Eduard Bigas – A portrait of the artist in three works
An essay by art historian and novelist Tom Pugh
“Christmas? I stop working for the sake of my partner and family. And sometimes – not often – for the sake of my sanity.”
The artist Eduard Bigas is a man in a hurry. A single life is too short to fathom all the mysteries of paint. The way ahead is obscured. The destination can never be reached. With luck, however, he believes that glimpses can be won through hard-work, experimentation and faith.
This sense of urgency, of mixed fear and hope, is visible everywhere in his art, from early drawings and collages to recent, major works such as the triptych ‘Continuous Present’, first shown at Galerie Kuchling, Berlin, in Spring 2017.
"Triptych Continuous Present"
Triptych Continuous Present 2016
In this piece, above all in the central panel, a lifetime’s dedication manifests itself in the way Bigas mixes media, working with graphite pencil, crayon and wax oil crayon on a background of oils. At first glance, his artistic vocabulary appears simple, a pared-down approach to line, colour and form; together, these elements form an extraordinarily rich, almost organic, language. The combination of media creates a feeling of intimacy. The strong sense of movement, across all three canvases, has an ambiguous quality; sometimes the various elements appear to be moving upward with energy and optimism. Sometimes they settle downward, disentangling and seeking space to reflect.
Bigas experiments obsessively. His studio, in an old factory in the north of Berlin, is filled with home-made colour charts. Detailed notes beneath each swatch explain exactly how he achieved the various effects.
The background of ‘Continuous Present’, painted in oils, has a similar texture to fine-grained wood, suffused with warm light. On the left of the canvas, a controlled explosion of colour draws the eye. On the right, two shapes – abstract but suggestive of the human form – are drawn together despite tangible trepidation, suggestive of the contradictory sensations one feels in the moment before a first kiss.
‘Continuous Present’ is superficially calm. The elements are held in check by the artist’s craft, but each still possesses its own, separate strength. It is easy to imagine them rebelling, shattering the fragile surface tension, engineering their own destruction in a bid for greater power.
In life, Bigas wears his heart on his sleeve. He speaks passionately, gesturing often, emotions and ideas in constant competition. His studio provides a disorientating contrast; this is a controlled environment, floors swept, paints in military order, brushes cleaned, dried and stored according to size.
In conversation, he is openly protective of his paintings, describing them as children. Attempts at analysis make him defensive, as if he fears the ‘science’ of art criticism might upset his faith in the magic of creation. On more than one occasion, he claims to believe that painting is just a way of escaping, which begs the question: from what?
Bigas was born in the small town of Palafrugell in Girona, Spain. He showed talent early – as well as an appreciation for the practical applications of art – producing superbly detailed drawings of superheroes for his classmates. Like the majority of his peers, Bigas left school at 16. He worked as a painter and decorator for several years, until a group of renowned artists in the region conspired to run him out of town:
“Modest Cuixart, Josep Martinell, Floreal, Tano Pisano, Rodolfo Candelaria. They supported me. They told me I had to leave if I wanted to realise my ambitions, even if it meant I could never come back. Cuixart, Martinell and Floreal have died in the years since. I miss them so much. I’m still trying to make them proud.”
Bigas travelled for several years – collages from this period often incorporate found elements from his ‘day job’ as a painter / decorator, including scraps of wallpaper and strips of braid – and produced four extraordinary sequences of drawings in which it is possible to trace his development from journeyman to master. In chronological order, these are the Palafrugell Drawings, the Sydney Drawings, the New York Drawings and the London Drawings.
Over time, these works develop in depth and tone. One can see the artist growing more confident and decisive. The compositions become more harmonious, the line more dynamic, imbued with its own internal logic and agency. The drawings, together with a number of larger scale paintings, soon began to draw notice. In 2007, Bigas was invited to stage a solo exhibition at Funcacio Cruixart in Barcelona, and another at the Brick Lane Gallery in London. Based in Berlin since 2012, he has exhibited at the Friedrichswerderscher Cemetary (2011), Kunsthaus Meinblau (2012), and Gallerie Kuchling (2013, 2014, 2017).
