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 that began on July 17 with the army uprising. The war ended three years later, on April 1, 1939, and ushered in a long military dictatorship led by Francisco Franco that lasted thirty-seven years. Regardless, Antonio López remembers his childhood in the village as happy and peaceful. He began artistic training in his hometown with his uncle, the painter Antonio López Torres. During the summer of 1949, drawing became an increasingly pleasurable activity for Antonio. He spent hours copying plates that reproduced nineteenth-century paintings. After observing his drawing talent, his uncle guided him in his first drawings and paintings after nature. In October of that same year, his uncle convinced his 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, Antonio worked primarily on drawing after statues; through copying casts at the Museum of Artistic Reproductions, then located in the Casón del Buen Retiro, and by attending the afternoon courses of the School of Arts and Crafts.
From then on, he met those who became his friends and principal generation colleagues. These were the brothers and sculptors, Julio and Francisco López Hernández, the painters Joaquín Ramo, Enrique Gran, and Lucio Muñoz, and the painter and writer Francisco Nieva, among others. Later, the painters María Moreno, Isabel Quintanilla and Amalia Avia joined the circle of friends. At fourteen, Antonio passed the entrance examination for San Fernando Arts School. There he completed 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 General Directorate of Fine Arts gallery along with Francisco and Julio López Hernández and Lucio Muñoz –the latter's style was already heading towards abstraction.
After graduating, Antonio returned to Tomelloso and prepared his first solo exhibition at the Ateneo, in Madrid, in December 1957. It allowed him to settle back in Madrid. In 1958, he won the Still Life category of the Fine Arts competition of the Rodríguez Acosta Foundation. He used the institution's travelling scholarship to travel to Greece, again accompanied by Francisco López, with whom Antonio had visited Rome in 1955 thanks to another scholarship from the Ministry of Education. Until 1960, Antonio lived between Tomelloso and Madrid, the two most meaningful places for him artistically and residentially. During this period, the happy memories of his childhood and adolescence in Tomelloso inspired him to create many works featuring the town and the things or people who accompanied him there. His works from that time are entirely figurative. He developed a variety of topics ranging from Still Lifes with some fantastic nature, cheerful plant motifs, and portraits full of strength and expression. He also developed a series of paintings in which the city or the landscape are the backgrounds of the figures and the Still Lifes. His artistic production during these years included elements of different artistic movements such as Cubism and Surrealism. The latter was the most frequent as it helped him reinforce the narrative character of the works. Sculpture already took up a substantial 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.
He began painting Madrid in 1960, where the city is the protagonist. It became a theme that has been a big part of his output throughout his career. The sixties marked his definitive step into objective reality representation, which occurred gradually. Over this period, he alternated works in which the focus was already an unadulterated reality with others in which surreal elements still appeared.
In 1961, he received a grant from the Juan March Foundation. Years later, this institution incorporated Antonio's painting Figuras en una Casa (1967) into its collection. 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 "Juana Mordó Gallery" in Madrid. International contacts from this gallery provided Antonio with several exhibitions, especially in Germany and the United States. These shows helped his artworks become part of international collections and museums. Contemporary Spanish Realist Art aroused widespread interest in Germany, first by art dealer Ernesto Wuthenow. This appeal continued well into the eighties and crystallized in numerous group exhibitions. These included works by the painters Antonio López Torres, Isabel Quintanilla, María Moreno, the sculptor Francisco López, and Antonio López. Of note are the exhibitions devoted to international contemporary sculpture and painting held at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh in 1964 and 1967. In addition, there was 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 taught the Preparatory Course of Colour at the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid. He left this chair to devote himself entirely to his career. However, he has continued to teach sporadically at various cultural institutions.
During the sixties, his works encompassed a variety of subjects: portraits of people around him, interiors, vegetal themes, and cityscapes, all painted directly from the motif. These works were often interrupted and resumed over an extended period. In the late sixties, drawing took up more time and space in his production. He created several autonomous drawings depicting the interiors and bathrooms of the places where his life and work occurred. Specifically, his deep dedication to drawing was crucial to his painting purging. His paintings' composition became more apparent as the paint coating gradually lightened. During this phase, he worked equally in all three artistic languages that helped him express and communicate his subjects: drawing, painting, and sculpture.
