Less than a stone’s throw from Gambrinus, our next stop in this free art route along the beaches is another light-hearted work. It is Barcelona’s Head (El cap de Barcelona) by North-American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.
Lichtenstein’s use of a mass media advertising aesthetic and comic imagery to confront staid perceptions on what “serious” art should be earned him international recognition in the sixties. In Michael Kimmelman’s words, the artist “seemed to critics like the equivalent of a giant pin aimed at the hot-air balloon of Abstract Expressionism, with its soul-searching claims and emphasis on the eloquence of a painter’s touch”. Barcelona’s Head shows this same debt towards comic iconography yet is a far more complex development of this vocabulary. Still present are the bold lines, bright colours and dot background—recalling the Ben-Day process used in older comic-book printing—which characterise earlier satirical works such as Whaam! (1963) and Drowning Girl (1963). Yet Cubist and Modernista influences are also present, reflecting an engagement with the world of “serious” art.
The sculpture, a commission for the 1992 Summer Olympics, was physically constructed by Diego Delgado Rajado, a Spanish artist from Badajoz over two years. It is inspired by and pays homage to Catalan Modernisme—the local brand of Art Nouveau. This can be seen in its nod towards trencadís, or broken-tile mosaic, a Modernist technique pioneered by the architect Antoni Gaudí. Though many Art Nouveau architects used ceramic tiles as a way of transferring the bright and enduring colours found in pottery glazes onto their buildings, Gaudí is credited with the characteristic broken-tile technique. On visiting the mosaic workshop of Lluís Brú i Salelles, who was undertaking commissions for his buildings, Gaudí is supposed to have exclaimed: “In handfuls, you must apply [the ceramic shards]; otherwise, we’ll never be finished!”
Fifteen metres high by six wide, Barcelona’s Head is made of eight large blocks of prefabricated artificial stone, stainless steel staples and ceramic cladding. It forms part of a series entitled “Brushstrokes”, where the works convey the impression of a brisk, free execution.
Barcelona’s Head is installed on the site of the medieval shipyards where Columbus is supposed to have docked his ships. Other works from the “Brushstrokes” series can be found in US cities including Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, Columbus and Los Angeles, as well as internationally in Singapore, Tokyo, Paris and the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, in Madrid.
El Cap de Barcelona (Barcelona’s Head) by Roy Lichtenstein and Diego Delgado Rajado, 1992. Passeig de Colom, corner of Pas Sota Muralla, Port Vell. Coordinates: 41.380914, 2.182454 © Kevin Booth 2010.
‘Roy Lichtenstein at the Met’, excerpted from Michael Kimmelman’s “Portraits, Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere”, from an interview done for the New York Times