PEP COLOMER, ARTIST OF A CITY

Jordi Falgàs

 

To explain the life of Pep Colomer Martí this compilation provides an extensive chronology of all the known facts, or what we have been able to document, and which have a specific relevance in a long active life of more than eighty years. We also reproduce many photographs from his family album, snaps found among his disordered papers, which put a face to the different periods of that life. We see the child, the young man, the adult and the old man, often surrounded by family and friends. However, logically, everyone who knew him minimally could tell us that Colomer was much more than this. His personality, his knowledge and experiences are much more complex than what the cold and distilled enumeration of a chronology can reveal to us.

Nevertheless, it is worth reading the chronology carefully, because these small flashes precisely show that behind this was an artist profoundly connected to the period and place that he lived in, and a personality that has left a legacy that deserves to be known and studied. Starting from the chronology, then, in this article I aim to make a presentation of the person. In no way should it be understood as a short biography. The biographical genre has its rules and requires an investigative labour that will still remain pending, but despite everything I will try to make a brief portrait of Colomer, a sketch of the man, and above all of the artist.

In the catalogue of the exhibition in the Museum of Art of Girona (MD’A) in 1996, several authors already made an approach to the persona and work of Colomer, a fairly complete, diverse and still valid approach. What has changed since then? We recall that that exhibition was the result of a discovery, immediately after Colomer’s death in November 1994, of all the work that he had kept in his house. All the material was deposited in the MD’A in 1995, and at the end of that year the museum entrusted me with the partial cataloguing of this collection, specifically the pictorial work. Today, thanks to the collaboration between the Colomer-Sanz Foundation (formed in 1998) and the MD’A itself, we have been able to have access to the rest of the Colomer legacy, which has been very fruitful, above all in work on paper (many notes and sketches, as well as the projects for interior design and furniture design). Moreover, during the last two years, we have also made an effort to locate, photograph and catalogue all the work of Colomer to be found in private hands, above all the family and friends of the painter. We also do not rule out the possibility of more appearing. Therefore, the retrospective vision of Colomer’s work, which began with that exhibition in 1991 in the Municipal Halls Girona—with the artist still alive—and which continued with the 1996 exhibition, is now enormously enlarged. Little known works have appeared, and from all the periods; we have discovered unpublished poems and forgotten articles, we have been able to document his early decoration projects and, above all due to the huge quantity of drawings, Colomer has been shown to be more dedicated to his plastic work and more constant and consistent than many of us believed. The chronology, bibliography and, in short, the written and visual work that is presented in these two volumes and in the electronic publication that complements them provide us with a richer vision of who Pep Colomer was.

When I met him in 1991, for a brief interview for his exhibition in Girona, his words told me that he was a man for who art had no meaning if it did not respond to a specific vision of the world and was the result of a critical interpretation of life. But at the same time Colomer was a person who carried with him a great frustration as an artist, and he did not hide it. As he said to me on that occasion, “I am a long way off what I wanted to do, because in my particular philosophical theory I have reached the conclusion that a revision is required of all our thought and of our conception of existence, which obviously includes art”.[1] In a brief text, in the catalogue of the exhibition, he expressed himself in similar terms.

The continuous feeling of frustration is inherent in any artist, past and present, and the creative impulse comes in good measure from the fact of working to overcome this frustration, with greater or lesser awareness that the satisfaction will never come from the results obtained but precisely from the work itself, from the action. Pep Colomer debated with this feeling throughout his career, and this drove him, progressively, to seek explanations in the field of thought. The importance of what he called his philosophy is undeniable, since it was the result of a long devotion to the reading and self-taught study of specific aspects of modern philosophy. He himself, then, stated that during the last years of his life he considered himself more of a philosopher than a painter. This is an absurd debate, however, since firstly these categories are not exclusive, and moreover, in the case of Colomer, one could not be understood without the other.

The question, therefore, is not what Colomer was, but what he did, and above all what he wanted to say, what the meaning of his work is. Precisely the quantity and the interest in artistic production that we are now going to discover revive him as a creator. And I say creator, rather than painter or artist, because both his training and his professional career made him a personality that went well beyond disciplines and which enabled him to apply his talent and creative spirit to distinct languages, techniques and specialities.

 

 

 

Training and early projects

 

Colomer’s academic training in visual arts was certainly brief but by no means unimportant because of this. A brief curriculum written by the artist himself that we have been able to find among his papers begins saying:

 

Born in Girona in 1907.

Training in fact self-taught despite having done 2 courses of Composition with the teacher Francesc Labarta in the Llotja (1926-27).

Working on the natural figure in the Círcol de San Lluch-Barcelona (26-28).

“École de Beaux Arts”.

“Maison des Artistes” Brussels 1930.[2]

 

In other words, to a large extent he considered himself self-taught, but did not conceal the fact that he had also studied in the fine art schools of Barcelona and Brussels, during a period equivalent to what would today be necessary to obtain a university degree.

