MIQUEL BARCELÓ B.1957 MULETERO signed, signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated VIII. 90 on the reverse mixed media on canvas 131 by 164cm. 51 1/2 by 64 1/2 in. Executed in 1990.
Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Miquel Barcelo, 1990, no. 54, illustrated in colour
Taken from one his most important group of paintings, the Toros series, Muletero erupts from the canvas to reveal Barceló's sensuous commitment to the materialism of painting. Built from rich earthy surfaces sensitively layered with pure pigment, natural materials and collaged elements, Muletero presents the viewer with a powerful elliptical expanse, depicting the spectacle of the bullfight, as its central focus. From its flattened core, the arena explodes outwards in grand swirling fields of mauve and inky black concentric rings to construct the sheer presence and vastness of the dramatic scene into three dimensions. Just below the centre of the composition, the bullfighter, or Torero, emerges through the rising haze of sandy dust. Turned towards his prey, he concentrates on the target which confronts him, his scarlet cape outstretched providing him with his only protection against the piercing horns of the jet-black bull.
Barceló has here captured the moment during the third phase of the 'ballet' of the bullfight during which the bullfighter re-enters the ring with a smaller red cape (muleta) and a sword. The momentum and exertion of this act is very dramatic as it will lead to the killing of the bull. The drama of this moment is further emphasised by the raw, exaggerated eruption into which Barceló has encapsulated his subjects. Although the torero is miniaturised in the context of the stadium, the grandeur of his act is emphasised by the spectacle of the context and by the fact that we, the viewers, are watching from a distance.
Having travelled extensively around the world throughout the 1980s, fulfilling his ceaseless desires for cultural adventure, diversity and rich life-enhancing experiences, Barceló returned to his roots in Spain in the summer of 1990. His travels had taken him to places of extremity, uncertainty and insecurity across the globe and his return brought him back to his homeland in Mallorca. Here, armed with a rich new visual vocabulary inspired by his journeys, Barceló took on one of the most historic of all Spanish icons, the Corrida or bullfight, in a series of works which are now widely recognised to be among his most important. Centering on the social and art historical importance of the bullfight amongst the Spanish people and their civilisation, Barceló creates a completely natural power and physicality from the paint itself. Although other great artists such as Goya and Picasso had tackled this subject, none had so daringly exposed its pure energy and power. Condensing the country's culture into the bullfighting act, Barceló dramatically revealed the importance and mysticism surrounding the spectacle of man battling with nature, absolving himself in it, taming it and finally overcoming it. As such, Barceló seems to have embraced and absorbed the heart of Spanish existence and tradition into one group of paintings. Seen within this context, the Torero becomes a heroic symbol who embodies many of the virtues which guide Spanish life - and the painting, by extension, becomes an image of blatant and unabashed heroic romanticisim.
These characteristics are equally entwined with the construction of Muletero, whose methodology directly mirrors that of its subject. Just as the torero is conquering his bull in three acts, so too is Barceló taking on a similar ritual. The preparation of the canvas is followed by the most intense period in which he violently attacks the composition, working and reworking, wrestling with the form and layering of the media he is applying. In Muletero, the material elements have been displaced to the edges and the bottom left hand corner exposed as evidence of the violence which has taken place. This spectacular painting is rich in semantic possibilities and conjures up a plethora of parallels from the solitude of the artist and the lone torero, to the similarities of risk and danger within their roles as creators. Finally, however, it is the views of their critical public which seal their fates. These spectators have witnessed many such situations before but in the final analysis, they are always searching for the ultimate thrill, the ultimate emotive experience, one which far exceeds the last.