To mark Miquel Vilà’s seventy fifth birthday, Sala Parés is hosting a retrospective exhibition of one of the most unique Catalan painters of the last forty years. What do we mean when we say unique? Someone with a very strong personality, who always pushes the boundaries of his own work and has great faith in his own skills. Most importantly Miquel Vilà has been able to create his own imagery which tells us about his talent.
A talent that is insuppressible and perseverant, as is being demonstrated in the exhibition which we are presenting. Importantly, it also summarises a career that spans almost half a century. It begins with the early creations related to Surrealism and Pop art that were shown either at Galleries Ianua (Barcelona) and Pecanins (Mexico) in 1968, or at L’Agrifolio (Milan) and The Mande Kerns Center (Eugene, Oregon) in 1969. It ends with a succession of more recent pieces, painted in his studios in Barcelona and Mahon (Menorca). These latest paintings seem to have reached the utmost level of synthesis. His minimalistic still lifes and landscapes without narrative, are painting in its purest form.
Miquel Vilà and Sala Parés have collaborated since 1990 and this is an exhibition that was long overdue. Now we will have the opportunity to rightly appreciate it. It is not yet the extensive retrospective that Miquel Vilà deserves, but it might be the preamble to it. The selection of about sixty paintings functions not only as a compendium of his themes and genres, but also as an excellent introduction to his world of art. Although you may find this an unusual format for a display i.e. the equivalent to a poetic anthology, it is full of suggestions and useful for introducing the art-work of our modern classics to the new generations and, for the rest of us, a great opportunity to take a quick tour through his career.
To all appearances, Miquel Vilà’s production is that of an outsider, of someone who seems to have moved at the periphery of the main art currents of our time. All is not what it seems; if there has ever been a learned painter, well-travelled, well-read and above all a painter who has a high level of self-awareness, he is the one. The beauty of this is that he has become extremely independent. As it usually happens in these circumstances, he is the one who has chosen who his artistic predecessors are, his elected affinities and who keeps communicating with them. Instead of using the well trodden paths of the French and North American art trends, he has shown his preference for the Italian. Thus, the painters with whom he has ‘conversed’ mostly since mid 1960s are some of the foremost representatives of the Novecento movement, e.g. Carrà, Sironi or De Pisis, to name but a few. It was during that time when his creations found his own style.
Therefore, contrary to what it might look like, we don’t have to take Vilà’s paintings as an expression of a melancholic monologue/soliloquy. If we mentioned earlier some Italian painters, now we must add the colleagues from his own generation. From this group, the ones with whom he has maintained the most fertile relationship, which has often translated into exhibiting collectively, are Josep Vives Campomar, Xavier Serra de Rivera and Francesc Artigau. All of whom are part of the 60s Generation, which (we need to say) is among the less visible ones in our public museums.
In any case, you mostly will recognise his paintings immediately. As the art historian Francesc Fontbona said in the preface of our artist’s catalogue raisonne, there is a Vilà atmosphere emerging from each of his pieces which ultimately shapes his world. A world made as much of external references as of internal ones. At first glance we find repeated motifs or pre-texts (before the theme is build), but what matters is the point of view from which they are observed or, more precisely presented, rather than their visual and recognisable body.
A perspective that it is always subjective and fruitful, often disconcerting. The physical appearance of his landscapes, industrial or natural, usually settles in a pretty unreal world. The same way the objects that are dwelling in his still lifes frequently are ‘out of play’, out of place, and this is the very reason why they generate unexpected magnetic fields, relationships. This is the subversion of reality, the theme that dominates most of his creations.
Where does the light in his paintings come from? A light that someone did not hesitate to relate to Isidre Nonell’s , a dramatic autumn light at dusk. A light that comes from within, creamy, oily, that seems to trickle over the skin of the objects or the very same landscapes. A light that resembles one that comes from a fluorescent lamp at the end of its life cycle. These light remarks, in a quiet voice, on the loneliness of everything and its increasing distance from the landscapes that surrounds us. The old industrial landscapes that have gone already and the natural ones to which he seems to be more attracted with the passing of time. A light that almost certainly is the artist’s highest achievement and, at the same time, a sign of his unequivocal solitude. As Jordi Gabarró said, “Miquel Vilà perfectly symbolises the fight that the current great painters maintain against the death of painting”.