From his period at the Llotja it is not surprising that Colomer would highlight the courses with Francesc Labarta (1883-1963). Beyond his outstanding teaching work, Labarta had the knowledge and experience that must have been decisive for the professional future of Colomer in the field of decoration and interior design. When Colomer studied in his classes, Labarta had worked on important projects in the field of applied arts and mural decoration (sgraffitos, textiles, rugs, mosaics), often in large architectural projects of modern Barcelona, such as the Hospital de Sant Pau, with Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and the Palace of Pedralbes. It was the precise period in which he was working on the decoration of the new Post Office building, by Josep Goday, and shortly after would be named adviser of the International Exhibition of 1929 and would work on the decoration of the Palau Nacional.[3] In 1910 Labarta had also been one of the founders of the Les Arts i els Artistes (Arts and Artists) association, a reference for the Amics de les Arts de Girona (Friends of the Arts of Girona), which Colomer contributed to founding on his return from Barcelona. Nevertheless, we should not forget that Colomer’s stay in Barcelona falls within the last years of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and that his time in the Llotja and the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc did not coincide with any of the moments of great activity of these schools , despite the fact that in the Barcelona of the time the latest avant-garde art tendencies appeared and some of their protagonists were visible (Dalmau galleries, Salvador Dalí, Marinetti, Le Corbusier, the magazine L’Amic de les Arts, etc.).

What Colomer does not mention is his attendance of Josep Aguilera’s academy, a relative and artistic reference for the young generation of Girona artists of the thirties. In contrast, in a text from 1978, Colomer wrote that the teacher “found among his pupils, and also in the circle of young friends that at that time gave us in Girona the model for renewal concerns, a type of compensatory counterweight” to the rejection he suffered from the Girona “do-gooder”.[4] Colomer also recalled that he was one of the privileged students of the natural drawing classes with nude model that Aguilera offered in Girona in 1928.[5]

Without doubt, Colomer’s period in Barcelona encouraged him to take part in the creation and in the first exhibitions of the Amics de les Arts association, in 1929, and to decide to continue his studies outside Catalonia in early 1930. It is possible that Labarta himself encouraged him to go abroad, but surprisingly Colomer and Martí Adroher left Girona in March. From the brief note published in the Diario de Gerona, we could deduce that they set off without a very clear destination, but everything indicates that the choice of Brussels was perfectly planned, and perhaps they took a few months aside to visit other cities and prepare for the beginning of the course in autumn: “The young Girona artists José Colomer and Martín Adroher have left for Brussels and other European capitals. For a long period of time they plan to broaden and update their knowledge of decorative painting.”[6] His friend Francesc Gallostra, in contrast, did not leave for Brussels until July, after receiving a travel grant of 1,000 pesetas from the Provincial Council.[7]

What does seem clear is his intention. From his studies in Barcelona and his contact with Labarta, Colomer had decided to orientate his career not so much towards easel painting but to painting applied to architecture and interior design, the methods and techniques of which he wanted to complete studying. It was not until October in which, after passing an entrance exam, the Diario de Gerona reported the admission of the three young artists into the Royal Academy of Fine Art and School of Decorative Art of the Belgian capital.[8] With over two hundred years of history, this Academy was one of the most prestigious of continental Europe, and at the time Colomer arrived, the director was none other than the renowned and innovative architect Victor Horta. Furthermore, by going to study in Brussels, Colomer also had the chance to enrol in the no less prestigious École Supérieure de Peinture Logelain. In 1882, Pierre Logelain had created the first school in the city dedicated exclusively to teaching decorative painting. With a duration of six months, its intensive courses synthesised what was considered what a painter-decorator would normally learn in seven years.[9] From Colomer’s time in the École Logelain two photographs are conserved, in which he appears, with a serious and introverted posture, with the rest of his colleagues and teachers (fig. 1 and 2), as well as a medal from the school with his name engraved, on the back of which reads, in French, “the holder of this medal has also obtained the diploma of professional qualification” (fig. 3).

On the 29 of June 1930 the monument to the sculptor Fidel Aguilar (1894-1917) was inaugurated in the Devesa Park in Girona, an initiative of the Amics de les Arts that had been paid for by popular donations.[10] From the beginning there has been a certain confusion regarding the authorship of the monument. In one of the first items appearing about the project, the author states that observing the model “there is a certain disproportion between the base and the image; but this is due to nothing more than the fact that base is the work of Gallostra and the reproduction by Colomer”.[11] In contrast, from then on it states that the project for the monument was the work of Francesc Gallostra, the reason that would also explain the delay in his move to Brussels, and that the replica of the sculpture of Aguilar was the work of the sculptor Florenci Comas.[12] Colomer kept a photograph of the event (fig. 4), on the back of which he had noted that among those present one could distinguish the mayor, Francesc Coll Turbau; Carles Rahola, who gave the unveiling speech and offered the monument to the city on behalf of the promoters; Florenci Comas, and Francesc Gallostra. Colomer also noted down, however, in parentheses, “(I did the project) and at this moment was in Brussels (1930)”. Rahola himself, both in his speech and in an article published later in the La Publicitat newspaper, confirmed that the authorship of the project belonged to Gallostra.[13] It is hard to believe that Colomer wanted to attribute to himself a project he had not done, or that Gallostra would have wanted to take Colomer’s place taking advantage of his absence from the city. Most probably, and more so taking into account the friendship that existed between the two artists, it was a shared project—like the many they would do on their return from Belgium—, but that Colomer’s participation was less and was not recognised by the press for the mere fact that he was not in attendance at the event.

