The Alhambra and Granada remember José Guerrero (1914-2014) on the centenary of his birth

The tribute exhibition The Presence of Black, 1950-1966, organized by the Centro José Guerrero of the Provincial Council of Granada in coproduction with the Council of the Alhambra and Generalife brings to a wonderful close the events organized to commemorate the centenary of the birth of the Granada painter, José Guerrero (Granada, 1914 – Barcelona, 1991).
This morning, the President of the Provincial Council of Granada, Sebastián Pérez, the Minister for Education, Culture and Sport of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Luciano Alonso and the President of Spanish Cultural Action, Teresa Lizaranzu, together with numerous personalities from the field of Culture, such as Sergi Aguilar, Director of the Suñol Foundation, and José Guirau, Director-General of the Caja Madrid Foundation, Art and Politics inaugurated this exhibition, which will be held in two venues, the José Guerrero Centre and the Chapel of the Palace of Charles V, from today Friday 17th October until 6th January 2015.  
The Presence of Black, 1950-1966 is the first in-depth monographic exploration of the painter’s American years, in which José Guerrero relinquished his previous figurative approach to art, and which had a decisive influence on the direction he followed from then on and on his own artistic voice. 
The President of the Granada Provincial Council, Sebastián Pérez, said that “In the words of Granada’s Official Chronicler in this very room, José Guerrero is the Lorca of painting, and over the next two months we are going to understand the reasons behind such a claim, which in my view, is absolutely right”. Mr Pérez encouraged people to come and see the exhibition “which contains the best of contemporary art from Granada, Andalusia, Spain and the rest of the world”.
In this sense, Sebastián Pérez highlighted the “collaboration, the effort, the consensus and the dialogue between the large administrations” and in the name of the Provincial Council and of Granada as a whole thanked the Guerrero family for “the sensitivity they have shown at all times so that Granada can continue projecting the best contemporary art to the world” and “can continue being and aspiring to be what it is, an international point of reference”. 
For his part, the Minister for Education, Culture and Sport of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Luciano Alonso said that “delving into the dense, extensive artwork of José Guerrero opens a window on the history of contemporary art in Andalusia. By seeing and listening to the dialogue between light and colours on his canvases, we gain an insight into a career that began here in Granada”.
Alonso also explained that “when we decided to work together with the Provincial Council of Granada on the commemoration of this centenary, we realized that the best way to present it was to hold the exhibition in two venues, one of which had to be in the Alhambra. This is because although these paintings do not have a specific link with the palace, the painter’s life clearly did”.
Curated by the Director of the José Guerrero Centre, Yolanda Romero, and its exhibition organizer, Francisco Baena, the exhibition has over 100 of the painter’s works including canvasses, engravings, drawings and some “portable frescoes”, in which Guerrero experimented with a variety of materials, as part of his process of investigation of the relationship between painting and architecture. Some of these works are on display in Spain for the first time and come from different private collections and from Spanish and American museums. The paintings have been loaned by a variety of institutions including National Heritage, the Reina Sofia National Art Museum, the Patio Herreriano Museum in Valladolid, the Andalusian Contemporary Art Centre, the Official Credit Institute, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Beloit Art Museum in Wisconsin (USA). Alongside the paintings, there are also interesting documentary exhibits including catalogues, photographs, documents and writings relating to José Guerrero.
The exhibition begins with José Guerrero’s first dabblings with abstract art in the form of engravings and experimental “portable frescoes”. It then continues with his subsequent complete integration into American abstract expressionism in the middle of the decade and ends when he re-embraces his Spanish identity and returns to his home country in 1965. 
The Presence of Black 1950-1966 is divided into five sections. The first, entitled Biomorphic Abstraction, centres on José Guerrero’s first works after his arrival in the United States in November 1949 in the Atelier 17, in which as well as learning engraving techniques, the painter experimented with other languages pushing his transition towards abstract art as far as it could go. In Painting and Architecture, one of the new ideas in this retrospective, we see a muralist Guerrero who is trying to incorporate into his painting the new materials offered by the construction industry (corrugated roofing, fire bricks, cement blocks, etc.), in works he calls portable frescoes. The other exhibition venue is the Chapel of the Palace of Charles V where around fifty works will be on display, including a significant group of engravings and of these panels, which had never previously been exhibited.
From Bioforms to Gesture consists of the works produced from the early to the mid 1950s, including big canvasses such as Black Cries, painted on the occasion of the birth of his daughter Lisa, Ocultos, Signos, Ascendentes, Black Followers and Signo, (Hidden, Signs, Ascendants, Black Followers and Sign), an interim stage or transition phase in the evolution of his work.
In the fourth section entitled Abstract Expressionism, there are paintings in which the artist shows clear signs of change, thanks to his use of provocative colours combined with dramatic shapes, in which black dominates, so enabling him to transmit his emotional world onto the canvas.
Memory Reviewed, around the years 1962-1963, is a type of prologue to his return to Spain, which took place in 1965, with works with titles related with the painter’s native land: Albaicín (1962), La Chía (1962), Sacromonte (1963), Andalucía (apparition) (1964). The Guerreros set up home in Frigiliana (Málaga), where they bought and renovated a farmhouse to which he returned every summer; in Cuenca, attracted by the atmosphere emerging around the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, and in Madrid. 
The figure of Federico García Lorca (Fuente Vaqueros 1898-Alfacar 1936) occupies an important position in this section of the exhibition. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the poet’s death in Fuente Vaqueros, José Guerrero made a trip around Andalusia in 1966 and visited the gulley in Víznar, where Lorca was murdered, making numerous drawings in his sketchbook, which is on show for the first time in this exhibition. Fruit of this intense experience was La Brecha de Víznar (The Wound at Víznar) (1966), one of Guerrero’s most influential works and other monumental paintings evoking Lorca that can also be seen in The Presence of Black 1950-1966, such as A la muerte de Sánchez Megías (On the death of Sánchez Megías) (1966) or Antojos negros con amarillos (Black whims with yellows) (1966). 
The lessons that Guerrero learnt from La Brecha de Víznar, the scene of an intense psychodrama and an experimental laboratory, gave way to a new phase in his work. The Alhambra was also a source of inspiration for José Guerrero, as he himself acknowledged on many occasions, especially in an artistic motif that was to follow him throughout his life: the arch, a recurring feature in the architecture and decoration of the Alhambra. The visual landscape around the palaces also had an enormous influence on the artist, with the Albaicín and Sacromonte appearing frequently in his work.
After its time in Granada and the Alhambra, The Presence of Black (1950-1966) exhibition will be traveling to the Casa de las Alhajas in Madrid, thanks to the collaboration of the Fundación Obra Social y Monte de Piedad de Madrid, from 22nd January to 26th April 2015; and the Suñol Foundation in Barcelona from 7th May to 5th September 2015. This Foundation has collaborated with the exhibition together with the State Company for Spanish Cultural Action (AC/E), whose participation is the result of “our main priority to disseminate our great cultural legacy: in this case, that of one of the 20th Century’s leading artists, a key figure in Spanish informalism with a wide international following, and a pioneer in the recovery of the modern tradition in Spain”, said Lizaranzu.
For more information, please visit www.centroguerrero.org  

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