Antonio Segui Retrospektiva

   Feisty hat in a crowd
The artwork of Antonio Seguí

Antonio Seguí’s reputation has reached the Southern Slavic region already at the end of the ‘60s in the prior century. In addition to his artwork being reproduced in catalogues, international magazines, and reviews on the recent art aspiration, Seguí was also awarded in the Biennal of graphic work from 1969 in Ljubljana, had a solo exhibit in Belgrade in 1967, and his artwork was also shown in Zagreb in 1969 at the exhibit “Dimensions of reality”. Moreover, he also took part at the international summer exhibit in Vela Luka at the beginning of the ‘70s. The Argentinian’s opus, who is well accepted in Paris, has been marked by a significant phenomenon of new “figuration” and has been present as a very original, satiric, and with a partial perspective of today’s world and human’s existence.
Split now has an opportunity to see a shorten Seguí’s retrospective, a review of artwork techniques, formats, cycles, and phases, which encompasses the entire half of a century—from 1961 to 2010. During this time frame, the artist has shown a quite array of his self-expression to thematic skills, but he has also confirmed to have a clear continuity—or perhaps an emphasized dominant trait—of figurative orientation, preoccupation with human being and the environment, curiosity for crosscutting aspects of ordinary, passion for everyday life with taunt and sympathy at the same time, not to mention almost empathy with autobiographic traces.
Despite Seguí’s inspiration seeming anecdotal and narrative, linked with episodes and stories from stylized reality, his idea is eminently artistic and his performance always guided with certain compositional rules, clear awareness of the nature of material and surface, and particular individualistic graphics, confident manuscript which firmly defines shapes and secludes certain characters from the labyrinth and intertwines condensed surroundings. It is noteworthy to mention the artist’s abstractive beginnings and cadre experience, his research on planes and layers, and that after he mastered the academic construction (late modernism), he started to critically rethink the unsatisfied real world, and wish for humorous outperformance or sublimation of negative aspects of distant city and metropolitan elements.
When Seguí got introduced with the known reality at the beginning of the ‘60s, he also mixed his “abstract” beginnings to his artwork, such as independent lines, stains, inflicted things…A part of his artwork was done on old photographs or newspapers. In addition to letters and photo films, he also added new elements by attachment and with text writing he emphasized the semantic obsolete. He has been influenced by a number of famous artists such as Rembrandt or Spanish barocco, but he was especially impressed by the German expressionists—actually: Dadaistic style and Neue Sachlichkeit—series of Grosz and Dix. Even if Seguí wants to, he cannot hide the elements of comic strips, specific subdivision of cadres and types standardization.
We already mentioned that Seguí’s beginning coincides with the so called new figuration, a phenomenon with which Europe reacted on pop-art reversal with the aim to affirm the contemporary iconicity, but inside he requires creative motif transformations and additional fit into traditional characteristics of personal. This artist has introduced an indisputable skill of assimilating classical traits, but also refreshing traits of ironical, grotesque, and sardonic. The earliest work “Family de Felicitas” (Familia de Felicitas, 1961) is almost a hommage to previous artist with its atmosphere and chromatic homogeneity but with an evident parody purpose. “Box with Gentlemen” (Caja con Señores III, 1963) is already a step forward with pseudo-illusionary plans and emphasized caricature of stiff cheeks. “Little History” (Una pequeña historia, 1963-4) presents the flexibility of the artist’s hand and places where lines meet stereotypic of variations.
“Fierce Dispute” (Acalorada Discusión, 1966-67) is already on its way of tight collection of scenes and funny characters which the artist craved from wood and placed between two monochromatic rectangles. What is humorous about the scene are female legs in high heels located in the bottom while the upper part mostly includes male characters. In the wake of the dispute, certain individuals are pulling striped and dotted ties, and even four characters are defined with enormous male hats. Very little paintings and drawings from the artist’s later period will not have characters with big hats; there will always be one character like that called Gustav, which serves as an emblem, even as a mascot or alter ego, an ideal presenter of the author’s micro-universe.
The aim of the title “Feisty hat in a crowd” is not to focus on a story or spectacle. Moreover, some of Seguí’s titles are indeed explicit: “History without a Story” (Una historia sin cuento, 1966) or “It’s on You to Make up a Story” (A vous de faire l'histoire, 1967). On the other side, stepping away from characters, the artist sometimes gave himself in to non-figurative or “constructive” motifs. For example, the work “Overlapping of Hats” (Piegamiento de chambergos, 1967) or, the current “Projection of Hats” (Proyección de Gorras, 1967). The attribute of the hat and crowded momentum are symbols of uniqueness and multitude of elements, while “good standing” for us mean the use of compositional solutions, matching of traits usually not compatible.
