Antonio López García
He was born in Tomelloso, Ciudad Real, on January 6, 1936, into a well-off farming family, a few months before the start of the Spanish civil war which occurred on July 17 with the uprising of the army. The war ended three years later, on April 1, 1939, and ushered in a long military dictatorship led by Francisco Franco that lasted for thirty-seven years. Nevertheless, Antonio López remembers his childhood in the village as a happy and peaceful time. There he began his artistic training with his uncle, the painter Antonio López Torres. During the summer of 1949, after observing his facility for drawing that was an increasingly pleasurable activity for Antonio, who spent hours copying plates reproducing paintings of the nineteenth century, his uncle guided him in his first drawings and paintings after nature. In October of that same year, his uncle convinced Antonio’s parents to let him travel to Madrid to prepare for the entrance examination at the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando. With this aim in mind, he worked primarily in drawing after statues, through copying casts at the Museum of Artistic Reproductions, then located in the Casón del Buen Retiro, and also by attending the afternoon courses of the School of Arts and Crafts. From that moment on, he meets those who henceforth would become his friends and main generation colleagues: the brothers and sculptors Julio and Francisco López Hernández, the painters Joaquín Ramo, Enrique Gran, Lucio Muñoz, and the painter and writer Francisco Nieva, between others. Somewhat later, the painters María Moreno, Isabel Quintanilla and Amalia Avia joined the circle of friends. At fourteen, Antonio passed the entrance examination at the School of San Fernando, where he undertook the Fine Arts official curriculum between 1950 and 1955. After graduating in 1955, he travelled to Italy with Francisco López, thanks to a travel grant from the Ministry of Education. That same year, Antonio exhibited in the galleries of the General Directorate of Fine Arts along with Francisco and Julio López Hernández, and Lucio Muñoz – the latter’s style was already underway towards abstraction.
After graduating Antonio returned to Tomelloso and prepared his first solo exhibition that was hold at the Ateneo, in Madrid, on December 1957. In 1958, he won the Fine Arts competition of the Rodríguez Acosta Foundation in the 'Still Life' category, for which he was awarded a travelling scholarship that he used to go to Greece, again accompanied by Francisco López, with whom Antonio also visited Rome thanks to another scholarship from the Ministry of Education. Until 1960, Antonio lived between Tomelloso and Madrid; the two most important places for him both artistically and for residence. During this period, the happy memories of his childhood and adolescence in Tomelloso inspired him to make a large number of works featuring the town, things or people who have accompanied him there. His works from that time are entirely figurative. He developed a variety of topics ranging from Still Lifes with some fantastic character, cheerful plant motifs, portraits full of strength and expression, as well as a series of paintings in which the city or the landscape are the background of the figures and the Still Lifes. His artistic production of these years include elements of different artistic movements such as Cubism and Surrealism; the latter being the most frequent as it helped him to reinforce the narrative character of the works. Sculpture already took up an important part of his output, which resulted in particularly striking polychromed reliefs and some expressive sculptures in the round, like those representing his daughter María as a child.
From 1960, he began painting the first views of Madrid in which the city is the leading role, thus becoming a theme that was going to take a large part of his output throughout his career. The sixties marked his definitive step into the objective representation of reality, which occurred gradually. Over this period, he alternated works in which the focus was already fully attached to reality with others in which surreal elements still appeared.
In 1961, he received a grant from the Juan March Foundation; institution that would years later incorporate into its collection his painting Figuras en una casa (1967). That same year, he married the painter María Moreno, and presented his second solo exhibition at the Biosca Gallery in Madrid, then headed by Juana Mordó. A few years later, in 1964, he became represented by the newly opened Gallery Juana Mordó in Madrid. International contacts from this gallery provided him a number of exhibitions, especially in Germany and the United States that allowed Antonio’s works to become part of international collections and museums. Spanish Realist Art of the time aroused great interest in Germany, at first by the hand of art dealer Ernesto Wuthenow. This appeal continued well into the eighties and crystallized in numerous group exhibitions including works by the painters Antonio López Torres, Isabel Quintanilla, María Moreno and the sculptor Francisco López, as well as by Antonio López. Of particular note are the exhibitions devoted to international contemporary sculpture and painting held at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh in 1964 and 1967, and the 1964 New York World's Fair dedicated to Spanish art, sponsored by the Department of Fine Arts of Spain.
Between 1964 and 1969 he was the teacher responsible for the Chair of the Preparatory Course of Colour at the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, which he left to devote himself entirely to his career, although he has afterwards sporadically taught courses at various cultural institutions.
