Thomas Monahan

Fine Art

Pablo Echaurren

Pablo Echaurren (born in Rome in 1951) was attending his final year of secondary school when, through Gianfranco Baruchello, he came into contact with the Milanese critic and gallerist Arturo Schwarz, a patron of Italian Dada and Surrealism, who began buying his early works.

Around 1970, he had already refined his own style, creating his first “small square paintings”, small watercolour and glaze pictures where the image is fragmented and inscribed in tiny squares defined by broken lines (in comics, the broken line is used to represent thought), notched like a sheet of postage stamps. In these works, images drawing on themes such as the every-day and the private, the prehistoric and the interplanetary, current political events and the erotic are gathered together as a sum of parts, like a way of recreating the simultaneity and complexity of reality, the title of which offers, with studied effect, its interpretive angle.

At the same time, Pablo was working on a different project, one more minimalist and “poor” in character, where he signalled an interest in Cy Twombly’s work and the writings of Gastone Novelli, making a series of drawings projecting the shadow cast by plants onto a sheet of paper and tracing its outline with a pencil: a picture-game, accompanied by a method of rubbing petals and leaves on the paper to create patches of natural colour.
In 1973, Achille Bonito Oliva invited him to participate in Contemporanea (in the section outside the catalogue, Aria aperta), a frontier exhibition in the underground parking lot of the Villa Borghese, which brought together the best of the international scene. Between 1973 and 1975 he showed his work in Basel, Philadelphia, Zurich, Berlin, New York and Brussels and in 1975 he was invit- ed to participate in the Paris Biennial.

In 1974, he held a solo show at the Schwarz gallery, presented in the catalogue by Henry Martin, who located his work within the avant-garde tradition. “The use of multiple images,” he noted, “is at the basis of the attempt of all of the art of the twentieth century to deal with simultaneity: analytic cubism, Futurism, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and all the various forms of kinetic art.” His tutelary deities were Oyvind Fahlström and Gianfranco Baruchello, from whom he borrowed the choice to work in miniature and the idea of including written thought among the tools of pictorial language. But he was also drawn to Hokusai, with his clear, enchanted visions of nature and landscape.

In 1976 he used his “small square” formula for book cover designs for the far-left publishing house Savelli Editore, among which his design for Porci con le ali is still a kind of generational icon.
Not long after, Pablo decided the moment had arrived to abandon his role as “artist” and get involved with the so-called “Indiani Metropolitani” (Metropolitan Indians), an ironic and creative branch of the youth movement that emerged in 1977 and that, appropriating the aesthetic languages of the artistic avant-garde (nonsense, Dada and surrealist word games and methods of situationist alienation), sought to denounce the illusionistic world of the media and power in order to lay bare the mechanisms of consensus and a certain political rhetoric.

Two decades later, Maurizio Calvesi described that period as follows: “In a certain sense therefore the appearance of the Indiani Metropolitani was an epochal event, destined to deviate from a culture already on its way out and so metabolised in the action, from the binaries of art to those of life and existential consumption, with disintegrating effect. [...] Now we know that the author of a large part of the graphic material published in the magazines of the “movement”, especially Roman ones, was one artist: Pablo Echaurren, who later displayed a vivid and vital interest in Futurism, with the production of a wonderful graphic story about the life of Marinetti” (Vent’anni dopo, from the exhibition catalogue Oltreconfine. Indiani metropolitani, maodadaisti e altri avventuristi a Roma, Museo laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea of “La Sapienza” University, Rome, 1998).

Pablo’s published and unpublished work connected to his “Indiani Metropolitani” activity has been purchased by the Beinecke Library at Yale University, where the curator Kevin Repp is researching the artists involved in the counterculture movements of the period after World War II, with a special focus on the year 1977 in Italy.
In 1978, he collaborated in the founding of satirical periodicals like “L’avventurista” and “Il male” (from which he immediately disengaged), which expressed that taste for the sneer spread by the “Indiani Metropolitani”. But he soon exchanged the scenario and space for the lightness and irony that get increasingly smaller to the point of losing feasibility. And so Pablo began a critical phase and period marked by reappraisal that led him back to the pictorial work that he had temporarily abandoned to dissolve his own artistic individuality in the magma of diffuse and collective creativity.