The stay and the knowledge acquired in Brussels certainly strengthened the friendship between Colomer and Gallostra, and their formative stage completed, they were encouraged to start up a joint business in publicity design and interior decoration immediately after returning to Girona, in early April of 1931.[14] The young artists arrived in their home city at a time of mass euphoria due to the victory of the left-wing parties in the municipal elections, on the 12th, followed by the proclamation of the Catalan Republic and the Spanish Republic on the 14th. Throughout the decade, until the end of the Civil War, their lives passed by in parallel and were never without work. We have news of numerous reform and decoration projects, often of commercial establishments, and of the design of some publicity advertisements for the local press.[15]

Their participation was also notable in all kinds of civic and social activities that arose from the impulse of the young democracy, with the political activity of the left-wing parties, the freedom of the press and the desire to modernise the country. In this sense, beyond the professional jobs, the joint work of Colomer-Gallostra stands out for its link and commitment to the city of Girona. In another text, written forty years later for an exhibition about Fidel Aguilar, Colomer remembered that period as a frenetic succession of collective activity. It is interesting to note that Colomer did not establish differences between a series of diverse activities, and refers to some that were both prior and after his stay in Brussels:

 

They were times of effective and natural democracy. We young people stood by a series of artistic, political and sporting ideals, without discriminating much; we gave it all and were ready at any time to organise anything; founding first the Amics de les Arts and spreading ourselves out later among many diverse activities, which were: renting the Albéniz [theatre] for special film sessions; collaborating in the publication of a magazine, Víctors; experiencing the great popular period of the GEiEG in the Sant Agustí centre; being the enthusiastic supporters of the creation of the Girona swimming pool; founding and promoting the Cinema Amateur; organising the first Commercial Fairs as well as the first Book Fair.[16]

 

From the Republican period, as well as the professionalization of their work, the most outstanding activity of Colomer and Gallostra was the creation of the Garbí bookshop and exhibition room, opened in December 1933, and the Els Íntims group, which brought together a large part of the city’s cultural activity during the years prior to the Civil War. Despite the euphoria of those years, from the correspondence that Colomer maintained with his friend Joaquim Vergés, who was then trying to make a go of it as an artist in Paris, we have discovered that Colomer had thought about going to live abroad again. In a letter from 1932, Vergés told him that “I fully understand your disagreement with living in Girona despite the material wellbeing, and the benefits, and successes, that your company may gain […]. So neither does it surprise me your intention to come to France, and your strong desire to live in the lively atmosphere of the large cities”.[17] But Vergés himself also advised him not to do it, explaining to him the crisis the country was experiencing and its own difficulties.

1932 and 1933 also date the collaboration of Colomer as illustrator of L’Espurna and Front, two publications of the Bloc Obrer i Camperol (BOC - Workers and Peasants Block), and of the cover of the book Perquè soc comunista?, by Jaume Miravitlles, who was then one of the leaders of this party (cat. no. 701-705, 708-709). The BOC was a radical communist party and dissident with regards to the official communist organisations, and in the early thirties had a large influence and membership in the counties of Girona.[18] Should this collaboration of Colomer be seen as an identification with the political ideology of the BOC? Josep Clara thinks it was, and believes that the four illustrations of L’Espurna show “the sympathy and identification that [Colomer] must have felt for the communist group and their programme”.[19] If we add the works that he published in Front and the cover of the book, unknown by Clara, the hypothesis could carry even more weight. However, we are speaking of seven small works, all published with a pseudonym. Unlike his colleague Gallostra (who joined and was councillor in the Girona City Council for the centrist Acció Catalana Republicana party and was arrested for the October 6 Incidents, there is no record that Colomer joined the BOC or any other party. In reality, there is nothing else in Colomer’s work or activities in the years prior to the war that back up his supposed political commitment.

During the war, both artists collaborated on two exhibitions of a political nature (in favour of International Red Aid, Antifascist Militias and Blood Banks, in 1936, and for the Combatants on the Fronts, in 1938), but while Gallostra was called up and at the end of the war lived in exile until 1950, Colomer—inexplicably—did not join the Republican army, or go into exile, or suffer any kind of reprisal during the dictatorship.[20] It is obvious, then, that Colomer’s hypothetical commitment to the postulated radicals of the BOC was neither explicit nor long-lasting. On asking him about the Garbí bookshop in an interview in 1979, Colomer limited himself to answering that “the war interrupted many things”, and on asking him about the post-war, he said, “I don’t want to remember that period, it was very sad”.[21]

 

 

Defeat and interior exile

 

Colomer must have reached the end of the war, in early 1939, with the bitter and painful sensation of defeat. Nevertheless, he had not had to fight on the front or be forced to leave Girona. He was one of the many among the defeated who were not exiled. It is possible that with the beginning of the Francoist repression he was afraid of being purged. His activity as illustrator for the BOC, his participation in exhibitions of a political outlook—despite the pseudonyms and his natural discretion—and the membership of some of his friends would have been enough to accuse him of being a “red separatist” or at least to deny him any opportunity to work and exhibit.

