The Artist

In 1946, two years before the founding of the famous Dau al set group, a legendary exhibition in Barcelona at els Blaus de Sarriá introduced the work of four young Catalan artists to the Spanish art world: the painters Joan Ponç, August Puig and Pere Tort; the sculptor Boadella. Enthusiastically received, the exhibition provided an historic moment in Spanish art: the first totally abstract paintings ever produced by a Spanish artist. They were the work of seventeen-year-old August Puig. Over fifty years later, and only after his death, Puig has finally begun to receive the recognition he should have earned as Spain’s pioneer abstract painter.

The reasons for Spain’s neglect of an artist the critic Maria Lluisa Borrás calls one of the most important Catalan artists in the second half of the twentieth century lie in his abhorrence of the Franco regime that led him to spend many years in self-imposed exile, and in his personal distaste for self-promotion.

Shortly after the 1946 exhibition, the institute Francais announced its intention to award an art scholarship to a young Spanish artist to study in Paris. August Puig was named the winner. Although probably not intended at the time, this was the beginning of Puig’s exile. He moved to Paris, where he studied and worked for the next several years. Of his early work, driven by his childhood memories of the terror of Spain’s civil war, Bernard Dorival, curator of the Museum d’art modern de Paris and an early collector of Puig’s work,wrote:

“what a remarkable world his talented fingers have produced: vibrant, teeming with vitality and life, as if one had disturbed the water’s surface, or entered into some heavenly abyss – turbulent, chaotic, unexpected; in short, the world of a youth of twenty, visionary and overflowing with creative power”.


In the early sixties , Puig returned to Barcelona and, although one of the leading art critics, Juan Eduardo Cirlot, repeatedly referred to him as one of modern Spain’s major painters, he remained an outsider: a painter considered persona non grata by Franco’s ministry of culture, an artist who, in turn, refused to allow his work to be shown in any state-sponsored exhibition. He broke this boycott only once: when Sir John Rothenstein, the director of london’s famed Tate Gallery, went against the Spanish government’s recommendation and insisted that Puig’s work be included in the prestigious 1962 exhibition of modern Spanish painters in London.

After that success, Puig exhibited widely during the sixties and seventies, with major events in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States. In 1967, he was awarded the Grand Prix rainier iii at Monaco’s grand prix d’art contemporain. It was only after Franco’s death that Puig agreed to be Spain’s sole representative in Brazil’s 1977 biennale, with a major retrospective.

About this time, Puig moved from Barcelona to a small village in Ampurdan. It never worried Puig that he had still not received the attention in Spain – in the words of Maria Lluisa Borrás, he was l’ultima pintor maleit – that he enjoyed in the rest of the world. His only boast was that he had never been anything other than an artist and, through his art, had created a comfortable life for himself and his family. In Monells, Puig continued to produce a coherent, very personal body of work, of which an American friend and writer wrote:

Puig’s work is neither fixed nor constant. It is quite unpredictable. Even if you look at it every day for a decade, it changes: in mood; in texture; in temperament. It challenges you one moment; consoles you the next. It is an adventure that is both familiar and unknown: alive with colour and open to interpretation. Here is a world – natural, psychological, spiritual, and metaphysical – seen from a different perspective. It is the same world we live in just a different insight. Puig’s gift lies in his ability to share that insight.

August died in 1999. A sculpture, by his friend Marcel Martí, commissioned by admirers in eleven countries to honour the memory of an exceptional man, stands near his studio in Monells. At the base of the statue is a quotation from Puig’s memoire, August – a painter’s memories: the true meaning of art is found in the soul of the people. It is a statement as direct as the man, himself, reflecting Puig’s deep conviction and commitment to his art.

It is true that August Puig was an artist admired more abroad than at home; a pioneer of modern Spanish painting, who found faint recognition for his contribution. It is also true that he was a painter whose work never lost the teeming vitality and life that Dorival found in its beginnings – and a man, whose life never lost its meaning.


The anger of modesty
by Josep m. Cadena el periodico october 20, 2000

August Puig (Barcelona, 1929 – Girona, 1999) was violent, in his painting. As a person, he was modest; always willing to share a joke on himself, or with others. He felt a saintly rage at all the things we in Catalonia, collectively, suffered because of the civil war and its outcome. He held bitter memories of the immediate post-war period, but did not personalise them. Instead, he exposed them as a great rent in our social fabric, a universal evil that he wanted to combat, like a surgeon with a scalpel, separating the layers to expose a malignancy that had to be removed.

Many of his paintings invoke a specimen on a slide, ready for the microscope of the observer. But these are not cold science, without poetry; these are an abundance of layers that live and feel and suffer – and, on occasion, seduce.
August Puig first exhibited his work in 1946 — before his success in winning the prize at the Exposición internacional unión arte de Bilbao – in an exhibition in Els blaus de Sarriá, along with the work of Juan Tort, Ponç, Boadella and the text from J.v. Foix. It was the first post-war exhibition of avant garde art. In the same year, he was awarded the first art scholarship to study in Paris, funded by the Institut Francais. These were the good beginnings of an artist whose presence soon grew, within Europe, to much greater importance than it found at home, in Catalonia. Here, he remained almost an unknown. Even now, there are those who ignore the power of his painting — in spite of the efforts of Manuel Barbié on Puig’s behalf. His withdrawal and the ensuing years in seclusion in Monells did little to increase the recognition that the power of his work deserved. Perhaps, in hindsight, this art is not to the taste of those who seek the easy comfort of forgetfulness. But here it is – powerful, compelling, and deserving.