Roman signed, titled and dated 'Barcelo Paris IV 85' (on the reverse) oil on canvas, diptych each: 28 x 196in. (71.1 x 498cm.) Painted in Paris in 1985
Artist or Maker
Miquel Barceló (b. 1957)
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich. Property from the Collection of Boston Children's Heart Foundation. Their sale, Sotheby's New York, 20 November 1997, lot 206. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Miquel Barceló's Roman is a monumental painting, both in breadth and scale as a ten-metre long frieze, and in the weight of the heavily encrusted, blackened paint. It is an important painting in Barceló's career, painted when he was 28 and working in Paris, it is filled with the visual tropes that can now be recognised as the keys to his whole career. A clear narrative runs from left to right across two panels. A stylised figure collapses at his desk, elegant arm raised and pencil poised above reams of writing on paper. A classical marble bust is knocked over to meet the bowing in defeat of a small potted tree. At the point where the two panels meet the imagery descends into chaos: cartoon-like ghosts of dog and fish bones are scattered on a calendar, opened to the month of April, 1985, in which this painting was made. An apple, the symbol of knowledge, is sliced and a knife, blade up, challenges the eye to continue to the next panel. A pile of black books topples ominously, and a single voluminous book falls open and is set alight by the spark of inspiration - the flame is the brightest point of the painting. A wisp of smoke metamorphoses into the crests of the waves that pound on the stretch of beach that opens out from a far-off horizon. Solitary footprints lead the eye back into the foreground in which is a pair of empty discarded shoes. Escaping the canvas and the ownership of these shoes is a frantic figure departing from our view in a small fishing boat, pulling the oars against the high seas. The imagery in Roman is symbolic of the struggle of 'the artist' against the cultural legacy of classical art history. The collapsed classical marble bust and heavy books represent the weight of Western tradition. This was a key concern of Western artists in the Eighties and is a particularly central and ongoing issue for Barceló as an individual. Roman it is a pivotal painting in Barceló's career because it documents his need to break free from the historical Parisian artworld. In this painting is the conclusion of the conflict. The following year Barcelo set up his studio in Mallorca and in 1988 he travelled to Africa. Although the subject-matter of Roman is a rejection of classical art, as a painting it displays Barcelo's mastery of frieze composition. The narrative is carried by a rhythmic succession of images. The actual matter and weight of paint is used to create a sculptural relief: the nose of the carved marble bust protrudes from the canvas; the lines of text are literally incised into the pages of the books; the apple halves protrude as solid objects through the paint. The paint is worked so that it portrays the inherent danger of the ocean as a life-force more heavy and viscous than mere water. In this Roman is a clear pre-cursor to Barceló's African paintings of men in boats battling against the power of the sea.
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