Rafael Canogar (Toledo, 1935) is one of the leading representatives of Spanish abstraction from the second half of the twentieth century. His beginnings saw Daniel Vázquez Díaz as a teacher. Later he becomes involved in founding the group El Paso with Manolo Millares, Antonio Saura, Manuel Rivera, Martín Chirino and Luis Feito. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía dedicated a retrospective to all of them between the Nineties and 2002 as a deserved recognition of the importance their artistic careers have had in the history of contemporary Spanish art.
This exhibition reviews fifty years of painting, with special attention to Canogar’s Informalist stage as, because his works are spread out, his most significant pieces have not been exhibited in Spain until now. Two oil paintings from when he trained with Vázquez Díaz, Paisaje and Paisaje de Toledo, (both from 1951) open the exhibition. After them we move directly to 1956, where he begins forays into Informalism, a period where he creates some of his best known works. From this period Toledo (1960) is one of Museo de Arte Abstracto Español de Cuenca’s main paintings, which represents the birthplace of the artist in a very different way to early figurative paintings. Canogar produces an interpretation of the landscape in blacks and whites, and enhances the special character of Toledo in abstract code, with heavy gestural painting.
In the mid-sixties Canogar works with figurativism. After Los Novios (1967) and La mujer con sombrero (Después de Rubens) from 1966, the artist darkens his palette and loads it with complaint and commitment, reflecting concerns about the dictatorship of Spain. In La Familia (1968) he brings out the group members’ black silhouettes, who pose portrait style, facing the spectator. The volume he had suggested in his previous compositions now become explicit. The bodies start coming out from the behind the scenes, like in La policía en acción (1969) o La Marcha (1969). His mastery of the three-dimensional reaches a peak with pieces such as Escena Urbana (1970), where faces disappear into the crowd, which takes up five metres. Canogar’s discomfort is evident in the fragmentation of the human figure, which he represents in crowds and cut into sections, with disappearing heads or with covered eyes or mouths.
Starting from 1975, the exhibition shows a Canogar that recovers dimensionality and abstraction. The socio-political significance has less obvious formal devices, but is still personal all the same. This period lasts until the early nineties, when the artist focuses on working with textures and reliefs, and the black and red that are so common in his paintings are still very present.
Canogar’s capacity to undertake changes in his work and at the same time maintain the paradigmatic elements of his painting make his work a key chapter in the arts of our country.