ART REVIEW:

Salvador Bru: Combat and Poetry in Spanish Tradition

by Louise Sheldon
Salvador Bru reminds us that conflict, so endemic to the human race, is inevitably vainglorious, that it is art and poetry, beauty and laughter, that will sustain us through trial and vicissitude.
Here, among a new spate of paintings by Catalan artist Salvador Bru at the Gomez Gallery, is a world that is rooted in contrasting Spanish traditions—the chaotic, color-saturated bullfight and the mystical and enigmatic Don Quijote, the dark visions of Goya and the lyrical biomorphics of Miro.

Bru’s powerful art was seen here at Walter Gomez’ former venue in 1992 in a show that combined surrealism and gestural action. Small acrylic paintings on paper and large oils on canvas were spread through the main gallery at Gomez during November, their gray and black grounds reflecting Spanish attachment to somber color, while patches of white and fleeting touches of pink, aqua and green add fuel to Bru’s characteristic energetic style.

In the smaller works, humanoid or animal-like blobs of color lunge and dart merrily at one another. Vaguely recognizable bulls, matadors and many-uddered, bucking horses engage in strange, dreamlike struggles, giving these paintings a wonderfully cartoonish look that relates to the intuitive and spontaneous approach of Europe’s “Art Informel” artists.

There are a few titles to help us decipher the meanings. “Sombras Chinescas” (Chinese Shadows) is composed of surging black shapes, recalling charging groups of bundled horsemen seen in Chinese scrolls. “El Encuentro de los Unicornios” (The Meeting of the Unicorns) portrays lunging horned heads in what appears to be a vain, somewhat comical fight. The most cogent of these, “Envy and Lust Riding the Unicorn of Desire” (title is given in English), depicts two female figures, one neon green, one pink, clinging to the back of the massive beast.

Particularly in these smaller works one is aware of Bru’s playful side and the freshness of his work. “I have fun painting,” this gentlemanly artist says with a mischievous smile. “And I want people to have fun looking at my painting.”

In certain paintings, we see small, mouse-like figures looking into the center of the work and clapping their hands ecstatically, as if urging us on to appreciate the comedy, the sheer joy effused by this piece of art.

Combat is the subject of many of the large canvases, in which a delicious, sometimes barely perceptible humor spoofs belligerent behavior of every type. Battling Amazons wear flat, featureless masks that contrast starkly with the sensual naked bodies that writhe below. How they relate psychologically to social competition among women throughout the ages!
It is a compliment to Baltimore that Sr. Bru has established his major studio in our city and is thus presenting himself as a Baltimore-based artist.

The bulky figure of Ulysses, encased in armor, sword at the ready, confronts us before large silhouettes of restless horses—a statement of male machismo. Almost a conquistador. Yet this overwhelming, overdressed figure is wonderfully like Don Quijote. Is it the angle of the seemingly too-small helmet that lends a hint of humor to the work?

It is in such small details that the artist reveals his mastery of composition and color. Note the gleam of red paint in the right-hand corner of “Ulysses” and the judicious touches of yellow enlivening the armor.

On a new, more idyllic note, poetry, as well as classical mythology, has inspired two huge, horizontal canvases devoid of black and painted in delicate pastels. In one, gray clouds part to reveal a glorious blue sky over the hazy figure of the mortal Ulysses, overshadowed by a sort of kindly blur that represents the God Poseidon. The Greek hero “tired of prodigious things, / wept for love when he saw in the distance / his humble green island Ithaca” (from a poem by the Argentinian poet José Luis Borges quoted in the label). The artist states that Greek poet Constantine Cavafy is the source of many of his ideas about how man is moved and inspired by creative energy.

In his handsome studio installed in a former 150-year-old foundry, Salvador Bru has worked incessantly since February to complete the 33 canvases on view in the Gomez show. He likes to work under pressure, mostly during the privacy of the night, he says, his gentle tones belying the dynamic furor of much of his painting. He likens his work to the billowing fervor of “dramatic opera, in which some pieces are light in content, others more somber.”

The nature of these paintings is such that they appear to have been achieved in a rush of speed with total conviction, but Bru returns to them meditatively, rethinking and retouching. The artist’s strength lies in achieving the essence of his subject in a way that we may not understand, yet in the end conveying to us the import of his message. Is it a coincidence that “Brujear” in Spanish means “to practice witchcraft?”

Especially in these days of grim tension, Salvador Bru reminds us that conflict, so endemic to the human race, is inevitably vainglorious, that it is art and poetry, beauty and laughter, that will sustain us through trial and vicissitude.

In all probability we shall be seeing a lot more of this prolific artist. Indeed it is a compliment to Baltimore that Sr. Bru has established his major studio in our city and is thus presenting himself as a Baltimore-based artist. A painter of consequence, well-known in Europe and the U.S., his works are owned by the major modern art institutions of this country, as well as those in Spain, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington and the Los Angeles County Art Museum.


Salvador Bru’s studio is very close to the Gomez Gallery, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Baltimore. Call the gallery for directions before your visit (410-662-9510).

 


Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on December 5, 2001.