràmics

Peix blau, a piece created in 1998. Photo: André Morin and Amassagou, 1995. Photo: David Bonet. © Miquel Barceló, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2024

Miquel Barceló (Felanitx, 1957) is primarily known for his bold and powerful painting, characterised by overflowing materiality and significant value in the art market. However, during his stay in Mali in the 1990s, climate conditions and local tradition led him to experiment with ceramics. On 8 March 2024, La Pedrera will host the first major exhibition of Miquel Barceló’s ceramics since 1999.

Ceramics have the unique ability to bring together, in a single language, elements from various artistic grammars that humanity has created over the millennia – encompassing painting, sculpture, architecture, drawing, and more. This characteristic endows ceramics with an artistic potential that aligns it with the great academic disciplines in the history of art. Notably, many of the great masters, albeit described with somewhat outdated terminology, from the 20th century have, at some juncture, engaged in ceramic production, and Miquel Barceló is no exception.

Barceló is renowned for his bold and powerful painting, characterised by its overflowing materiality and significant value in the art market. Despite achieving the pinnacle of success a living artist can aspire to, the artist from Felanitx has steadfastly held onto his origins, both the literal, being Mallorca, and the metaphorical, resonating with atavistic elements shared by the broader human species. It is at this point that a strong connection emerges with the primal elements entrenched in the earth: water, dust, mud… In other words, the soul of ceramics.

Barceló’s phases

As Pere Antoni Pons, a native of Mallorca and a writer from Campanet, points out, Miquel Barceló has undergone up to three defining phases throughout his extensive and productive career, shaping his development as both an individual and an artist. The first of these phases unfolds during the second half of the 1970s and a significant part of the 1980s, a period in which he avidly and, in the words of Pons, “hyperconsciously” wholeheartedly embraced the artistic tradition of the West.

The second phase is characterised by Barceló’s connection with the African continent and his decision to settle in Mali during the 1990s. Here, he engages with the most primal aspects of art: stripping away everything superfluous, he not only delves into the essence of artistic practice but also discovers his personal essence – the “true homeland” that is childhood. In Mali, the persistent harmattan, a dusty wind blowing from the southern Sahara to Guinea, making painting quite challenging, prompted Barceló to venture into experimenting with ceramics.

The next phase we identify in the Mallorcan artist’s journey is an organic progression from the previous stage: establishing a connection with the most primitive essence of artistic impulse leads him to explore cave art. The visit to the caves of Altamira and Chauvet served as a crucial juncture in his relationship with the arts – a realm he sees as an interconnected whole, particularly at the intersection of painting and ceramics – instilling in him a desire to paint like a modern primitive artist.

The pages of the clay notebook

However, political instability in Mali abruptly severed the connection between the Mallorcan artist and the African country. This prompted him to venture to other corners of the world, particularly across the Asian continent, including places like Nepal and Burma, among others. Yet, the undeniable truth remains that none of these journeys has left as remarkable an impact as his time in Mali.

Indeed, the documentary El cuaderno de barro (The Clay Notebook, 2011), directed by filmmaker Isaki Lacuesta, explores the relationship between Mali, ceramics and Miquel Barceló. The film recounts the final moments of the painter’s connection with the African country. Barceló himself revealed the motivation behind creating this record: “I witnessed a significant deterioration in Mali’s political situation, and there was a possibility that I might never return. I deemed it important to create a document that could capture my life there.” Specifically, Lacuesta’s documentary features the last rendition of the Paso doble performance, a collaboration with the French-Yugoslav choreographer Josef Nadj, centred around the creation and destruction of a large clay mural.

In Paso doble, we find the elements that define the ceramics of the artist from Felanitx: primitivism, action and transformation. Barceló consistently asserts that he views ceramics as a progressive extension of painting, with the unique characteristic that, enduring extremely high temperatures, it transmutes into a distinct, almost immortal substance, reminiscent of the classical ceramics discovered in archaeological excavations. It is precisely this transformative alchemy that, according to the artist, sets his work apart: starting from tradition and pushing its boundaries, utilising techniques like “sobretornada” [additional turns of the potter’s wheel in the process of crafting ceramics] to add relief to fresh works, producing intricate details and surface textures. Barceló employs this method to resonate with the natural imagery that constitutes a substantial part of his ceramic production, evident in notable works such as the acclaimed decoration of the Holy Chapel in the cathedral of Palma, in Mallorca.

On 8 March, La Pedrera will host Miquel Barceló’s first major ceramic exhibition since the ones held at the Juan March Foundation in Palma and the Museum of Ceramics in Barcelona, both in 1999. The exhibition, titled Barceló en La Pedrera. Cerámicas [Barceló at La Pedrera. Ceramics] and curated by Enrique Juncosa, will feature pieces created between 1995 and the present, incorporating clay and ceramics alongside paintings and some bronze sculptures. The curator notes that while there have been other smaller and larger exhibitions, such as the one at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, they were of a very brief duration. The Barcelona exhibition will mark the artist’s first ceramic retrospective.

Barceló in La Pedrera. Ceramics

8 March to 30 June 2024. Exhibition hall at La Pedrera

Exhibition organized by Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera and curated by Enrique Juncosa featuring ceramic pieces created from 1995 to the present, complemented by paintings, works on paper, and bronzes.

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