Antonio Lopez (b. 1936), Madrid desde Torres Blancas; signed and dated `A. Lopez Garcia, 1976-82' (lower left), oil on board, 57.1/8 x 96.1/8in. (145 x 244cm.) Painted in 1976-82. Sold: $2,760,803. © Christie's Images Limited.
LONDON - An early highlight of this evening’s auction was Madrid desde Torres Blancas by Antonio Lopez (b. 1936) which sold for £1,385,250 / $2,760,803 / ˆ1,744,030, becoming the most expensive work by a living Spanish artist sold at auction.
Created over a period of six years between 1976-82, Madrid desde Torres Blancas is one of Antonio López García's finest urban views. This vast, imposing vista is a product of the painter's devotion to the world of sense and feeling, and his almost obsessional focus on the objects within it. Like many Spanish artists who came of age during the Franco era, López García is not widely known outside Spain, where his penetrating approach, as well as his exceptional skill, has singled him out as one of the country's most revered painters. The reason for his limited exposure to the international art world lies in his painstaking painterly process -- he can often take years, even decades, to capture his impressions of reality and the irredeemable passing of time. Madrid desde Torres Blancas is one such labour of love, a magnificent, sprawling panorama of Madrid that uses reality as the starting point for a celebration of the visual side of existence.
As a boy growing up in Tomelloso, a town south of Madrid, López García displayed a precocious ability to paint and draw which his uncle, a committed artist, recognized and encouraged. At the age of thirteen, in 1949, López García's parents sent him to Madrid to study fine arts, and for much of his adult life the city has remained his home and his muse. Drawing his inspiration from painters such as Velázquez and Vermeer, López García's studies of his home, his studio and the city that surrounds him underscore his dedicated interest in emphatically prosaic subject matter, to which he lends an immense gravity that encourages the viewer to re-examine the presence of ordinary objects. López García is keenly aware of the artistic lineage of which he is a part, and has continually aspired to the humanism and haunting realism of the Spanish old masters in particular: 'The measure of Greek art is the gods; that of the art of Velázquez, men. With Greek art elevated concepts interfere.... In the great Spanish art--in Velázquez, Cervantes, Goya--nothing interferes. They give you realism with a purity, with a tuning to reality not merely physical but psychological. One finds this in no other art' (cited in J. E. Kauffman, 'The Timeless Realism of Antonio López García,' The World & I, Dec. 1991, pp. 235).
López García began to paint views of Madrid around 1960, a project that became progressively more ambitious in their macrocosmic perspectives and physical scale, culminating in the vast urban landscape that is Madrid desde Torres Blancas. For this work, López García returned to paint the aerial vista above one of Madrid's busiest roads, the Avenida de América, over different months and seasons, creating a pictorial palimpsest of atmospheric change. Delighting in every shade and nuance of light as it falls at different times of the day and year, the painter confuses the solitude of the streets in August with a bright June sky, whilst also noting an evening hour on a clock in the foreground. By compressing time into a single image, López García does not try to cage a particular moment as photography might, but acknowledges the ever-changing conditions of existence and his own unique vision of external reality. Despite the absence of sentimentality, López nonetheless conveys an intriguing empathy with his subject. Without aggrandizing or exaggerating what lies before him, López enhances our experience of this ordinary scene, penetrating beneath the surface of the time and place in which he lives to create an image that transcends regional boundaries in its emotional appeal. 'I try to transmit this deeper, intimate feeling through my art,' he explains of his ability to transfigure the ordinary. 'It's not just showing things. It can be a mystery, this process of expressing that deepness, that inner feeling' (cited in G. Edgers, 'A Slow, Steady Hand', The Boston Globe, 6 April 2008, on www.boston.com
Exhibited extensively since it's completion, Madrid desde Torres Blancas formed a centrepiece of López García's celebrated 1986 retrospective at the Marlborough Gallery in New York and London, for which Robert Hughes declared him to be the “greatest realist artist alive”. In a review of the show, Hughes went on to praise the painter's panorama of Madrid: 'Muted and austere, almost palpably grimy and smoggy, it sets forth miles of the dull high-rise architecture of Franco's economic boom with a dedication to truth that surpasses Canaletto's' (R. Hughes, 'The Truth in the Details', Time, 21 April, 1986). Despite his fastidious attention to the truth of what he sees, López García's painting technique is not enslaved to a meticulous attention to detail. In Madrid desde Torres Blancas, the painter creates the illusion of perfection through abstract passages of mosaic-like intricacy and broad brush marks that merely approximate the forms they are depicting. In this way, López García transcribes what he sees without denying the fiction of the painting's construction, which is unavoidably ruled by his own prejudices and preferences. The inherent subjectivity of the artist's process is further enhanced by the painting's many handwritten notes on the use of colour, the evolution of the light and the dates upon which he worked, thereby creating a visual diary that examines the relationship between art, reality and the psychology of perception. The quietude of the image suggests the experience of isolation in the great mass of the city, with the cluttered hive of human habitation offset against the wide smog inflected sky creating an image of melancholic beauty that testifies to the artist's lifelong appreciation of the sublime in the everyday.