“Many paintings were sold, ultimately leaving the exhibition with a pleasant and hopeful aftertaste which this special class of victory results in for viewers and artist. One sees in this Canning House exhibition a pleasant form of dialogue, resulting in the indication of other analogous encounters in the immediate future. Juan Antonio Guirado has several exhibitions programmed. The first in Paris in April, then in Geneva and New York. 1978 is a promising year for this painter from Jaén who one day left for Australia to follow a long path, not always strewn with roses, like all paths. Incidentally, it is also fun”.
This is how Manuel Quintanilla ends the extensive text that he writes on the work of Guirado in his exhibition in Canning House. The mere twenty lines reproduced here sum up the successful career of Juan Antonio Guirado, in which one international event follows the other. We cannot deny that the career of this artist with humble beginnings was treasured almost right from its very start.
But beginnings are never easy, from Jaén where he studied in the Arts and Crafts School to Seville where he attended the Fine Arts School of San Fernando and studied with the portrait master Romero Rosendi. Then a decade in Madrid, where he worked as an apprentice with the mural painter Joaquín Segarra after which he worked as a mural painter in the United States. From there he moved to Europe to take stock of the classics in between visits. He packed and moved to Australia where in order to paint he had to work hard at other tasks, such as office cleaner. Everything that came later had to do with painting and painting alone, with nature and nature alone.
Juan Antonio Guirado was an artist who left Spain and remained in the margins of what was Spanish art at the end of the 20th century.
Margins are normally frequented by neglect, and therefore, result in a place that is very propitious for remembrance and rediscovery. Memory has rescued artists and writers from the margins, writers whose position no one questions today. Juan Antonio Guirado left Spain to embark on a kind of initiatory journey like so many other artists who follow their paths and careers beyond our borders that for many decades have had very precise and constraining limits; many would even say suffocating limits. And I am not only talking about politics. He talks about it in some interviews: “While I was in Spain my works were traditional but it was only when I got to Australia that I discovered a new style. Australia’s influence is very strong in all my work”.
Juan Antonio Guirado was born in the provincial city of Jaén in 1932. He was a child of the Civil War and the post-war in one of Spain’s poorest regions. This detail is very important because it oozes out in his work like a wound despite his endeavouring to cure it with the balms of those oriental philosophies that are imbued in meditation and natural calm. He grew up in Jaén. He studied in all those cities and the art of painting in Madrid and he travelled to Italy and Paris to do what all artist apprentices do: confront his imagination and his ways with the classics.
As Guirado himself explained,
“In Australia there is a kind of spirituality, many things with soul that have to do with the Earth, with people”. We have already fully entered Juan Antonio Guirado’s cosmic or cosmological universe. It has two axes, but for him he has to cross half the world in both physical and intellectual and emotional distance: Nature in its broadest definition and painting in its most radical demand. But there is a third key missing to identify his work: the human being and its conflicts that he experiences in the first person singular, alien to the insensitivity of the contemporary world and its protagonists. The dignitaries of global chaos. There is, and we cannot elude ourselves, as we shall see, a dissatisfied accent in Guirado’s pathway. In this detail, he is no different from many other Spanish artists in those years.
Let’s say, among others, those that make up this collection form the Fundación Cesareo Rodríguez-Aguilera: Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, Antonio Saura, Josep M. Subirachs, Guinovart, Saura, Tàpies, Miró, Joan Ponç, Eugenio D'Ors, Gabriel Celaya and the Equipo Crónica, among others. All of them in search of new forms of pictorial expressiveness and discourses involved in reality during the hard years that they had to live through in Spain.
Painting paintings is what Juan Antonio Guirado did since the day he decided to truly become an artist. Before this he spent some time of his life as a bullfighter and he himself would paint paintings related to bullfights with a popular touch and, apparently, far-removed from his more significant works. Finally, he painted paintings – many paintings as he was a prolific artist – vital and full of life that many people could understand and feel. His career is replete with successes, exhibitions, and confrontations with his contemporaries.
