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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Painting Viciously: Antonio Saura’s Monsters and The Francoist Dictatorship (1939-1975)

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In 1950s and 1960s Europe, painting monsters was trendy. From Enrico Baj’s nuclear creatures to Jean Dubuffet’s ghostly portraits, and passing through Asger Jorn’s graffiti-like beasts, monsters became one of the most popular pictorial elements to convey the existentialist mood of the Post-World War II period. In this article, I address how the Spanish informalist painter Antonio Saura followed such trend. The painting of monsters was an idiosyncratic trait of Saura’s oeuvre, but also a way to ideologically discredit the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco (1939-1975). The painter’s “cruel look,” as Saura himself called it, became a plastic strategy that allowed him to renegotiate some of the ideological cornerstones that the Francoist regime promoted as the essence of Spain’s national identity and its cultural tradition. As I show, by deforming Spanish historical figures, artworks, and sacred images, Saura battled the colonial, catholic, and obscurantist interpretation of Spain’s history that the regime promoted. By coming up with an art genealogy based on this “cruel look,” Saura intended to release some of the most important Spanish artists, such as Velázquez, Goya, and Picasso, from the ties of Francoist historiography in order to reformulate the country’s national identity in existentialist terms.

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