During the sixties, his works encompassed a variety of subjects including portraits of people around him, interiors, vegetal themes and cityscapes painted always directly from the motif that, in many cases, were interrupted and resumed over an expanded period of time. In the late sixties, drawing took up more time and space of his work, by making several autonomous drawings depicting interiors and bathrooms of the places where his life and work took place. Precisely his great dedication to drawing was to influence the purging of his painting, in which the composition could then be clearly seen, by losing paint coating. During this phase, he worked equally in all three artistic languages that have served him to express and communicate his subjects: drawing, painting and sculpture.
During these years, Antonio López participated in numerous group exhibitions and some solo shows. Among the latter, the most prominent, because they had a major impact, were those organised by the Staempfli Gallery in New York in 1965 and 1968. Both exhibitions brought him international recognition, while opening the way for his works into various American collections that had developed an interest in Spanish Realist Art, coinciding with the rise of realistic and hyper-realistic styles in the United States. His next solo exhibition, in 1972, took place again outside Spain, at the Parisian gallery Claude Bernard. Over this period, he continued making drawings and oil paintings with strong realism in which the interiors and then, also the windows of his studio, were the protagonists. He worked extensively in these artworks for long periods of time, making them precise studies of light, by using different techniques and formats, and by adapting reality.
At that time, as a result of the impact of a solo exhibition organised by the Galatea Gallery in Turin, the work of Antonio López was very well received in Italy and became part of several collections. This show featured various paintings from the late fifties that still had a surreal echo, as well as some pictures from the sixties that already had a realistic approach, accompanied by a few polychromed bas-reliefs in which the Italian public could found something familiar and appealing, given this sculptural technique has been closely linked with the art of that country since ancient times. However, this was a two-way affinity since the Italian art has had a great influence not only in the work of López, but also in that of the group of artists working about reality in Madrid and with whom he has a strong bond of friendship and fellowship. This influence was not limited to the arts, given the Italian Neorealist Cinema of the forties, which portrays reality with great fidelity and expressiveness, had also a big impact on them. This was due precisely to its objective and straightforward approach that was also shared by the group of Madrid Realists in their representations, expressing unadorned and unmitigated life.
In 1970, Antonio became represented by the Marlborough Gallery, which today remains his gallery. Three years later the gallery organised a major collective exhibition devoted to Spanish Realism at its London headquarters to introduce the two main generations of Spanish Realist painters and sculptors of the time, including Antonio López. In 1974, he received the Award of the City of Darmstadt for the double portrait in polychromed wood, Antonio y Mari (1968), which belongs to the Städtische Kunstsammlung in that city that has deposited it at the Hessisches Landesmuseum. A few years later, in 1983, he received the Gold Medal of Merit in the Fine Arts of Spain and the Pablo Iglesias Prize in the Visual Arts.
1985 was a significant year in the career of Antonio López. It was then when the Juan March Foundation organised his first retrospective exhibition in Spain at the Museum of Albacete. That same year, he was selected to represent Spain along with Eduardo Chillida and Antoni Tàpies in the important Spanish art show Europalia 85. Spain, held in Brussels and other Belgian cities, and that resonated with critics. This year he was also bestowed with the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts, one of the most prestigious artistic prizes in Spain.
In 1986, the Marlborough Gallery presented his solo exhibition at its headquarters in New York and London. During 1990, the film director Víctor Erice filmed the movie The Quince Tree Sun, showing the creative process of Antonio López, which after its release in 1992 was awarded the Prize of the International Critics and the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival of that year; with the Golden Hugo for best fiction film at the International Film Festival Chicago 1992 and with the Award for Best Film of the decade by the Cinematheque Ontario in 1999.
In 1993, the Centro Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía Museum organised his first major retrospective exhibition, showing almost his entire production, featuring one hundred and seventy works including drawings, sketches, paintings and sculptures. This exhibition marked the definitive recognition of his work. That same year he was appointed Fellow of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.
In 1995, he represented Spain at the Venice Biennale together with Antonio Saura, Eduardo Arroyo and Andreu Alfaro Two years later he was elected member of the Board of Trustees of the Prado Museum, a position that he held until May 2009. In 1999, the City Council of Valladolid commissioned Antonio López and Francisco and Julio López Hernández with a monumental sculpture in bronze representing the seated figures of the King and Queen of Spain. This was the first sculpture carried out as a collective work for the three sculptors. The sculpture was inaugurated in 2001 at its current location, the Cloisters of the Museum of San Benito in Valladolid –today Patio Herreriano.