Throughout these years, Antonio López participated in numerous group exhibitions and a few solo shows. Of the latter, those organized by the Staempfli Gallery in New York in 1965 and 1968 were most prominent because they had a significant impact. Both exhibitions brought him international recognition while opening the way for his works into various American collections interested in Spanish Realist Art. This interest coincided with the rise of realistic and hyper-realistic styles in the United States. His next solo exhibition was outside Spain, at the Parisian gallery Claude Bernard in 1972. Over this period, he continued making drawings and oil paintings with intense realism in which the interiors and windows of his studio were the protagonists. Antonio worked exhaustively on these artworks over long periods, using different techniques and formats, and adjusting to reality, achieving precise light studies.
His solo exhibition at the Galatea Gallery in Turin sparked a positive reception of his art in Italy, where his work became part of several collections. Among the paintings in the exhibition were some from the late fifties with a surreal undertone. It also displayed various pictures from the sixties with a realistic approach and some polychrome bas-reliefs. Italian public found something familiar and appealing in the latter, given that this sculptural technique has been closely linked with Italian art since ancient times. Italian art influenced Madrid's realist artists, including Antonio López. With these artists, he had a strong bond of friendship and fellowship. Besides art, the Italian Neorealist Cinema of the forties impacted them profoundly because it captured reality with high fidelity and expressiveness. In their unadorned and without redeeming features representations of life, the Madrid Realists shared Neorealist cinema's objective and straightforward approach.
In 1970, Antonio became represented by the Marlborough Gallery, which today remains his gallery. Three years later, Marlborough prepared a major collective exhibition devoted to Spanish Realism at its London headquarters. The show introduced the two main generations of Spanish Realist painters and sculptors of the time, including Antonio López. In 1974, he received the Darmstadt City Award for his double portrait in polychromed wood, Antonio y Mari (1968). The portrait belongs to the Städtische Kunstsammlung in that city that 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 Antonio López's career. The Juan March Foundation organized Antonio's first retrospective exhibition in Spain at the Albacete Museum. That same year, he was selected to represent Spain along with Eduardo Chillida and Antoni Tàpies in the Spanish art show "Europalia 85 Spain". This show was held in Brussels and other Belgian cities and resonated with critics. This year, he was also awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts, one of the most prestigious Spanish art prizes.
In 1986, the Marlborough Gallery presented his solo exhibition at its headquarters in New York and London. Then, in 1990, the movie director Víctor Erice filmed the film The Quince Tree Sun, showing the creative process of Antonio López. After its release in 1992, the movie was awarded the Prize of the International Critics and the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival of that year; together 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.
The Centro Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía Museum arranged his first major retrospective exhibition in 1993, showing almost his entire production. Displaying a hundred and seventy works that included drawings, sketches, paintings, and sculptures. This exhibition brought recognition to his work. He became a member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid that same year.
Antonio was chosen for the exhibition "Identità e alterità", curated by Jean Claire, in 1995. First hosted at the Palazzo Grassi, then at the Museo Correr, both in Venice, Italy. Antonio was elected two years later to the Prado Museum board of trustees, a post he held until May 2009. Then, in 1999, the City Council of Valladolid commissioned Antonio López and Francisco and Julio López Hernández with a monumental bronze statue of the King and Queen of Spain seated. It was the first sculpture made as a group work by these three sculptors. The statue was installed in 2001 in the cloister of the Museum of San Benito in Valladolid - now the Patio Herreriano.
