Carlos Franco
Spain, 1951
If for no other reason than having won the competition to create the wall decoration for La Casa de la Panadería in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, and for the magnificence of the paintings he created for the project—images that both move and deceive locals and tourists alike, who admire the works while feeling confused as to the period they date from and their authorship—the Madrilenian Carlos Franco would deserve to be recognised as an outstanding figure in the annals of contemporary Spanish art. But his contribution and impact go far beyond that. He began his public career in the early 1970s and was at the heart of a group of artists who—first at Galería Amadís and later at Galería Buades (both in Madrid)—brought about a profound change in Spanish art and expanded the scope of its ambitions. This change, at both the theoretical and the practical level, was the result of Franco’s explicit rejection of the conventions of the post-war avant-garde and his determination to transform the discourse and practice of painting, understood as one of the conceptual tools available at the time. Carlos Alcolea (1949–1992), Guillermo Pérez Villalta (1948), Santiago Serrano (1942), Jordi Teixidor (1941), Nacho Criado (1943–2010), Luis (1937) and Paz Muro, and Alfonso Albacete (1950) are just a few of the many artists who came together in this common project. Two of the most senior figures involved were Luis Gordillo (1934) and José Guerrero (1914–1991). Figurative and abstract painters, as well as artists involved in what came to be known in Spain as ‘new artistic practices’—encompassing everything from experimental poetry to computer art and language-based conceptual art—also saw their interests broaden and take on an international dimension, while they maintained their independence in relation to the political response generally articulated in opposition to the Franco dictatorship, then in its final stage. Carlos Franco absorbed the world of city dwellers in his work (with inevitable echoes of Pop Art). His interest was also immediately drawn to the tales of classical Greek and Roman mythology, which he tackled in a way that was not remotely academic. At the same time, he explored the world of classical painters, assimilating their approaches in a new formulation that made the painted surface a place well suited for the depiction of events, and that lent the figures and incidents represented a dynamism and vitality, a physical and affective-interior movement, unique in international painting. Strange as it may sound, his methods bore more than a passing similarity to those deployed by magicians and practitioners of sleight of hand. A few years later he turned his attention to the indigenous cultures of Africa and Central and South America in an idiosyncratic process just as exceptional as his earlier pursuits. In the latter case, he has created major public works, mainly of a religious nature. O mago do carnaval, a relatively early painting completed in 1977, exemplifies this cultural dimension that he has added to his work. The splendid pictorial treatment of the surface also makes the piece more than a static image, creating a real sequence in full movement. Franco’s work was included in the exhibition 26 pintores / 13 críticos. Panorama de la joven pintura española, which was held in 1982 and travelled to a number of Spanish cities.
Mariano Navarro