1981-1994 The resurgence and wisdom

of the final years

Jordi Falgŕs

 

The final period of Colomer’s work was conditioned by the cerebral ictus he suffered in the early eighties and by the consequences of the illness. For this reason I recommend rereading the article by Dr. Joaquim Jubert, the neurologist who treated him, published in the catalogue of the anthological exhibition of 1996 in the Museu d’Art in Girona. Just as Jubert explains, the cerebral injuries stopped him from painting for long periods, or in any case did not enable him to go beyond making simple sketches or retouches over dozens of paintings that would remain unfinished, the major part of his production. Intermittently, however, he managed to produce a set of works that feature among the best of his career. This stage is also marked by two solo exhibitions in Girona: that he had of recent work in the Palau de Caramany gallery in 1986 and the small retrospective in the Municipal Halls in 1991, in which we find many finished works, as if the commitment to exhibiting had motivated him to reach the precision that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

The first thing that can be seen is that neither the illness nor the forced periods of inactivity, or even the relearning that he had to undertake, altered the characteristics that his visual language had acquired during the previous decade. The forms are always very stylised, of blurred, almost foggy outlines, and the compositions, very calculated and balanced, resulting in a serene painting that, just as he desired, transmits a sensation of repose and tranquillity. Also contributing to this quality was the fact that Colomer worked exclusively with acrylic paint, which does not have the shine that oil paint can give off. The palette—despite being in no way limited—avoided pure colours, and shows a preference for dark shades, with an abundance of blues, lilacs, violets and purples, often in contrast with white and ivory. His knowledge of interior decoration and furniture design are clear in the quantity of furnishing and architectural motifs that appear in many paintings. They are often unitary compositions in which he played with the different planes, lights and depths, but there are also works in which the different elements are presented as unconnected to each other, showing that when he wanted to he could turn to strategies originating in cubism and surrealism. If we examine it in relation to the lineage of modern art, it is a painting that in reality refers to the origins of Colomer, to the painting he did in Paris in the late twenties—which coincides with the stage of studying in Barcelona and Brussels—, and his predecessors would be painters such as Jules Pascin, Marcel Gromaire, Moďse Kisling and Amedeo Modigliani, among others.

The female figure and the architecture of Girona were the subjects in which he continued investigating, insistently and almost obsessively. This led to him often working in series, making multiple variations of the same motif, attacking it and squeezing out painting after painting from it, or from a small sketch done on a scrap of paper until expressing it on the canvas. A magnificent example of this method is the series of sketches for the painting Untitled (The fair girl, cat. no. 538-549, p. 302-305). Colomer returned to a central theme in his work: the fairs and attractions of the annual festival, but on this occasion passing on the main focus to the figure of a young girl in front of one of the stalls. In the studies, we can see how the artist gradually introduces changes in the composition and perspective, the size of the objects, the different planes of the scene, the range and colours chosen, until achieving the final result, a small compositional and chromatic prodigy, of interaction between the forms of the figure and the geometry of the different elements and, ultimately, the creation of a scene that behind a happy subject matter addresses the spectator with a coldness tinged with sadness.

Two of the most intense series of those he developed during these years with the city of Girona as protagonist are those that have the old abattoir in Avinguda Ramon Folch, where the building of the Courtrooms of Girona now stands (cat. no. 588-591 and 595-596, p. 330-333), and the facade of the Casa de Cultura (cat. no. 605-616, p. 338-341) as main motifs. He uses the colours and structures of the architecture to experiment on the canvas, fascinated by the changing light, the representation of the depth of space, the possibilities of abstraction and stylisation of forms, the geometric combinations, and the scale of the volumes and of the human body in relation to the setting: in other words, what he had always done in his work, but now with a clearer desire to avoid everything that was superfluous and extract from the reality the essential forms that he needed to create a new reality, that was balanced and fascinating for himself. The majority of works, therefore, abound in corrections and are half-abandoned, but for this very reason with the passing of the years have become more interesting. And from both series we have been fortunate that some more finished works were also conserved, with apparently more satisfactory results for the artist.

For Colomer these were also years of reflection about the history and evolution of art, an interest that he wanted to express in a series of paintings in which he composed small anthologies of motifs taken from masterpieces of the history of painting, sculpture and architecture (cat. no. 459, 556, 558-560, 562-563, p. 312-315). It is a series of works that, beyond showing his knowledge of the rule of western art, shows to what extent he worked from a global awareness and with a desire to tackle universal questions even though his work could be closer linked to local motifs. The reflection about everything that envelopes the production and access to culture, even the representation of the spaces of exhibition and interpretation of art (galleries, theatres, concert halls), also interested him, as can be seen in works such as Sala Gaspar (cat. no. 557, p. 310), Chekov (cat. no. 567, p. 318), The Municipal Theatre and the city Giants (cat. no. 568, p. 318) and Female figures in an exhibition (cat. no. 571, p. 321). Colomer was a great consumer of culture, and these works are a demonstration of his discrete enthusiasm for a city and a country that, with democracy, recovered the cultural activity that he had known and led before the war.

Very close to these works are those that Colomer continued devoting to representing the model in the painter’s studio, and the fact is that during these years he produced some of the best compositions about the subject. No wonder, then, that some of these paintings ended up in private collections and which, therefore, have remained unknown until now: Model before the canvas on the easel (cat. no. 648, p. 346), Female nude in the studio (cat. no. 649, p. 347), Interior with figure (cat. no. 650, p. 349) and two untitled works (cat. no. 834 and 677, p. 350-351). The symbiosis between the female figure and the architectural spaces represented the confluence of his great visual concerns: the representation of the body—with all its possibilities of playing with the light, volume and the geometric stylisation, but always dominant, the woman’s body, anonymous and idealised—in harmonious relationship with architecture that receives her. This interior is the space of the artist; in fact, we can say that it is the artist himself, sometimes represented more or less explicitly as a young man contemplating the model or as an easel with a blank canvas. When Colomer reached the final point of his career, this was already an old question for modern art, and the terms in which he approached it seemed anachronistic, but nevertheless not irrelevant. In reality, the emergence of the new forms of representation that the 21st century has brought with it has confirmed that it is a question as current as it is old. The narcissism of the simultaneous acts of posing and representing, now that we have all become portrait painters and models, is intrinsic to the contemporary experience and, therefore, to the phenomena and experience of art.