In October 2001, the Centro Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía Museum organized a presentation to exhibit the pair of sculptures Hombre y Mujer along with nineteen of their preparatory drawings, which had just become part of the museum collection thanks to the bequest of Repsol YPF. In this manner they joined three other important works by Antonio López already in the museum's permanent collection: Los novios (1955), Madrid desde el Cerro del Tío Pío (1962-1963) and Madrid desde Capitán Haya (1987-1994). In recent years this institution has acquired another important works of the artist. In 2004, in recognition of his work, he was appointed Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York. In July of that year he received the Medal of Honour from the Menéndez Pelayo International University and, in September, the City of Alcalá de Henares Arts Award.
In 2006, he installed the largest urban painting he has made to date, Madrid desde la torre de bomberos de Vallecas, in the Madrid Assembly, which exceeds four meters wide and represents almost the entire surface of the city seen from the Fire Tower in Vallecas. In addition to documenting the city, hence representing its most characteristic buildings with the definition that this aim required, it also includes a large study of light and of the sky, which do not escape pollution, thus achieving a fully truthful and recognizable image of Madrid. In June of that year, he received the Velázquez Prize for Plastic Arts, the highest honour in the Fine Arts conferred by the Government of Spain.
In 2008, he completed his first solo public sculpture commission: two monumental bronze heads of three meters high representing his baby granddaughter. These works, El Día and La Noche, were then installed in their first location at the Atocha station in Madrid: the entrance hall to the platforms. They are currently placed outside the station. These sculptures inspired him to start working in different sculptural works focused on the human figure. In April 2008, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston dedicated him a solo exhibition that garnered him international critical acclaim, in parallel with a historical exhibition that dealt with Spanish art during the reign of Philip III: El Greco to Velazquez Art During the Reign of Philip III.
In February 2010, he received the Penagos Drawing Prize from the Mapfre Foundation in Madrid. In October of that same year, it is inaugurated his second public sculpture, La mujer de Coslada, in the Avenue of La Constitución of that Madrilenian municipality.
In June 2011, it was inaugurated at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum a solo exhibition that brought together a retrospective view of his work along with the presentation of his latest creations, which had not yet seen the light. This show, which was also displayed from October 2011 to January 2012 at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, confirmed the enormous interest that his work arouses among the public and critics, both nationally and internationally. Success continued with his travelling individual exhibition by several museums in Japan during 2013, starting on April 27 at the Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo. The following year, he was invited by Vittorio Sgarvi to participate in the renowned Festival La Milanesiana 2014, which dedicated him a special exhibition in which his painting La cena (The Supper) and its preparatory drawing were exhibited in front of Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus, thus enabling a new reading of these works.
In December 2014, Antonio delivered the painting La Familia de Juan Carlos I (The family of Juan Carlos I), a work of great complexity that required him a lot of dedication, and in which he had worked interruptedly during the previous twenty years. It is a painting of great magnitude, both because it is a portrait of the Royal Family, which joins it to the portraits of the Spanish monarchs painted by artists from past centuries, but also because its large size (300 x 340 cm) and for the reason that he had worked through photographs, delving tirelessly into the composition, without doing so directly from life. This work was presented to the public within the framework of an exhibition dedicated to Royal Portraiture organized by Spanish National Heritage in the Royal Palace of Madrid: El retrato en las colecciones reales. De Juan de Flandes a Antonio López. During the same month, a solo show was dedicated to him in Vicenza, Italy, under the title Antonio López García. Il silenzio della realtà. La realtà del silenzio, which lasted nearly three months. While it had certain retrospective character, the spotlight focused on his sculptures and some recent oil drawings, dealing both with the naked human form. In this way, after more than forty years since his last solo exhibition in that country, Antonio López showed his latest work to the Italian public, who gave him a great welcome. In parallel and in the same city, it was organized a group exhibition devoted to the night; Tutankhamon, Caravaggio, Van Gogh. La será e i notturni dagli Egizi al Novecento. It featured works of great international artists of the past and contemporary, including Zurbarán, Van Gogh, Rothko or Francis Bacon, and in which Antonio López participated with four works.
In February 2016, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid devoted an exhibition titled Realistas de Madrid to the group of fellow artists and friends who have worked in figuration from the fifties and sixties in Madrid. This was a new opportunity for the public to see the work of Antonio, along with that of his fellow artists Isabel Quintanilla, Francisco and Julio López, María Moreno, Amalia Avia and Esperanza Parada, thus providing a comparison between their different attitudes regarding the themes and technique, but also to see their points of convergence.
In October 2017, he received the title of Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos de Valencia.
Beatriz Hidalgo Caldas