In October 2001, the Centro Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía Museum organized a presentation to exhibit the pair of his sculptures, Hombre y Mujer, along with nineteen preparatory drawings, which had just become part of the museum collection thanks to the donation of Repsol YPF. In this manner, they joined three other significant 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 other notorious pieces 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, 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, thus depicting its most characteristic buildings with the definition that this aim required, it also includes a substantial study of the light and the sky, which do not escape pollution, thus achieving a 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 three meters high representing his baby granddaughter. These works, El Día y La Noche, were then installed in their first location at Atocha station in Madrid - the entrance hall to the train platforms. They are currently outside the station. These sculptures inspired him to work on different sculptural works focused on the human figure. In April 2008, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston dedicated to Antonio a solo exhibition that garnered him international critical acclaim. In parallel, the museum hosted a historical show dealing with Spanish art during Philip III's reign: 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, La mujer de Coslada, his second public sculpture, was inaugurated on the Avenue of La Constitución of that Madrilenian municipality.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum opened Antonio's solo exhibition in June 2011. This exhibit brought together a retrospective view of his work and the presentation of his latest creations, which had not yet seen the light. From October 2011 to January 2012, this show was also displayed at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, confirming the enormous interest his work aroused among the public and critics, both nationally and internationally. Success continued with his travelling exhibition held at several museums in Japan during 2013, starting on April 27 at the Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo. The following year, Vittorio Sgarbi invited him to participate in the renowned Festival La Milanesiana 2014, which dedicated to him a special exhibition in which his painting La Cena and its preparatory drawing were exhibited in front of Caravaggio 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 complex work that required dedication, and he worked intermittently for twenty years. It is a painting of significant magnitude, not only because it is a portrait of the Royal Family, which links it to Spanish monarchy portraits painted by artists from past centuries, but also due to its large size - 300 x 340 cm. In this painting, the artist incorporated countless hours of effort into the composition by working from photographs instead of drawing from life. This picture was shown to the public at an exhibition about royal portraiture organized by Spanish National Heritage at the Royal Palace of Madrid. The exhibition was entitled El Retrato en las colecciones reales. 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", lasting nearly three months. While it had some retrospective character, the spotlight focused on his sculptures and various recent oil drawings, both dealing with the naked human form. Antonio López showed his latest work to the Italian public more than forty years after his last solo exhibition there. They gave him a warm welcome. In parallel and in the same city, an exhibition dedicated to the night was held: Tutankhamon, Caravaggio, and Van Gogh. La será e i notturni dagli Egizi al Novecento. In addition to works by Zurbarán, Van Gogh, Rothko, and Francis Bacon, Antonio López contributed four artworks to the exhibit.
In February 2016, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid exhibited Realistas de Madrid, a show about figurative artists from the fifties and sixties who worked in Madrid. This exhibit was a new opportunity for the public to see Antonio's work, 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 themes and technique, but also to see their points of convergence.
In September 2017, his most extensive public sculpture to date, La mujer del Almanzora, was erected between the Casa Ibáñez Museum and the Pérez Siquier Center in Olula del Río, Almería. He published his first artist book, Cuerpos y Flores, with Artika Publishing House on the same date. In October of the same year, he received the title of Honourary Academician from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos de Valencia.
The following year, he was awarded several prizes: Doctor Honoris Causa from the Complutense University, Madrid; the Medal of Honour from Carlos III University, Madrid, and the Collegiate of Honour from the Madrid College of Architects.
On April 26, 2019, an individual exhibition opened at Silos Monastery. While focusing on some of his latest flower works, including a large part of his Rosas de Ávila series, it also fitted some of his representations of children. This selection gave an intimate and contemplative character to the show. After almost six months, it closed on October 13, 2019.
On February 17, 2020, his wife, the painter María Moreno, died at 86. In September 2020, the Bancaja Foundation in Valencia opened a retrospective exhibit curated by Tomás and Boye Llorens. The show included a wide choice of recent and in-process works by Antonio. The exhibition also displayed a selection of works by María Moreno in two rooms. Although the show coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, it was developed with the necessary measures and restrictions, achieving an excellent turnout that enabled its extension until February 28, 2021.
From April 19 to June 20, 2021, the Region of Madrid government dedicated a tribute exhibition to Antonio. His monumental sculptures, Carmen Awaken and Carmen Asleep, were displayed on the patio of the institution's headquarters in the Real Casa de Correos at Puerta del Sol Square, Madrid.
In February 2023, on the occasion of the ARCO art fair, El Corte Inglés paid tribute to Antonio by holding an exhibition of his sculptures in the windows of its building on Calle Preciados in Madrid. It is the same building from which he paints the Gran Vía Flight every summer. At the same time, El Corte Inglés dedicated the ARCO stand to him. A six-meter wide reproduction of his painting Madrid Sur, finished in 2022, occupied all the space.
The same year, he collaborated with the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona in the production of Franz Schubert's Winterreise recital. Tal Rosner used photographs of Antonio's artworks in a video that served as the scenery for the concert under Bárbara Lluch, the stage director, held in the former Model prison in Barcelona on March 23, 24 and 25. In addition, the Liceu organized an individual exhibition in the fifth gallery of the ex-jail, converted into a cultural centre, that lasted three weeks. Antonio's works were displayed inside prison cells, giving them new meaning and context.
Source: Based on the biography published in the TF 2011 book, reformed, expanded and translated by Beatriz Hidalgo Caldas
Date: April 2023