Works such as “Villa on the Lake” (Villa del Lago, 1969) and “Slipper” (El Zapato, 1969) can be taken as a parody to beautiful motifs and conventional solutions, chromatic harmonies, and tone modulation. However, titles and frames are weakly suggesting the mercantile function, denoting a consumer trait in codes. The “real” Seguí is actually unconstrained in his deformation of characters, in paintings such as “Obvious Company” (Complicidad Evidente) and “Slipper” (El Zapato, 1970), and perhaps in works such as “The usual Relief” (Relief quotidian, 1971) and “Selvedge of Things” (Pedazos de Cosas, 1971). In the former, the author let himself to enjoy in grotesque elongated legs in a neutral and anonymous world, in the latter he gave himself into a real “reconstruction” of the mentioned mannequins and models, disarray of cut out and separated limbs, accessorizes, clothing materials, among them being hats as the most prominent detail. The later time in the ‘70s marks a more relaxed period with the standardized cadres and composing. Despite the emphasized disproportion of human figure and home, “Smoker” (Fumeur, 1974) stands firmly on the ground, while “Far and Long ago” (Allá Lejos y Hace Tiempo, 1975) realistically presents two figures in its environment, with minutely emphasized planes of fields that disappear in the horizon. Estrangement and extraordinary can be found in the painting “That was You and We Did not Take it into Account” (Te Fuiste sinque Nos Diéramos Cuenta, 1977), where most of the environment with its architecture is mimetic, however, posture of certain characters is very strange, especially the lonely big head in the middle of the upper part, and even surrounded by a yellow frame like a halo.
“Parodying Rembrandt” (Parodiando Rembrant, 1978) is actually a replica of “An Hour of Anatomy”, while the same experience with inner shining appears in the painting “Theater Class” (Clase Teatral, 1979). With “Deep Insights” (Miradas Profundas, 1979), Seguí bring back his humorous and ironic motivation for street views. In some fantasy park with rocky clusters and strange vegetation (elongated trees with ball shaped tree-tops) there are two plunging walkers with another one sitting and looking at a naked passerby. The sitting character is not only turned towards the object but there is an actual straight line from, diagonally positioned towards the female object—almost like it cuts out the calm atmosphere marked with warm brown colors and deep blue sky.
The beginning of the ‘90s is signified by a harmonious density of cadres in the upcoming works. Again, little people and houses reappear: men usually in city attire (with hats), with fast movements but different in sizes (some of them with just torso appearing), while women rarely appear, but vary in physical look, from colorful dresses to nudity. The painting “The Cold Starts in Autumn” (En Otoño Empieza el Frio, 1990) is emphasized with little clouds of smoke coming from the narrow houses, elongated like towers or belfry, while “The Great Friday” (Viernes Santo, 1992) is differentiated from other similar views by often presenting an interpolation of skulls among all the figures.
Works such as “Conditional Reflexes” (Reflexos Condicionados, 2001) and “Surprised Man” (Hombre Sorprendido 2001), can be considered as a diptych. Moreover, we are again talking about crowds and movements of masses, citizens in a rush (with hats) and astonished reactions and relations, but everything is happening on uniform empty surfaces of almost desert character (brown colored surface emphasizes this experience). However, there are less buildings almost like it signifies a certain kind of apocalyptic event. There are also many dogs among people, sometimes an airplane, and even a car. Characters are depicted graphically, colored in black, while in the middle of the paintings there is an individual with colored suit and hat (let us call him Gustav) who seems astonished—in the wake of the painting’s title.
The graphic part of Seguí’s opus remains interesting, although it is analogous and coherent with motifs of paintings’ parcels. In the graphic techniques there are a lot of team sights, crowds, masses, cadres with a lot of little people next to each other. Works such as “Life is a Theater” (La Vida es un Teatro, 1991), especially “The Theater of Life” (El Teatro de la Vida, 1991-92) have typical titles which imply to the cycle of many variations. In “Sports Life” (Faire du Sport, 1986) we see similar little characters crammed next to each other, but dressed in different athletic uniforms and appropriate attitudes. In this work we only have one hat, however, in “The Great Mister” (Gran Senor, 1990) are mostly men prevailing, almost all with hats, especially the enlarged man in the middle.
It is noteworthy to mention that works before structural compositions had an experimental trait, even experimental iconicity. Seguí was more close to pop-arts with emphasizing one object—for example, feet (“Blisters are Unimportant”—Los Callos no tiene importancia, 1968) or with bold multiplication of photographs from pop culture “Yes” (Yes, 1968), where two individuals are taking off their clothes behind a large ottoman, and one of them (male character) still wears a blue hat with a writing YES.
Hats are prevalent among negative characters (criminals) from the newer cycle “People from the Village” (Gente de campo, 1999), cruel duelists armed with knives. In these black and white graphics Seguí focuses on motifs from his birthplace which reminds us on Borges’ chronicles of dishonor or stories from suburbs (“Evaristo Carriego”).Finally, the hat in “The Painter” (Pintor, 2002) is a black silhouette during color application on canvas. The most recent of Seguí’s works (“Opening the Window”—Ouvrant la fenetre, 2008 and “Colonel”—Coronel, 2010) depict a force and almost a synthesis of lapidary and critical vision of a great artist.
  Tonko Maroević 

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