Ship of Fools
Original title: La nave de los locos
Mixed media and photograph on canvas
Dimensions: 200 x 160 cm
Reference: ACF0520
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Juan Ugalde has always focused his attention on the most everyday, stereotyped, banal aspects of reality. Aspects, however, that carry overtones of symbolism and meaning capable of portraying a social context, a taste, an aesthetic, teenage mythologies or the world of popular subculture. His first works featured recurring characters from comics, which have continued to populate his paintings like mythical reference figures. They were largely characters from Spanish comics of the 1970s, especially those created by Ibáñez: the Gilda sisters, Mortadelo and Filemón, or the explosive Zipi and Zape. He also worked with robots and puppets inspired by B-movies made for TV, transformed by a gestural quality typical of graffiti and its colours. They were highly narrative scenes in which humour and parody found an ironic context that tended towards the absurd. All of this has led Ugalde to construct a way of looking at the world that uses painting either as a narrative strategy or as a tool to uncover the absurdity of reality through a documentary stance that makes use of social commentary. However, the critical elements of his pictorial discourse are not the main focus; this is not sociological work. Humour and parody provide the coating for an aesthetic recreation of the ridiculous, though none the less real for that. His work reconstructs an anti-mythology of kitsch in which critical values are aimed at the representational strategies of painting rather than at the contents, which Ugalde revels in with absurd, unbridled humour as though they were distinguishing traits of Spanish popular culture. Ugalde’s approach seems to appropriate reality from a standpoint that one might find in the characters played by Paco Martínez Soria in his films (or that appear in any number of third-rate Spanish comedies): from there he enters the realm of parody, but with no wish to ridicule, only to assess, albeit humorously, that visual, and real, context, even doing so with a touch of affection. Since the early 1990s, Ugalde has integrated photographs (his own or those of others) into his works as a counterpoint and complement to the pictorial element, as a space penetrated by the frenzy of the pictorial images so as to diminish the power of the photographic image and put it in perspective. Retrieved, appropriated and manipulated postcards represent another essential element in his work and have been integrated into his paintings as concentrated syntheses of popular taste. Multi Baby and La nave de los locos—two of the works in the ”la Caixa” Collection of Contemporary Art, both from 1992—integratepainting and photography to suggest unique stories that feature postcards: the first piece includes a postcard of an Iberia jet, a symbol of modern travel, and the second a country landscape with bulls and cows, clearly aimed at children. Both works are clear examples of Ugalde’s working method, which uses the resources of Pop and transforms them into representative and narrative strategies, placing them at the service of an ironic, but sharply critical gaze. In an article about one of Ugalde’s exhibitions in Madrid, Fernando Huici wrote that the artist is one of the outstanding realist painters of his generation. In doing so, he was firmly expressing the realist character—socially and politically critical—of Spanish Pop, which is always tempted by an ironic mythologising of kitsch as a distinguishing trait of popular culture (negative) that leaves room for humour, absurdity, madness as well as self-criticism. Within the broad, imprecise boundaries of Spanish Pop, we should include Ugalde as a lucid voice, always keenly aware of the narrative and the problems posed by the images, their representation, their meanings and implications within the context in which they are produced.

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