‘I need to have them near me, to stick my nose, my hands into them, to spread the paint with melon slices when I am painting melons, mixing their juice with the paint. I smell the melon, I also eat the melon, then it’s ‘melonism’ for a few minutes on a little surface of my canvas … in this way I could simplify my relationship, the intensity of my relationship with things’ (M. Barcelo quoted in Miquel Barceló: 1987-1997, exh. cat., Museu d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 1998, p. 196).
Extending over two metres in height and width, Miquel Barceló’s Diptyque vert-citron dwarfs the viewer and engages the eye through the intense physicality of its textured surface. A powerful diptyque, the present work presents an array of natural objects from juicy watermelons to leafy vegetables, from bright blue fish to a splayed meat carcass all upon a vibrant green background. Inspired by the tradition of bodegónes – Spanish still life paintings– it remains in the tradition of depicting the organic and the natural whilst transforming the genre in an expressionistic and experimental manner. A similar work exploring the potential of traditional bodegónes, Ball de Carn, 1994, is held in the Museo d’Arte Contemporaneo, Barcelona, signifying the importance of this series to Spanish artistic legacy.
Miquel Barceló has employed the use of mixed media to make the presence of these natural entities – squashed tomatoes, sliced pears and succulent melons - all the more vivid and immediate. Other than the three-dimensional materiality, the composition of the piece is another manner in which Barceló’s practice is distinguished from his predecessors. The material makeup of the two canvases inspires the composition; here the vertical line of the join becomes the spinal column of the central carcass. This extends the three-dimensionality of the work, rejecting the traditional flat picture plane and suggestion of receding forms. In his diaries, Barceló wrote: ‘what interests me in still life is to work with it as organic material, to feel it as pure material. I want to try different renderings to get to the saturation of baroque still life. Sometimes I use elements as a pretext to create a kind of dance inside the picture; in other words, the still life is just an excuse’ (M. Barceló, quoted in M. Barceló 1987-1997, exh. cat., Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 1998, p. 16). Through his compositional choices and corporeal application of paint, indeed even applying juice and actual pieces of fruit to his canvas, Barceló goes beyond mere representation towards a dynamic materiality. The abundantly textural surface of the picture itself blurs the line between image and represented object in a subversive and visceral play with the notion of trompe-l’oeil.
Diptyque vert-citron is a celebration of life, of matter and of paint in a sensual, large-scale triumph, a dizzying dance where deep crevices emerge whilst forms jump out of the canvas in a modern engagement with great theme traditional still life and vanitas paintings. Vegetables and fruits are decomposing and animals are reduced to mere carcasses in a visceral manner, as the constant flux of life and death emerges as a result of Barceló’s intuitive and impulsive response to paint. ‘In Barceló’s paintings, the language, eluding the narrative forms, becomes physical, produces a material poetry based on the expressionist gesture, the grid of corporeal and natural signs, symbolic and allegorical presences, and organic relics, giving rise to images that, removed from the process of a pregnant and weighty existence, become effigies of our history’ (R. Chiapinni, ‘Redeeming Everyday Life’, in Miquel Barceló, exh. cat., Museo d'Arte Moderna, Lugano, 2006, p. 16).