The comic strip, as often noted in the criticism, was from the very beginning a point of reference in his pictorial works, a repertory to be drawn from. These influences have been explicitly confirmed by the artist himself, who confesses having drawn more than a little inspiration from Hergè’s Tintin and the landscape views that this artist included in his comic strips. But it was not until the 1980s that he came to produce, with the help of Vincenzo Mollica, true comic strip work, creating avant-garde counter-comics for such periodicals as “Linus”, “Alter Alter” and “Frigidaire”.

His production during these years was increasingly marked the influences of both the high and the low, art and applied art, in the conviction that there are no boundaries between expressive genres.

Between 1989 and 1990, he worked on a series of large canvases, on the backgrounds of which, painted with patches that evoke the gestural character of abstract expressionism, float urban graffiti, deletions of political messages, stereotypical signs of our communication system and comic strip elements as well as Medieval allegorical images. Moreover, on the urging of Enzo Biffi Gentili, he began working in ceramics for the first time, drawing the attention of Giovannni Testori, according to whom “as in only a very few cases, we see in the ceramics of Pablo Echaurren the unearthing of the most secret and trembling inventions and beauties of certain stylistic and pictorial combinations of ancient Pre-Columbian art. That immense roar of the everyday and of religiosity, of dramatic force and of irony, appears in his work with absolute naturalness” (catalogue La via della sete, Faenza, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1992).

Another aspect of his creative path is represented by the collage. After the first minimalist experiments of the late 1970s, the artist produced a series of works in which he assembled comics and old Futurist cards, which he displayed at a solo show in 1995 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome (Pablo Echaurren iconoclasta). This ars combinatoria sought to stun and disorient, brazenly mixing the sacred and the profane through bold pairings in an ironic and irreverent game.

But what Echaurren learned above all from the teachings of the historic avant-gardes was to see artistic practice as a diffuse, contaminating, choral activity. This is the perspective into which one should insert his long creative activity in straitened social contexts, like his collaboration with the “Sensibili alle foglie” collective or the workshop held with a group of detainees at the Roman prison in Rebibbia for the municipality of Rome. Following the latter experience a few books emerged on the prison environment as well as a television special, Piccoli ergastoli (Little Lifers), that was presented at the Venice Film Festival in 1997 and at the International Festival in Biarritz in 1998.

The first years of the twenty-first century saw him engaged in painting a new cycle of canvases centred on the theme of monstrum, resulting in disturbing visions that freely mix descents into underworlds of the most macabre dream states, ancient drôlerie, comic strip interjections, punk coarseness and figures rooted in popular culture, from the gothic tradition to the Pre-Columbian imagination, in an Arcimboldesque confusion of borrowings, debts and influences. These works came together in survey exhibitions held in Rome (curated by Fabio Benzi, Gianluca Marziani, Federica Pirani, Chiostro del Bramante, 2004) and Siena (curated by Claudia Casali, Magazzini del Sale, 2008).

Also dating to this period is a series of works inspired by the Ramones, the New York punk bank to which he dedicated his solo show Al ritmo dei Ramones/To the beat of the Ramones (curated by Achille Bonito Oliva, Auditorium, Rome 2006) and the film The Holy Family (with Uliano Paolozzi Balestrini), which involved the participation of Marky Ramone, the band’s drummer. This creative period was almost entirely dominated by a passion for music and the electric bass guitar (which he collects, along with Futurist books). This passion gave rise to the exhibitions L’invenzione del basso/The invention of the bass guitar (Auditorium, Rome 2009) and Baroque’n’Roll (curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, MACRO, Rome 2011).

Finally, one should note two major surveys: Crhomo Sapiens (curated by Nicoletta Zanella, Museo Fondazione, Rome, 2010-2011) and Lasciare il segno/Leave a mark (curated by Claudio Spadoni, MAR, Ravenna 2011). Matta: Roberto Sebastian Matta, Gordon Matta Clark, Pablo Echaurren (curated by Danilo Eccher, Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice, 2013)

A selection of works