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The creative movement of Lluís Lleó

By Eudald Camps Photo Martin Crook i Andrea Ferrés

Lluís Lleó’s (Barcelona, 1962) artistic path swings between apparently irreconcilable extremes. This forms the core of his creative adventure: trying to pacify the contradictions of the artistic battleground. In the summer of 2017 he installed a series of sculptures in Park Avenue, NY, which would exemplify his concept of ‘swaying’: between painting and sculpture, between rigorous tradition and radical modernity, between the memories of Empordà and the contemporary city, trapped in a present without a past. Patient artisanal work as opposed to the use of the latest technology to achieve monumental registers. We insist however that these dualities involve only apparent contradictions, for Lluís Lleó invents impossible dialogues, which is a high-risk strategy these days.

Talking to him is a dialectic pleasure. Time travelling evokes T. S. Elliot words: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past,” conscious poetry in a Nietzschean sense: “The eternal hourglass of existence will always go round and round again, and you’ll go along, corpuscle of dust.” In fact his five steles exhibited in New York pay tribute to the passage of time and the memory of materials: the way his polychrome stone blocks faced each other inside of enormous buildings (Seagram Building, by Mies van der Rohe and the Lever House, by Gordon Bunshaft) recalls the ‘memento mori’, the ‘vanitas’ which is, deep down, every work of art. The moral message echoes the fragility of a butterfly. Under the title ‘Morpho’s Nest in a Cadmium House’ Lleó describes the delicate nature of existence and the need to reclaim a fragile yet heroic beauty, and why not.

It’s interesting to look at this intervention for two reasons: first of all, because he was the first painter to take a space traditionally reserved for sculpture and, secondly, because with that installation he made his come back to Catalonia: “Taking this piece to Barcelona”, he says, “I found a positive way to return to my homeland, by offering a work that has the essence of both places.” Somehow the pendulum has now stopped in the old continent: after three decades in the North-American metropolis, the artist goes back home having learned the lesson: the only way for art is taking its own paths. Indeed Lleó’s greatest acknowledgment has to do with an intimate understanding of the nature of his work. What might seem obvious isn’t at all: Lleó’s pieces couldn’t be done otherwise or that would mean an irreparable loss. That’s why painting isn’t only a stylistic formal option but a statement of principles entailing very important conceptual echoes.

In short: Lleó’s work is, first and foremost, a conscious review of art history as synonymous with painting. From Pompeian engravings to Romanesque and medieval murals to contemporary adventures such as Ellsworth Nelly or Christopher Wilmarth’s works, he presents an overall landscape of global synthesis, chronologically but also between painting and sculpture and most clearly between painting and architecture. And Lluís Lleó goes even further: the fact of deliberately reusing old techniques makes his work full of material memory: painting frescoes, more than any other technique, demands a slow procedure bound to the rhythm dictated by the drying time of the wall’s surface, avoiding gimmicky effects and highlighting the contemplative nature of his creative adventure.

According to Lleó himself, his fascination for the Romanesque paintings of La Vall de Boí came from his father and grandfather. He adds: “I went to the United States following my family’s advice, for we believed that it was necessary to expand horizons. As an example: MNAC’s building is from the same time as Mies van der Rohe’s pavilion. I think that says it all.” The reason for his return to Empordà is clear: “Empordà is a refuge to me: here I get back to a working rhythm that is impossible to find in the States where requirements and competition can become unbearable.  

But what I like is that these are compatible experiences.” In the words of Giorgio Agamben: “Contemporaneity inscribes itself into the present, assigning it as something outdated. Only those who see the marks of the archaic in the most recent and modern work can be its contemporary.” //