Josep Guinovart i Bertran

(Barcelona 1927 - Barcelona 2007)

Guinovart started off painting walls at the age of 14 with his father and uncles, who were house painters. One of his best-known paintings, “Brotxa Bandera” (Brush Flag, 1970) - of a paint-pot, brush and painter's ladders - was a proud assertion of the fine artist's origin as an artisan. With little formal education, Guinovart started attending evening classes in drawing and painting in 1943. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) he was evacuated from Barcelona to his maternal grandparents' home near the village of Agramunt.
The year 1948 saw his first exhibition, a series entitled “El Blat” (Wheat), and he started illustrating for the Dau al Set (Seven-sided dice) magazine, the mouthpiece for the group associated with Antoni Tàpies and Modest Cuixart.
By 1951 he had become a full-time artist, making his living by painting theatre sets and illustrating magazines. In 1952 he won a scholarship from Barcelona's French Institute to go to Paris for six months. He stayed until 1953, with a grant from the French state. This decisive visit turned him into an abstract artist. He left Spain to encounter Picasso, Existentialism*, Informalism* and its close relation, American Abstract Expressionism*.
Back in Barcelona, Guinovart's work evolved from figurative drawing towards an abstract art closely related to collage. He began to stick wood, particularly burnt wood (he loved the smell) and paper on his paintings. In the late 1960s Guinovart moved away from Informalism. His work became more explicitly political. He participated actively in the anti-Franco movement and produced numerous posters: at the time of his death, 175 of them were on show in Barcelona. Guinovart evolved in the 1970s towards still bigger and more three-dimensional pieces, with so much material stuck on to the paint that critics called him a painter-sculptor. “Contorn-entorn” (1977), now installed in Barcelona's Poble Espanyol, is a wood of painted tree-trunks. The spectator moves through the magic forest, full of photos, mirrors, sand and glass eyes. From 1979 he lived on the hillside at the seaside town of Castelldefels.     
  Guinovart's output was highly diverse, with ceramics, collage, book design, lithography, tapestries, stage sets, posters and several murals. In the 80s and 90s he continued to work as energetically as ever - right up to the day of the heart attack that put him in hospital a week before his death - and received various accolades, such as Spain's national prize for plastic arts in 1982. In 1994 he opened a museum of his work in Agramunt.
His work was shown in some 250 one-man exhibitions and is held by museums all over the world. A tireless traveller, he was particularly fond of New York, painting a famous 36-metre mural at Soho's “The Exhibition Space” in 1982. In 1962 he married Maria Antónia Pelauzy, a French expert in ceramics and Spanish popular art, who died in 2003. Their daughter Maria survives him.  

 

*Existentialism: is a term applied to the work of a number of philosophers since the 19th century who, despite large differences in their positions, generally focus more on what they believe is subjective, such as the condition of human existence, an individual's emotions, actions, responsibilities and thoughts and the meaning or purpose of life, as opposed to analysing objective knowledge, language or science.

*Informalism (“Informalismo”) is a pictorial movement embracing all the abstract tendencies which was developed in France and the rest of Europe after the Second World War, in parallel with American Abstract Expressionism. They were generally in favour of a more intuitive form of expression and against geometrical abstraction, cubism, surrealism, etc and of course, figurative art.

*American Abstract Expressionism: technically, an important predecessor was Surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous, automatic or subconscious creation.