Who knows whether it was to overcome the fear, to distance himself from his immediate past or obliged by economic difficulties, that Colomer did not hide, and just ten days after the apparition of the first issue of El Pirineo: Diario al servicio de España y del Caudillo, the new newspaper of the dictatorship in Girona—and when not three months had passed since Franco’s troops had entered—, on the de 18th of April he placed this advertisement:

 

That home that you dream of… made of beauty, simplicity, of practical common sense; so that it is the exponent of your personality, of your most intimate preferences, J. Colomer M., DECORATOR, Rda. F. Puig, 10, can create it for you undertaking a project and directing its completion.

 

The tone of the advertisement contrasts almost contradictorily with the reality of Girona in that April of 1939. It is surprising to see how, in a city still battered by the bombings and with the population subjected to the fascist repression it experienced with poverty, hunger and fear, Colomer aimed at a clientele that could afford the luxury to not only decorate their home, but also hire someone to make a reality that noucentista ideal that the home was a reflection of the personality of its occupants. In the same issue of the newspaper, an article carried the headline “The brazenness of Companys (the assassinated former president of Catalonia)”, another eulogised Hitler, and the majority of advertisements included greetings to Franco. According to Eva Vàzquez, “the shamelessness with which Josep Colomer informed of his skills hid a painful reality”.[22] Later that same year, advertisements appeared by Joan Orihuel, Pere Perpiñà, Antoni Varés and Alberto Marotto offering their services as decorators. “Too many professionals for such a shrinking market and in such a precarious situation”, concludes Vàzquez. Whether through ignorance and naivety, or because he did not want to recognise this reality, Colomer only insisted with the same advertisement twice more, in May, and then began to adapt to the new political, economic and cultural circumstances of the dictatorship.

Most probably driven by the lack of jobs than by the competence of other decorators, Colomer and his partner, Carme Sanz, moved in with the Sanz family in Banyoles, and the couple formalised their marriage with a civil and religious wedding on St Joseph’s Day in 1940. During the first half of the decade they lived and worked between Banyoles, Girona and Barcelona. It is still significant that, amidst a desolate, repressive and precarious panorama for any artistic demonstration, Colomer would be present in two of the first exhibitions that were held in post-war Girona, in June 1940 and April 1941. The first was a massive group show of all the artists that had remained in the city, in the foyer of the Municipal Theatre, in which Colomer even received a prize, and the second was an exhibition in the Municipal library, along with Riuró, Roca Delpech and Varés, in which Colomer presented ten works.

Colomer reappeared and did so in the official spaces of the new regime, although it was in a discrete way. He was gradually able to continue devoting himself to his trade of decoration and interior design, above all of furniture, but this desire to exhibit and the amount of work he produced in this period (taking into account what has survived) show that the post-war did not make him abandon his career. During the first post-war period, Colomer perhaps felt a certain displacement, since the world he knew was dramatically changed, and his life process—like that of many others—was that of a gradual adaptation to the new political and social order.

Before the impossibility of rebuilding the cultural landscape of the Republic, Colomer was also obliged to secure a new sphere of friendships that would enable him to fill the void and mediocrity of the culture promoted by the dictatorship. It was a slow, gradual process, which went on until the second half of the fifties. In Barcelona and in Tossa de Mar, thanks to Frederic Lloveras, he took part in several talks where he met painters, writers and gallery owners. Others were old acquaintances from Girona or Barcelona who, like him, had studied during the Republic and now lived with a totalitarian state. During these years, Joan Torras Bachs and the poet Manuel Pinillos wrote to him from Barcelona, Bilbao, Zaragoza, San Sebastián, Paris or the United States. Lloveras himself and the writer Josep M. Gironella also wrote to him often from abroad, telling him about their projects of art, literature, film and always insisting that he go to Paris. It was in vain, however: Colomer always resisted abandoning Girona. We cannot ignore the fact that all these friendships, with Lloveras, Bachs, Pinillos and Gironella, represented a category of artists and intellectuals that had been trained, just like Colomer, during the years of the Republic and had been able to find their niche and even success in the cultural structures of the dictatorship, which Colomer must have noticed. However much an artist—whatever the period—wants to present their work as independent or distant from their historic and political moment, it is quite impossible to do so, and that of Colomer during the forties and fifties is a good example. This goes for his life options too. In this period, his obsession with subjects such as the female figure and familiar landscapes with a treatment that was consciously retrograde, far from any aesthetic dissidence, leaves us to guess that he made a conscious choice.

