Looking back over the year one of my most interesting rediscoveries in art has been with collage and photomontage artists. These types of artists have always held a backseat to my fascination with photographers who can miraculously tame the world into one photo at the click of a button but since I have opened the floodgates towards other disciplines such as graphic design - people like Gustave Klutsis, John Heartfield, Marianne Brandt and dozens of others are nudging their way to the forefront of my attention. Josep Renau is a name among that list that I discovered while reading the texts in the Revistas y Guerra 1936 - 1939, the fantastic book about the political magazines and newspapers that were published during the Spanish Civil War.
Renau was a founding member of the communist party in
After Franco’s Nationalists took power in 1939, Renau was exiled and took up residence in
His close proximity to the United States coupled with his long standing communism compelled him to aim a bitter attack that would expose America’s ‘way’ of militarism, racism, blind consumerism, sexism, and imperialism all wrapped up and treated to the not so subtle language of advertising. His was an art that asks us (or teaches us) to look under the thin veil of advertising and examine the rotting underbelly of reality.
Unlike John Heartfield whose cut and paste and retouching techniques tended to create a flatter sense of space, Renau layered his color and black and white elements so that our attention is being pulled back and forth from the foreground to background giving the effect of added dimension.
By using the saturated colors to seduce the viewer much like an advertising billboard does, Renau draws us into his world and then clubs you with his clashing of the self-centered American dream pitted against the dark realities of the world.
The dropping of the atomic bombs on
Of the reported 200 photomontages Renau made during his career, 69 appear under the series title of
48 full color reproductions appear in Josep Renau Fotomontador which was published in 1985 as a part of the Rio de Luz series from the Fondo de Cultura Economica in
In 1989, the IVAM Center Julio Gonzalez (Institut Valencia D’Art Modern) held an exhibition of Renau and published the first complete catalog Fata Morgana USA The
The best book on Renau also came from the
Here the entire Fata Morgana USA series is reproduced but what captures my interest more is seeing all of the poster designs he created during the Spanish Civil War and the Futuro magazine covers from WWII. These take the lessons of Russian constructivism and infuse them with a Latin American sensibility. This mostly felt when Renau includes characters whose eyes speak volumes. In classic Russian constructivism, Lenin or Stalin’s eyes look towards the greater, external future while Renau’s protagonists look inward, unafraid of personal feeling while at the same time looking to the collective benefit.
The IVAM Center, I guess since they were the repository of Renau’s archive after his death, has a third book on Renau called Josep Renau Fotomontador that was published in 2006 but I have not tracked down a copy and since the other two cover this territory it may be superfluous except for the Renau completist.
The last book I will mention is also from the
Including artists as diverse in discipline and idea from Paul Citeron to Fischli and Weiss it is broken into different chapters that cover the inhabitants, the streets, the architecture and even a chapter on the grotesque. Not just staying within the boundaries of collage as the book’s title may suggest, it presents artists like Lee Friedlander whose images often create a sense of collage even within one single photograph or George Grosz whose paintings have the same ‘cut and paste’ confusion of space and relationships.
I doubt that this could be found for 3 dollars but many of the IVAM catalogs including the Josep Renau titles I mention above as well as one on John Heartfield are available at very reasonable prices should you accept to pay the shipping fees from Spain.