Initiatory journey, from Jaén to Australia
Juan Antonio Guirado was born in a small town in the province of Jaén in 1932. His childhood was marked by the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath in one of the poorest regions of the country. This fact must be emphasised because it will fester in his art like a wound no matter how he tried to salve it with the balsam of East Asian philosophies that offer calm through meditation. He was raised in Jaén.
He studied painting in these cities and in Madrid, and travelled to Italy and Paris to do what all artistic apprentices do: try/match/confront his skills and imagination with the classics. Up to that moment, there is nothing unusual in this life of a young man who yearned to become a real painter. His true initiation began, however, in 1959. Juan Antonio Guirado travelled to Australia—to the literal antipode of all he had seen until then. And he stayed there for a very long time. He returned to Spain many times, lived for a while in Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, where landscapes are also evocative of the seismic origins of Nature. Islands, volcanoes, open spaces as infinite as the horizon. Guirado travelled halfway around the world to develop a career that had started with success, but at the beginning, in Australia, he had to combine painting with other jobs. At the end of his days he returned to Spain, to Almería, to wrap himself in the peace of humble people—small-town people. To paint like a street artist in the company of other artists who were as unpretentious as he was.
Many years before Juan Antonio Guirado began his journey, Gauguin, in the midst of a completely different yet no less evocative landscape (Tahiti), urged on by the same restlessness, wrote in his journal, Noa Noa: “Nature gives us symbols: the sense we make out of it, the sensation, the feeling, the idea that we have of it. We do not possess it except indirectly. Our reality is made from those fictions. But the substratum, the pretext for those fictions is inexhaustible, Eucharistic: we can all commune with its infinite richness. Nature is always significant, different for all, full for each of us.”3 After a few years, Juan Antonio Guirado would dedicate a painting to Gauguin and another one to Tahiti. Eucharistic is the word—the key that opens one door and then another and so on in one communion after the other with his surroundings.
Guirado himself explains: “In Australia there is a sort of spirituality, many soulful things having to do with the Earth, with the people.” Another quotation, from the British writer and painter Julian Bell’s book What is Painting, underlines this point: “The world, in the eyes of philosophers and scientists from Plato onward, was made firstly in terms of form, secondly of colour. Forms, ideas or principles were the basis of everything, and colour was a ‘secondary quality,’ an icing on the cake. Paintings proceeded correspondingly. Lines were drawn, defining the forms, and then colouring was added.”4 We have already entered Juan Antonio Guirado’s cosmological universe. It features two axes he put together after travelling halfway around the world physically, intellectually and emotionally: Nature in its broadest sense and art in its most radical incarnation. Though there is one more clue missing, for we are building the blessed Trinity of his work: human beings and their conflicts, which he experiences directly, far removed from the insensitivity of the contemporary world and the dignitaries of a chaotic world who have more elevated responsibilities. There is a vindicatory spirit in Guirado’s trajectory that cannot be eluded. In this sense he is no different from many other Spanish artists of his time.