Colomer and Carme Sanz lived again in Girona from 1946, and after some months Colomer came to form part of the board of the Círculo Artístico which was presided over by an old friend of his, the painter Agustí Pera. At the end of the forties and early fifties, just as Eva Vàzquez has explained, the Círculo was, “the most outstanding attempt to connect the asphyxiating atmosphere of Girona with the efforts of modernisation that sprouted in Barcelona”.[23] Colomer’s participation on the board and in the activities of the Círculo Artístico de Girona shows that he was not that far from the scarce cultural activity of the city as it may seem. For example, thanks to a letter from Joan Torras, we know that Colomer attended a talk by the art critic Àngel Marsà called “The secrets of the new art” in the Círculo Artístico, on the 15 of April 1950.[24] With the discovery of the drawings and paintings he kept in his studio and others that belong to private collections, we now also know that it was a period during which he painted and drew intensely. In November 1949, Torras wrote to him that “I know you have worked a lot and well […]. How is that idea of an exhibition going?”[25] The hundreds of sketches taken from nature in Tossa, Premià, Banyoles and, above all, Girona, reveal an attentive observer, and excellent illustrator and a methodical colourist—but who had opted to move away from anything risky.

The precariousness of means and the physical and mental repression of the dictatorship did not stop outbreaks of creative activity in Girona emerging in the fifties, often in the form of groups of artists, such as the Grup de Girona (1950), the Tres Pintors (1952) and Indika (1952). During the Fairs of 1950 La Artística was also opened, a small annex to the shop of the same name that was one of the few private exhibition rooms that opened in Girona after the Civil War. That summer Torras asked him to paint Girona without the stereotypes, knowing that Colomer was capable of it:

 

Perhaps a Devesa park more complete than the current one. A Devesa how you would like it. Neither Spanish nor French. Unique. New.
—Men like you and who live in Girona have the duty to explain, of undertaking the exegesis of Girona, not picturesque, free of dogmas, not typical, without parochialism—which make me feel terrible on seeing so much “frilliness”-—. That’s it: Gerona without the frills. Let there be light for once and deliver it.[26]

 

Who knows whether, due to the insistence of Torras, and because he accumulated a considerable volume of work, that in March 1957 Colomer finally decided to show in La Artística what in reality was his first solo exhibition. Carles de Bolòs, who wrote the art chronicles in Los Sitios, devoted a brief comment to Colomer’s exhibition in his characteristic tone between condescendence and disregard towards everything that was not strictly academic.[27] It was obvious that he did not know very well who he was talking about, since he referred to him twice as the young artist (Colomer was 49) who, it seemed to him, was becoming known. The ignorance and paternalism of the critic cannot have worried Colomer too much, but neither did it encourage him to repeat the experience, and thirteen years would pass before he once again exhibited his work on his own.

The sixties began for Colomer marked by two important family losses. First, in 1960, his father died, and two years later, his aunt Francisca, who had been like a mother to him. His father’s legacy enabled him to reform and enlarge the project for the single-family home which in 1959 he and Carme Sanz had commissioned to the architect Emili Blanch, a ground floor cottage and studio at the entrance to the valley of Sant Daniel, on the outskirts of Girona. The house soon became a meeting place and one of famous weekly chats by a group of Girona folk invited by the Colomer couple. The painter Lluís Bosch Martí, years later, called it “the little cosmic house” and described the world of the Colomers of that period as “closed, elitist, platonic, idealistic, spiritual, aesthetic and decadent”.[28] Colomer, as both host and representative of the pre-war generation, began to stand out as a teacher and guide of young artists from Girona, which enabled him to establish good friendships, but also unavoidable criticisms, like that of Bosch Martí. Enric Marquès, himself a painter and art critic, who had formed part of the group but distanced himself as Bosch Martí did, synthesised the value of the house in Sant Daniel not so much for the expertise of Colomer but rather the fact that as the departure and arrival point of the painter’s daily walks to come and go to his home in Carretera de Barcelona, through the old quarter of Girona. For Marquès, this apparently routine route gave Colomer the possibility of constant reflection and “intellectual speculation” about the readings that concerned him and the reality that surrounded him, and considered it a decisive factor in his evolution as an artist. Marquès stated it in his review of the solo exhibition that Colomer finally decided on doing in 1970 in the La Gàbia gallery in Girona.[29]

Colomer invited one of his childhood teachers, Sebastià Pla i Cargol, who was then living in Madrid, to open the exhibition in La Gàbia. Pla, deeply grateful and touched, on not being able to attend, sent a letter to the gallery with the explicit request that it would be given to Colomer at the exact moment of the opening. From Pla’s reply, we know that in his invitation Colomer had told him that the exhibition “culminates the decisive seed of those times and long-gone days”, when Pla was one of his teachers in the Grup Escolar in Girona.[30] In other words, Colomer gave the exhibition great value, and understood that the works he showed were the culmination of his whole life process as painter, intrinsically linked to the city. Certainly, as we see later, from the late fifties and during the sixties, he had finally decided to tackle a work more marked by formal investigation which, without being innovative, showed that he wanted to leave a worn-out formula behind.

