With its sculptural haute pâte surface and organic subject matter, Fruits de Novembre is a monumental example of Miquel Barceló’s visceral painting practice that engages the viewer through the powerful physicality of its intensely textured surface. Inspired by the legacy of Spanish still life painting, or bodegónes, Fruits de Novembre presents a vivid interpretation of the genre, reimagining the traditional fruit motif exploded across the canvas. Strewn along the baroque diagonal, halved pomegranates burst forth; crushed, they ooze crimson juices that stain the cracked, impastoed paint, scattering their seed in a proliferation of finely painted crimson dots. Set in motion by the faint outline of their shape, the fruit appears to tumble across the surface of the painting, the fragility of its dissolution complicated by the painting’s surface, which is, paradoxically, a riot of texture and detail. The sculpted, viscous texture of Fruits de Novembre is ruptured, each deep crevice revealing antecedent layers of vivid pink pigment. A symbolic icon in classical mythology, the abundance of pomegranates in Fruits de Novembre makes reference to the rape of Persephone, abducted by Hades and tricked into becoming queen of the underworld when she eats a handful of pomegranate seeds. With its oblique allusion to the afterlife and subject matter poised on the edge of expiration, in Fruits de Novembre Barceló engages with the memento mori, yet with the promise of new life glimpsed through the relief effect of the surface, Barceló’s moribund scene is invested with a sense of regeneration. As he explains, ‘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 lifes. Sometimes I use the 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 Miquel Barceló 1987-1997, exh. cat., Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona 1998, p. 16).
Barceló’s vibrant application of media to canvas and the near sculptural quality of his painting resonates with the work of Antoni Tàpies, whose Art Informel was deeply preoccupied with the physicality of painting. As Tàpies once explained, ‘I was obsessed with materiality, the pastiness of phenomena which I interpreted using thick material like a kind of inner raw material, that reveals the “noumenal” reality which I did not see as an ideal or supernatural world apart but rather as the single total genuine reality of which everything is composed’ (A. Tàpies, Memria Personal, Barcelona 1977, p. 184). These material concerns resonate with the overwhelming physicality of Barceló’s own practice. From his early days, the artist can remember being consumed by the materiality of his work. ‘The backpack I would take to school was always full of bird dung, of shit collected from everywhere’ he recalled, ‘I realized right away that I couldn’t even use a pen without making a mess and getting stains all over me. Real painting is something that stains: in adolescence I realised that it was something inevitably dirty’ (M. Barceló, interview with R. F. Reboiras, El Independiente, 26 January 1990). Speaking in 1989, the artist described himself as the heir to Tàpies and Miró and the tradition of Catalan art, with its richly textured and ferrous palette, evocative of baked earth. Indeed, the artist recounts stories of having met Miró as a teenager and the marked impression his idol had upon him. In Fruits de Novembre, the parallels between Miró’s earthy works from the 1930s and his ability to relay the quality of Spanish land into his paintings is strikingly apparent.