Joan Hernández Pijuan
Spain, 1931
Spain, 2005
Joan Hernández Pijuan’s oeuvre is one of great depth and diversity, but if there is a single sentence that sums him up as an artist, it is one of the first he spoke at the oral defence of his doctoral thesis: ‘The practice of painting is a form of knowledge.’ Hernández Pijuan’s exclusive focus on painting has allowed him to build up a body of knowledge that makes him a master among artists. The thesis he defended in February 1988 offers information, analysis and fundamental insights into his character as an artist and his output. Hernández Pijuan studied first at the Llotja School (1945–1947) and later, from 1952 to 1956 at the Sant Jordi School of Fine Arts (both in Barcelona). In 1955 his first solo exhibition was presented by Rafael Santos Torroella. In 1957–1958, he lived in Paris, where he studied printing techniques, discovered and learned about the art of the first half of the twentieth century, and turned his attention to what has always been viewed as his main artistic concern: visual space. In the 1960s, Hernández Pijuan painted simple figures—a crystal goblet, scissors, an egg—on monochrome backgrounds. These figures break the planarity of the painting, like cuts or slits through which one glimpses a space enclosed beyond the surface. In Espacios de silencio, a retrospective exhibition held in 1993 at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the artist chose the year 1972 as the starting point of his painting work (or at least as the year he began to produce works he deemed worthy of exhibition). The landscapes he painted in the summer of that year convinced him that he was reaching a point where he could begin to stake out his own territory as an artist. His output in the 1980s was characterised by a return to drawing and the spontaneous treatment of his subjects, usually explored in series in which the painter’s subjectivity defines its own territory. In the 1990s, an explosion and multiplication of colour was added to his rhythmic treatment of the painted surface. In the pieces he produced in the 2000s, these aspects of his work came together in one of the richest and densest styles in international painting. From 1992 to 1998, Hernández Pijuan was acting dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona. He was also a permanent member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. Both the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) in Madrid and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) presented major retrospectives of his work. In 2005 he participated in the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The ”la Caixa” Collection of Contemporary Art holds twenty paintings by the master that span his entire oeuvre, from his early output—Pintura 3-63 (officially dated 1964, but which the title suggests was produced the previous year), Nus vertical (1963), Movimiento blanco sobre fondo negro y pardo (1964), and Cuadro blanco sobre fondo azul intenso (1964)—to pieces from the latter years of his career, including Dues flors sobre blanc (1987), Flor (1999), and Terra d’ombra 2 (2001). The early pieces were produced at a time when he was strongly influenced by trends in abstract art and Art Informel of the late 1950s and the 1960s, and it is important to bear in mind that the artist himself came to see this period as one that preceded the emergence of his true style. Tríptic I (1977) and Vertical (1978) are magnificent examples of his exploration of brushstroke and colour, which critics regarded as close to minimalist practices. The significant group of paintings from the 1980s—a key period in his transition towards an approach to landscape that was unconcerned with distinctions between abstraction and dynamic figuration—include the impressive Xiprers a Folquer (1985), Paisatge ocre 2 (1987), and Espai ocre (1989), as well as two attractive flower pieces: Dues flors sobre blanc (1987) and Flor verda (1988). Last—but certainly not least in terms of their quality or importance—are four works from the 1990s and early 2000s, most of which evoke the East: El Marroc hi és present IIMemòria de l’Alhambra I (1994) and Memoria del sur 5 (2002), both ‘black’ paintings; and Solcs amb llum d’argent (1997), a ‘white’ painting composed of abstract rhythmic elements that are robust and emphatic. Hernández Pijuan received numerous awards over his lifetime, including the Award of the Spanish Directorate General for the Fine Arts (1957), the National Visual Arts Award (1981), the Creu de Sant Jordi (1985), the City of Barcelona Award for the Visual Arts (2004), and the National Graphic Arts Award (2005).
Mariano Navarro