The exhibition in La Gàbia has a special significance for Colomer, not only due to the decision to show his recent work (sixteen paintings), but also because he returned to the artistic panorama of the city and began a decade that would be politically and socially intense, in the final stretch of the dictatorship and beginning of the democratic transition. Two years before the exhibition, Colomer had already accepted participating in the first group show organised by the Agrupación Nacional Sindical de Bellas Artes (ANSIBA) in the Casa de Cultura in Girona. ANSIBA was the hierarchical trade union for artists that had been created by the Francoist regime in 1964. Colomer joined in 1966, and in 1972 was member of the Provincial Council of the union, which—just like the Círculo Artístico some years before—was presided over by Agustí Pera. Once again, Colomer showed he was in favour of forming part of the structures tolerated or promoted by the regime in order to favour reform, working from the inside. This obviously involved a certain degree of collaborationism, not free of criticism. However, Colomer seemed to have accepted that his decision to stay and work in Girona involved this risk. After the experience of the house in Sant Daniel, he was now also aware of the role that he could play regarding some younger artists. The painter Enric Ansesa was one of these and has confirmed that:

 

“he opened the door to several generations and broke the monopoly that had been established in visual arts in Girona. His intervention in ANSIBA was his return to the public stage. From 1972 Colomer was once again public, although restricted, but even until his death he did not cease in his attempt to have an influence on many aspects of the city, although almost never stridently. Through small groups and individuals, he, in his way, made an effort to reroute society towards civic behaviour and culture”.[31]

 

As well as the role that Colomer played from ANSIBA, Ansesa speaks of the Paintings and sculptures of 11 artists from Girona exhibition, which could be seen in Camallera and Girona and which, according to Ansesa, Colomer had organised (fig. 5). “It was a rehearsal for opening up new paths and connecting and drawing together attitudes. I think that the result of the show was important, because it generated a dynamic that to a great extent resulted in the cultural activity of visual arts in Girona”, writes Ansesa.[32] During 1972 and 1973, in fact, Colomer was involved in the exhibitions and activities of ANSIBA and promoted the entrance of some of the artists of the younger generations. Very soon, however, it was clear that the desire for change that Colomer and others advocated could not be achieved from within the union, and they resigned from the board. Francesc Miralles and Narcís Selles point out two possible reasons. While the former speaks of frictions arising from an exhibition in homage to Picasso, in the summer of 1973, Selles thinks that the confrontation of ANSIBA with the regime was made clear when the board promoted the boycott of the Villa de Palamós painting prizes in protest at the demolition of Casa Ribera, a modernista building from that town.[33] Whatever the reason, while the majority of dissidents from ANSIBA were immediately involved in the organisation of other types of opposition and political demands through the visual arts—which resulted in the creation of the democratic Assembly of Artists of Girona in 1976—, Colomer remained on the sidelines of the group’s activities. His sole participation, in September 1976, was in the Homage to Carles Rahola exhibition (cat. no. 456), when the show travelled to the Fundació Miró in Barcelona, after having passed through Girona and Cadaqués.

 

 

Work and reflection of the last years

 

In 1979 Colomer had a new solo exhibition of his recent work in Girona, coinciding with a new period of creative intensity. In one of the few interviews that he ever gave, he explained that “I have always liked painting, but until now I have not been obliged to do it in such an in-depth way. An exhibition I did a short time ago has helped me acquire this continuity and has encouraged me”.[34] He was, therefore, enthusiastic, yet seemed unsatisfied with the work itself and critical of some architectural and urban changes he saw in his city. Just as his friend and neurologist Joaquim Jubert wrote in the 1996 catalogue, the dissatisfaction had led Colomer to make himself believe that his production was irregular and sporadic, when today it can be proven that during the seventies he worked a lot. Shortly after, between 1980 and early 1981, he suffered two cerebral ictus that stopped him renewing his pictorial activity for two years. When he was able to return to it, during the rest of the eighties he continued working on the same subjects insistently: “I have never stopped painting. I have painted for myself, since painting represents a permanent search. […] [Girona] has innumerable pictorial possibilities. Unprecedented, unlikely”, he stated in an interview for the solo exhibition of 1986.[35]

This period, however, also revealed the Colomer who was interested in thought, aesthetics, psychology, anthropology and graphology. Colomer had always been a great reader, but in his maturity he wanted to establish continuity between science and art, trying to transfer to the canvas the scientific and philosophical questions that concerned him. For the same reasons, it was then when he also appeared as a writer. Thanks to his epistolary and the poems that have been discovered in his legacy, we now know he was always a writer appreciated by his close circle of friendships, but at the beginning of the eighties he also published a small series of articles in the local press in which blossomed the knowledge and concerns of a Colomer who seemed to feel the need to share his reflections, a process that would culminate in the self-publishing of his books in 1982 and 1991. Despite his pompous style, above all else Colomer’s texts express a desire to influence his most immediate reality, a city that he saw changing quickly and not always in accordance with his wishes.[36] In 1989, for example, he stated his total opposition to the diversion of the N-II road through the valley of Sant Daniel, and he communicated this feeling in writing to both the President of the Provincial Council and the mayor of Girona.[37]

