(By Sebastià Roig/Ara) An exhibition in Cadaqués proclaims the Catalan artistic style of a cosmopolitan and defiant creator, who was capable of raising the local to the universal.
An undeniable stereotype associates Cadaqués with Dalí‘s mustache. Few tourists know, however, that this corner of the world was also home to Marcel Duchamp and Richard Hamilton. The difference, of course, is that they lived discreetly and without seeking the limelight.
To understand this paradox, there’s no better way than to visit the Hamilton Cadaqués exhibition at the Galeria Cadaqués through 14 September. Commissioned by gallery owner and art dealer Huc Malla, and Vicenç Altaió, trader in ideas, the exhibition aims to highlight the Catalan artistry of Hamilton. “That Hamilton was a Catalan artist — points out Altaió– was always heralded by artists, but not by society. Our bourgeoisie, surely because of Francoism, has always turned its back on the avant-garde”.
Richard Hamilton (London, 1922-2011), painter, printmaker, photographer and pioneer of pop art, arrived in Cadaqués on 28 July 1963 to visit Marcel Duchamp, who since 1958 had spent his summers there with his wife Teeny. It did not take much to make friends with other artists, architects, and art collectors, so in 1969 he ended up buying a house next to the church. “Cadaqués was his place of silence, of work. He created pieces here that deal with the theme of the loss of identity of the subjects, or the death of artwork. People see him as a maker of icons, but that’s not what he is: he is an intellectual”.
The good friend Bombelli
Swiss architect Lanfranco Bombelli was a key character in the projection of the small Empordà town to the international artistic community. In 1973 Bombelli opened the Galeria Cadaqués, a groundbreaking multidisciplinary space, where he presented the works of Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Kitaj, and Dieter Roth. Hamilton became his star artist: he had fourteen exhibitions there.
Huc Malla states that “Bombelli was Hamilton’s great friend. When I asked him for an original piece for a homage to Bombelli, he said “I would do almost anything for him”. And he gave me the piece for free”. The work, unseen until now, is a set of cross-references between the Modernism of Gaudí, Duchamp’s girl on a staircase, and a painting of Bombelli’s. “Hamilton, with his usual irony, hung it a little crooked. When Bombelli –who is very careful and rational– saw it, he exclaimed “My picture is crooked!””.
Dung, altar pieces, and barks
Many of Hamilton’s pieces have Cadaqués as their designation of origin. This, however, doesn’t mean that they lose their cosmopolitanism, sense of transgression, or universality. Sunrise (1974) exemplifies this ability to transcend the local nicely: Hamilton takes a postcard of the town, and with an irreverent and scatological sleight of hand, superimposes a piece of dung over the silhouette of the church.
Altaió makes an interesting point: “An artist does not show his love for a particular place by exalting small town tastes, but rather by showing a tension between his love for the place and abomination, contempt. Hamilton doesn’t reveal the qualities of the colors of twilight by praising the church, but instead by putting a turd on it. It’s a Dada-ist act. And one of love, but he shows it through humor and not with mimetic fidelity”.
Another important work is Altar-Piece (1981), back for the occasion, which served to announce the 10th Cadaqués International Music Festival. Music, in fact, was also present in Hamilton’s collaborations with Swiss artist Dieter Roth. Today people still remember an exhibition for dogs, organized by the duo in 1976, in which all of the works were hung at a height convenient for animals. To round off the joke, they recorded “Songs from Cadaqués” (1. Barks from Cadaqués; 2. Hunderlieder), two singles in which the artists sang and played the guitar, accompanied by the persistent barks of the dog Chispas Luis. The three artists signed some copies with finger- (or paw-) prints.
Pastiches of pastis
The day that Hamilton discovered a poster for Ricard, he proposed to Bombelli that they modify the logo to make it read Richard. Their game became enamel plaques –Sign– and silkscreens –Advertisement– (1975). They also produced bottle and ashtray merchandise with the Hamiltonian logo.
Huc Malla remembers: “Paul Ricard had designed the plaque personally, and he really liked the idea. The exhibition lasted only one day, and Paul Ricard sent a car that drove around the town giving people a drink of pastis. The public saw the car parked in front of the gallery, so they entered and saw plaques, ashtrays and bottles, and didn’t understand anything. In the Vinçon shop they had the original ashtrays and bottles; at that moment they added some of the modified ones to play along with the game of confusion. Hamilton had a very fine sense of humor.”