Miquel Barceló (b. 1957)
Miquel Barceló (b. 1957)

Smoke and Water

Miquel Barceló (b. 1957)
Smoke and Water
signed, titled and dated 'Barceló SMOKE and WATER X.IV.87' (on the reverse)
oil, mixed media and collage on canvas
90 3/8 x 117 7/8in. (229.7 x 299.5cm.)
Executed in 1987
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.
Jan & Ronald Greenberg Collection, Saint Louis.
Private Collection, Bilbao.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Miquel Barceló 1984-1994, exh. cat., Valencia, IVAM Centre del Carme, 1995 (illustrated in colour, p. 13).
Miquel Barceló: Obra sobre papel 1979-1999, exh. cat., Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 1999 (illustrated in colour, p. 25).
Barceló, exh. cat., Mexico, Museo Rufino Tamayo, 2003 (illustrated in colour, p. 78).
Miquel Barceló. Pabellón Español, exh. cat., Venice, LIII Biennale di Venezia, 2009 (illustrated in colour, p. 34).
Barcelona, Antic Teatre de la Casa de la Caritat, Barceló-Pintures de 1985 a 1987, 1987-88 (illustrated in colour, p. 37).
Montreal, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Miquel Barceló Peintures récentes, 1988 (illustrated in colour, p. 32).

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Lot Essay

'I like the idea of paint as something that never dries, very thick, and able to be stirred. Also that it can be transparent and opaque, liquid and dry. Between water and glass. The effect is what produces the image'
(Barceló, Miquel Barceló: Obra sobre papel 1979-1999, exh. cat., Madrid, 1999, p. iii).

Smoke and Water is an important still life by Miquel Barceló. Painted in 1987 on a scale so vast as to be reminiscent of murals, this lyrical image of a smoking pipe and various glass vases, some of them clearly filled with water and flowers, dates from a pivotal moment in Barceló's career when he was living in New York. He had moved there the previous year, renting a studio in Greenwich Village. There, he sought to rid himself of the excess that he felt had begun to characterise the pictures he had previously been painting in Paris. Accordingly, he became fascinated with the idea of transparency, embodied in Smoke and Water in the glass of the vases. While this is a poetic theme, all the more so because of the smoke drifting from the pipe, an ineffable yet opaque substance, it also touches upon the nature of painting and illusion and allows Barceló to explore his own metier. In Smoke and Water, he investigates the paradoxical ability of opaque paint to represent clear glass, playing with the idea of his oils as a liquid. This interest in transparency and in light would come increasingly to the fore during this period, resulting in the increasingly white appearance of his paintings, a development that culminated in the pictures resulting from his first voyage to Africa the following year.

The intensity of Barceló's interest in the theme of transparency was evidenced by the fact that in his pictures on this subject, including Smoke and Water, he actually created preparatory sketches, a rare practice in his work. At the same time, the play with ideas of transparency was something that he pushed further in paintings like this by his inclusion of various mixed media elements, sometimes mixed into the paint and sometimes encrusted into the surface. While they are visual barriers, the incorporation of these elements in fact blurs the line between reality and representation. Barceló uses fragments of the real world to create an earthy link to the world he has painted, adding a new dimension of authenticity to his unique reinvigoration of the still life tradition. A visually erudite artist, Barceló was doubtless aware of the precedents of the Old Masters in Spain, and also of Pompeii; indeed, only a couple of years before painting Smoke and Water, he had visited Naples and seen the preserved frescoes from Pompeii, which Smoke and Water resembles both in its timeless, deliberately weathered surface and its palette. This adds a layer of existentialism to this picture: it becomes a memento mori, as is the case with many still life paintings, yet one that invokes the destruction of that Roman city. While in Naples, Barceló had deepened his link to the ancient Romans by analysing paint samples used by the artists of two thousand years ago; he even collected ash from Vesuvius. Like those acts, Smoke and Water reveals Barceló's embrace of the history of art and of humanity, his willingness to use the timeless in order to create something current and contemporary.

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