The intense work based on discretion, the critical and civic attitude, and the desire to publicise his thoughts, gradually led him to see the multiple sides of his work as different faces of a single body, of the same discourse of thought and expressed in accordance with a sole logic. This also moved him away from the pictorial anecdote, of the explicit reference to places or people, and his works evolved towards a formalism in which he sought nothing other than compositional and chromatic balance, which he himself called a “strict creative prodigy”.[38] Nevertheless, Colomer was aware that many years before he had made a choice for Girona, for his city, and was and always would be a painter from Girona. The city gave him almost everything he possessed and knew, and his final gesture was to donate the house in Sant Daniel to the City Council. At the time of the controversy about the diversion of N-II road he thought twice about it, but finally, grateful for a small retrospective exhibition in 1991, he corresponded to the gesture with his characteristic generosity. Just as he had stated in 1989, “I like [Girona] a lot and I don’t like it at all. It is the contradiction of many people. I am a native of it and I am very close to the city, despite its defects”.[39]

We should not forget for a moment while we turn the pages of this book that Colomer chose to keep and not show most of the works we can now see. He exhibited very few times, and did so aware of what a local painter was, with little audience and without the capacity to communicate with anyone beyond a reduced circle of friends and admirers. And he was happy with that; in fact, he never made his living from his artistic production, and when someone gave him money in exchange for a painting, he gave it to charity. He experienced complex and difficult historical times, and had he been able to opt for more radical, more committed, more heroic positions, now it would be much easier for us to glorify and mythologise him. His posture, his lesson, in contrast, is of a different calibre. His painting is silent but not mute. It is anachronistic painting, but Colomer was aware of this anachronism. Before the racket of modernity and the void of the century of progress that he lived in, he decided to offer us small spaces for silent reflection, for careful observation, for learning and appreciating and valuing that which envelops us daily: the city, the landscapes, the objects and the people we love.

 

 



[1] Jordi Falgàs, “Les Sales Municipals exposen la trajectòria pictòrica de Pep Colomer”, El Punt, 13 April 1991.

 

[2] Pep Colomer Martí, reply to a request from the Art Department of the University College of Girona asking for a CV for a file of Girona artists (22 February 1974), manuscript, Colomer archive, Colomer-Sanz Foundation, reg. no. 1021.

 

[3] Regarding Labarta, see Elisa Queralt i Galobardes, “Francesc Labarta: la seva obra artística i docent” (doctoral thesis, Universidad de Barcelona, 1990).

 

[4] Colomer, “Girona i l’Aguilera”, in Mostra-homenatge a Josep Aguilera i Martí: 1882-1955 (Girona: Fundació Caixa de Girona, 1978), s/p.

 

[5] Regarding the academy of Josep Aguilera, see Eva Vàzquez, ed. Josep Aguilera: Girona, l’exili i la pobresa (Girona: Museu d’Art, 1997).

 

[6] “Gacetilla”, Diario de Gerona, 27 March 1930.

 

[7] “Diputación”, Diario de Gerona, 7 June 1930; and “Gacetilla”, 10 July 1930.

 

[8] Sais, “Art: El triomf d’uns gironins”, Diario de Gerona, 13 October 1930.

 

[9] L’École Logelain merged with the Van der Kelen School in 1952 and has continued functioning until now with the same method. See “Historique”, Institut Súperieur de Peinture Van der Kelen Logelain, accessed 22 August, 2012, http://www.vanderkelen.com/FR/history.html

 

[10] See the advertisement “Pro Monument a Fidel Aguilar”, El Autonomista, 29 March 1930. From then on, Amics de les Arts published weekly, in the Diario de Gerona, a list of the names and contributions that had been made. Pep Colomer is mentioned on the 3 April with a contribution of 3 pesetas.

 

[11] P. M., “Fidel Aguilar: Un bon projecte a la seua memòria”, El Autonomista, 29 March 1930.

 

[12] See Sais, “Art”, Diario de Gerona, 28 March 1930; Lluís Bota i Villà, “Pro Monument a Fidel Aguilar”, El Autonomista, 5 April 1930; “Art: Inauguració del monument a Fidel Aguilar”, Diario de Gerona, 30 June 1930; “L’inauguració del monument a Fidel Aguilar”, El Autonomista, 30 June 1930. Years later, Josep Clara continued to state that the authorship was of de Gallostra and Comas. See Josep Clara, “Amics de les Arts i Fidel Aguilar”, Revista de Girona 167 (November-December 1994): 87; and Clara, “Francesc Gallostra, pintor de Girona”, Revista de Girona 188 (May-June 1998): 44.

 

[13] Carles Rahola, “L’escultor Fidel Aguilar”, El Autonomista, 30 June 1930. The second article is mentioned in Clara, “Francesc Gallostra, pintor de Girona”, Revista de Girona 188 (May-June 1998): 44.

 

[14] See “Gacetilla”, Diario de Gerona, 8 April 1931; and “Notícias”, El Autonomista, 10 April 1931. Curiously, both newspapers only refer to Colomer’s studies in the École Logelain and do not mention his stay at the Academy. Clara quotes a letter from Gallostra to Carles Rahola dated Brussels 9 March 1931 where he informs him that he has made the decision “together with my colleague Colomer [of] establishing ourselves as decorators in Girona”. See Josep Clara, “Pep Colomer, entre el disseny comercial i la proposta revolucionària”, Revista de Girona 176 (May-June 1996): 47.

