We present to you the work of a unique artist in Catalonia. Miquel Gelabert is, by trade and vocation, a painter. Not a multidisciplinary artist, a transversal artist, or a multi-conceptual artist. A painter, period. With no other pretence.This circumstance is somewhat exceptional in Barcelona. Unlike the countries that are pioneers in art, in cities such as London, New York and Berlin, painterly transgression in the metropolis is not embraced enough by its contemporary art institutions.
What hides this reality is a struggle that still exists between two conflicting artistic models. As Jeff Koons inspirationally stated, “Contemporary art is the child of two artistic traditions: the one begun by Duchamp, cold, analytical and conceptual, and the one started by Picasso, instinctual, moving and essentially visual”.
Picasso’s high painting is largely governed by certain showily Helenistic principles: homage to intensity before beauty; transcendental obsession before academic perfection. From here stems the Miró-inspired delirium, the Informalism of the 1960s, the existential and festive Figurativism of the 1970s, the Neo-expressionism of the 1980s. Miquel Gelabert is an heir of this painterly tradition, which today is adrift. His art obsesses us, impresses us and unhinges us. In his work, we also find discipline, rigour and restraint. Gelabert recovers and renews certain attitudes in the midst of a crisis: expertise in the technique; praise for transcendence, poetry, magic, mystery; and the vindication, finally, of a modern painting tradition, halfway between abstract art and poetic landscape art.
Three years ago, we had the opportunity to view Miquel Gelabert’s individual exhibition at Casa Saladrigas in Blanes. His work captivated us with its daring revival of landscape painting. We assessed the intensity of its unrestrained spaces, of the marked horizontal quality that he achieved through an obsessive task of extended coloured lamination, compensated with its detailed and meticulous gestural features. Nonetheless, we understood the transgression in the geometric shapes that he introduced, with increasing confidence, into his work. Then, the placement of the geometric work within the landscape space appeared to be a new uncovered area of experimentation; there where “inhabiting the infinite”, so to speak, and reaching the higher level to which all painting aspires would be: the crystal-clear communication of the mystery. It seems to us that this effective adjustment of dualities is the path along which Gelabert has skilfully worked these last three years. But there are notable differences with regard to previous years. Most importantly: the way in which he has formally liberated each and every one of the formal aspects of his art.
The geometric elements are no longer silent; they have abandoned their contemplative function and are now playinga structural role on the surface, achieving a line vibration that has been unthinkable for some time. In turn, the colour palette has been made boldly brighter. Before, the colour transitions in which he created the spaces essentially featured cold, misty colours: violets, blues, browns and greens, while the warm colours only appeared with occasional intensity.
Presently, yellows, reds and oranges have become the key colour tones, which he now applies in feverish sequences that cover the entire space. This process conveyed such impulse that, at first glance, we thought that Gelabert had caught the speculative fever of minimalist or kinetic painting. But upon further examination, we realised that the painter’s concern for space and landscape, his obsession and thus the reference to the shapes of the world had been completely unaltered. Under the linear curtains hide expansive waves of fog and mysterious vaporous shapes over the void which could be interpreted as cosmic landscapes, corners of the sea or river waterfalls. The painter has released the undergrowth of his work, which perhaps was too impenetrable before, and now clearly differentiates between the two compositional planes, thus sharpening the frenzy and the attraction towards his delirious landscapes. Thus, we can see how Gelabert repeatedly demonstrates his profound interest in nature. He is a child of the coastal town of Blanes, where he shaped his sensitivity. He has always been drawn by the nature of the sea and by its strange relationship with the city: the port lighting, the volumes and linear projections of its breakwaters, the sea fog and the surrounding atmospheres trying to emerge amongst the interplay of the metropolis’ lights. For that reason he has titled his paintings Landscapes or Land-escapes in his more private versions. Landscapeswith digital numbering: 17.0, 6.0, perhaps a tacit reference to a technocratic aesthetic; obsessive points, fluorescent colours, numerical borders, etc. Gelabert revives the cycle begun by Salvat-Papasseit at the dawn of modernity, when the poet decided to praise the electric arcs of the port of Barcelona, before the arcadian beauty of a nature that, back then, was already in the process of decomposing. And it is this poet to whom we refer in closing our text; now that it has only been ninety years since he wrote some disconcerting verses, during a period that was equally disconcerting, searching, like today, for man’s difficult fit into civilisation. Words that seem to prophesise the shapes of our young painter:
swallowed the long path
The lights are guards
When the rain stops
when the trees drop their tears
oh how sweet it is to listen to the silence
The silence is the fog
And a thousand lights smile back
They are a thousand lights
they are not men
How warm is the smile of the lights
And the white sparks
of the trams’ trolley
dancing like the stars
Joan Salvat -Papasseit
Poemes en ondes hertzianes, 1918 (Poems in Hertzian waves)