His growing reputation is deserved. His work stands out, not only for aesthetic and technical reasons, but for its emotional honesty, its faith in the fundamental generosity of the medium, and subsequent willingness to take risks. Bigas does not shy away from the world as he finds it, further undermining his claim that ‘painting is just a way of escaping’.
VIP" 2012, 100x80cm Oil, acrylic and ink on canvas
The canvas is 100x80cm. Five faceless figures stand on an abstract, dream-like background. They are shown from above, grouped in two clusters, and wearing identical black suits. From the way they are posed, they are clearly at a drinks party. An old woman stands in the left corner of the canvas, her back hunched and twisted, once colourful clothes worn and warped, three small coins in an outstretched palm. All but one of the men stand with their backs to her. The nearest is the most animated, wholly oblivious to her existence. The only figure facing the woman occupies the lower right corner. The distance allows him to stare at her calmly, looking without appearing to see.
The artist’s anger reveals itself gradually. The first reaction is aesthetic; the five men are differentiated, each with a distinct personality, and yet also part of a herd. Their suits are rendered in solid blocks of black ink – deep, solid – the men who wear them complacently aware of their privileged place in the world, and wholly convinced they have reached this place on personal merit alone.
The dreamlike background, rendered in oils, sharpens the impact of the tableau. Whilst not always as explicit as in ‘VIP’, this heightened tension between ‘dream’ and ‘reality’ is present in much of Bigas’ work. It is there in ‘Continuous Present’, discussed above, and in the painting which lent its name to his most recent solo exhibition: ‘the best of all possible
The elements of dream in these works serve a very specific purpose. Bigas is not interested in capturing dreams as people remember them – blurred, crumbling to pieces at the first attempt to grasp them. Nor are his paintings conscious attempts to construct a dreamscape in the way one might associate with an artist such as Dali. Bigas is aiming for something more ambitious, to produce a still taken directly from the dream state, to capture the moment at which we make sense of life on a level which defies rational analysis.
This approach is not without risk. To succeed, it relies on the expression of unqualified, unmediated emotion. His most recent paintings rarely include recognisable figurative elements (though they are always preoccupied with the human form, the curve of an arm or shoulder, sometimes open and welcoming, at others reserved and wary). Instead, in order to explore the exact point at which emotion (or ‘dream’) blurs objective engagement with ‘reality’ (or ‘life’), he has created his own artistic language.
In his most successful creations, this tension between ‘dream’ and ‘reality’ is almost unbearable – in the ‘kiss’ at the centre of ‘Present Continuous’ and the play of movement between the three canvases that make up the triptych, in the juxtaposition between the beggar woman and the suited men in ‘VIP’. It is the tension between what we want and what we have, and our fear that even this does not truly belong to us. It lies at the heart of Bigas’s work, and drives his restless determination to keep experimenting.
Diptych 2017 80x80cm Oil on canvas
This painting (80x80, oil on canvas) includes many of the artist’s trademark ingredients. A delicate handling of light and tone in the background. Exquisite draughtsmanship, attention to colour and detail in the foreground. A strong sense of movement and feel for organic form. This is the language in which Bigas expresses his artistic vision, but it is only half the story of ‘Diptych’, in which the artist boldly counters eloquence with silence. Here – as if worried that he has mastered his craft too completely, that he is in danger of realising his dream – he wields the brush as an instrument of destruction, using paint to obscure rather than reveal.
“I cut. It was hard, but that’s what makes it exciting.”
Bigas worked on ‘Diptych’ (2017) for several weeks. Finally satisfied with the result, he then painted over half the canvas, applying the paint thickly enough to create a visible edge where the two halves meet; that which the viewer can still see, and that which has been effaced. The painting is well-named; Bigas has made a single canvas into a diptych. Two paintings. An act of creation and an act of destruction leading to a new form. A new way of realising (in the literal sense of ‘making real’) that same eternal tension between ‘dream’ and ‘life’.
‘Diptych’ is the work of an artist willing to destroy, when that is the price of moving a step nearer the unreachable destination. The only guide on this journey is his absolute faith in the ability of his chosen medium to express ideas which are otherwise impossible to articulate, and emotions which it is otherwise impossible to suppress.