 

[15] See the article by Lluïsa Faxedas, in the second volume, pages 10-37.

 

[16] Colomer, “Presència de Fidel Aguilar a la Girona dels anys 30”, in Fidel Aguilar (un noucentista gironí), Narcís Comadira, ed. (Girona: Ajuntament, 1991), 57. Originally published in Fidel Aguilar, Jaume Fàbrega, ed. (Girona: Ajuntament / Col·legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya i Balears, 1972), 17.

 

[17] Joaquim Vergés, written letter, Paris, 17 July 1932. Colomer archive, Colomer-Sanz Foundation, reg. no. 1010.

 

[18] See Rafael Pujol, “El Bloc Obrer i Camperol a les comarques gironines”, Presència 338 (1974): 9-14. In this article Pujol states that Colomer was the author of some illustrations in L’Espurna. About the BOC and the different publications, see Andrew Durgan, BOC 1930-1936: el Bloque Obrero y Campesino (Barcelona: Laertes, 1996), 110-12.

 

[19] Clara, “Pep Colomer, entre el disseny comercial i la proposta revolucionària”, Revista de Girona 176 (May-June 1996): 47.

 

[20] About the exhibitions in Girona during the Civil War, see Clara, “Art i Guerra Civil (1936-1939). L’exemple de Girona”, Annals de l’Institut d’Estudis Gironins XLIII (2002): 263-77.

 

[21]  Anna Carrascal, “Pep Colomer Martí. Espiritual i exigent”, Punt Diari, 19 May 1979.

 

[22] Eva Vàzquez, “El llenguatge de les arts”, in Sota la boira: lletres, arts i música a la Girona del primer franquisme (1939-1960), by Josep Clara, Narcís-Jordi Aragó, Joan Gay i Puigbert and Eva Vàzquez. (Girona: Museu d’Art, 2000), 91. Vàzquez offers the date of first advertisement as May, but in reality it appeared on the 18 April, followed by others the same on the 16 and 29 May.

 

[23] Vàzquez, 129. About the Círculo Artístico also see Narcís Selles, Art, política i societat en la derogació del franquisme (Gaüses: Llibres del Segle, 1999), 35-38.

 

[24] Joan Torras Bachs, typed letter, Barcelona, June 1950. Colomer archive, Colomer-Sanz Foundation, reg. no. 1110.

 

[25] Torras, typed letter, Barcelona, 21 November 1949. Colomer archive, Colomer-Sanz Foundation, reg. no. 1102.

 

[26] Torras, typed letter, Barcelona, 27 June 1950. Colomer archive, Colomer-Sanz Foundation, reg. no. 1108.

 

[27] See Carles de Bolòs Vayreda [Argos, pseud.], “Exposición Colomer Martí”, Los Sitios de Gerona, 23 March 1957.

 

[28] Lluís Bosch Martí, “Llegint ’Carlota a Weimar’ a Sant Daniel”, Diari de Girona, 18 August 1995.

 

[29] Enric Marquès [Eugeni Ribalta, pseud.], “El camí silenciós de Pep Colomer”, in L’art, la ciutat i el món, introduction and selection by Narcís-Jordi Aragó and Josep Clara (Girona: Diputación de Girona, 1996), 87-88. Published originally in “Pep Colomer”, Presència 287 (9 January 1971): 15.

 

[30] Sebastià Pla i Cargol, typed letter, Madrid, December 1970. Colomer archive, Colomer-Sanz Foundation, reg. no. 822.

 

[31] Enric Ansesa, “Josep Colomer després de l’eclipse”, in Pep Colomer (1907-1994), Ansesa et al. (Girona: Museo de Arte, 1996), 18-19.

 

[32] Ansesa, “Aproximació a Pep Colomer. L’home i l’obra”, in Pep Colomer (Pintura), Ansesa and Colomer (Girona: Ayuntamiento, 1991), 5.

 

[33] See Francesc Miralles, “A la recerca del fet artístic a la Girona de postguerra (1940-1980)”, in Plàstica gironina actual (Girona: Diputación, 1980), s/p; and Selles, 41-43.

 

[34] Carrascal, “Pep Colomer Martí. Espiritual i exigent”.

 

[35] Miquel Gil Bonancia, “Entrevista amb… Josep Colomer i Martí”, Los Sitios-Diari de Girona, 17 January 1986.

 

[36] See Francesc Carbonell, “Recull de textos filosòfics d’en Pep Colomer”, in Pep Colomer (1907-1994), Ansesa et al. (Girona: Museo de Arte, 1996), 27-40.

 

[37] See Colomer, draft of letter sent to Josep Arnau, President of the Provincial Council, and to Joaquim Nadal, Mayor of Girona, Girona, 9 February 1989; and Joaquim Nadal, typed letter in reply to Josep Colomer, Girona, 14 February 1989. Colomer archive, Colomer-Sanz Foundation, reg.nos. 13 and 12.

 

[38] Colomer, untitled, introductory text in Pep Colomer (Pintura), 4.

 

[39] Carrascal, “Pep Colomer Martí. Espiritual i exigent”.