To be included in the forthcoming Manolo Millares Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in conjuntion with Elvireta Escobio de Millares, Madrid.
Hanging precariously from the canvas, the titular figure in El Personaje, executed in 1966, appears as a tattered and distorted remnant of a man. The body has been constructed from sackcloth and scrap, the vestiges of modern living, and has a skeletal and almost decayed feel. There is indeed an air of torture to this work, and more explicitly, an air of crucifixion.
The sackcloth that Millares used in his works was the reincarnation of an archeological phenomenon of his native Canary Islands. As a child, Millares was fascinated by the museum there, and especially by the sackcloth shrouds of the mummies on display. Contemplating the remains of a vanished civilisation, a vanished race, had a huge impact on Millares' art. In El Personaje, the sackcloth gives the body a decayed and ancient look. It appears to be ages old, yet ageless. At the same time, the riveted pieces of metal, themselves filled with the reek of ancient times, are blatantly the products of modern society, of the technological world. El Personaje thus appears as the archeological embodiment of a modern person. This blasted figure is what remains of modern man in Millares' mind. El Personaje appears therefore almost as a stela to the human race, or as an ominous portent of the direction in which the human race is hurtling.
Millares' art was shaped and scars by the horrors of modern existence, by Guernica and concentration camps, by war and famine and injustice. There is a trace of the famous images of the tortured and the starved in the body in this work. It acts both as a tribute and a warning to man. This aspect of the work's meaning is heightened by the triptych format. There is an overt reference to religious painting, and yet the title, El Personaje, appears explicitly to make an everyman out of the Christ-like figure. This tattered and blasted wreck of our person, as in religious paintings of Christ, not only refers to man's complicity, but hints that there is a chance yet of salvation. Millares' painting is therefore not a simple condemnation of humanity, nor even a plea, but is a sign of sacrifice and even of redemption. The image of the crucifixion is one linked not with the disappearance of races, a phenomenon with which he grew up both in terms of the mummies and of the concentration camps, but is linked to hope and to faith.
But finally, Millares' art is not intended to be transparent. The bare and brutal poetry of the image, of the materials and the materiality of this work, create an extremely powerful but ultimately enigmatic presence. A simple reduction into words and thoughts of what El Personaje means would defeat its point. There is, both in the allusions and in the materials of the work, an extremely potent visual force that cannot be nailed down to any single answer or solution, and this ambiguity, so like life itself, is precisely what Millares sought: 'There must be no explanations or understandings: art cannot be the comfortable seat of the intelligible (art is a phenomenon of contamination, not of comprehension), but the fearful bed of thorns on which we all lie to throw a temporal greeting to lurking death' (Millares, quoted in J.-A. França, Millares, Barcelona, 1978, p. 133). Thus El Personaje, which is filled with layers of thought and comment, is ultimately a work that aims to speak not to the mind, but to gut feelings and to the emotions.