When Juan Antonio Guirado went to Australia the sixties were coming to an end. There would be decades ahead full of teachings and alternative movements. Not vanguard because these have a very specific place in this part of the 20th century. From pop to abstract expressionism. Guirado, as a man of the world with a great deal of experience, could have placed his interests in one of those movements. To have enrooted the response to his drive in the fashionable dictates of the time, but no. There are temptations and influences, as we see in some of his series, but, at the end of the day, he is swallowed up by greater causes. Those that artists claim in their individuality. Just as there are never two identical leaves in Nature, there are no two identical artists. The perspective that this exhibition proposes plays with these parameters.
The man and the world, Guirado has emphasised this time and time again. The key that he handles for a while in his work and that connects him to the Intrarealist movement first of all, that was born in Spain but that traversed and imbued the whole Mediterranean under the premise of absolute freedom of action among those who are attracted to its principles and intellectual ambitions. Intrarealism is not like surrealism that expels young children who do not worship their fathers.
Almost a decade had gone since Guirado’s departure for Australia and his international epic voyage, when in the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence the first exhibition on this movement was celebrated (1967). “In the history of art of our times there are movements in which one feels the need to express something new in a different manner – Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera writes in the catalogue of the inaugural exhibition referred to above – There is a feeling of disquiet, desire, but there is a lack of embodiment in specific concrete forms. The creative artist is responsible for taking the first steps along the new path that, at the same time, sooner or later, the finger of the critic or intellectual would baptise it with the name that would give it its character and permanence.
If this occurred with impressionism, with fauvism, cubism, surrealism, with so many other significant movements, Intrarealism would follow a similar path. The fact that the new movement took its first tentative steps in Spain, that an important group of artists and an important sector of critics, poets, writers and intellectuals identified with the aims of this new movement is in no way strange, knowing the aims and the current and historical reality of Spain”
(7). The text continues with a number of names bringing it to an initial close with the figure of Salvador de Madariaga, from whose writing emerges the name intrarealist.
Once again Spain is in pain, and Guirado is in pain and even though it is in Australia that there emerges the almost pantheist essence of his paintings, that new and pure spirituality shining like sparks of light clearly seen in the rise in colours and the handling of the subject, Spain is down and its darkest tradition creeps from his baroque canvas. Guirado’s paintings are also very baroque! Weapons, souls, skulls, deserted fields, unwelcoming territories, the
Australian brilliant light becomes vacant land, razed by the fire of a congenital evil in our History and in that of mankind in general. As Rodríguez-Aguilera writes in this text: “in keeping with a quotation by García Lorca, no longer do people believe in that absurdity of pure art, art for the sake of art, because in these dramatic times of the world the artist has to laugh and cry with his people”(8). Guirado never saw art as pure and introspective art. His constant worries led him to and included him, with no need for any formal act of registration, in this movement that is so Spanish and so regenerationist but has meaning everywhere.
We have penetrated the territory of Intrarealism by way of what Juan Antonio Guirado created in a great deal of his production. The broadest of all; the one that best represents each one of the concerns that we outline in this study, from the purely pictorial to the ideological, philosophic-existentialist, demanding and political. In his case, intrarealism is not unique but rather it comes from different sources. From the abstract to figurative strokes camouflaged among obvious or subtle forms; from the landscapes to still life; from collages to veiled portraits.
So many ancestral features that, curiously enough, make Juan Antonio Guirado a very contemporary artist: from the modernity of the 20th century to the contemporary. He covers this whole century. An artist whose gaze, now that we are living through times of crisis, emergencies, seems as topical as it was in his time.
And he encounters other creators such as those included in this exhibition and who are part of the renovation of 20th century painting.
Manuel Ángeles Ortiz and his pure earth landscapes. Antonio Saura and his deformation of the form as a response to life and art. Picasso and Miró as masters of ceremony at the beginning of this story. Joan Ponç, in his surreal brilliance of dreamlike landscapes. The material Subirachs. The dramatic and baroque drive of Guinovart. The colouristic and critical irony of the Equipo Crónica. The dry expressionism of Tharrats. The subtleties in the line and form of Gabriel Celaya and Eugenio d'Ors. The black material of Amalia Riera. The ever-admired Tàpies, whose words once again Juan Antonio Guirado pointed out in his bedtime reading: “The mission of artists and poets is to promote reflection, raise and attract attention, inform, illuminate reality and, in short, exalt everything that makes us freer and more perfect as human beings”. Artists in parallel.