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Eugenio Fernández Granell (28 November 1912 – 24 October 2001) was an artist often described as the last Spanish Surrealist painter.
Early life in Spain
Born in A Coruña in the autonomous community of Galicia, Eugenio Fernández Granell started out as a political radical and a musician. In 1927 he set up the magazine SIR (Sociedad Infantil Revolucionaria) with his brother Mario, and in 1928 enrolled at the Escuela Superior de Música del Real Conservatorio in Madrid. Among his friends were Maruja Mallo, Joaquín Torres García, Alberto Sánchez and Ricardo Baroja. A member of the POUM (Workers’ Party for Marxist Unification) during the Civil War, he contributed actively to newspapers such as La Nueva Era, La Batalla and El Combatiente Rojo.
In 1939, he went into exile. After arriving in France, he was held in internment camps for several months, but was eventually able to escape to Paris. While in the French capital, he struck up friendships with Benjamin Péret and Wifredo Lam. His affiliation with Trotsky made him the enemy of fascists and Stalinists and steered him towards a life marked by changes of residence. As María Zambrano said, during the first half of the twentieth century, Spain was a “master of dispersal and wastefulness” as it forced many of its most outstanding artists and intellectuals into a painful flight to other countries. Granell was one of those exiles, residing in France, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and New York. In the Dominican Republic, he was in the company of other Spanish exiles, including artists José Vela Zanetti and Josep Gausachs.
The Dominican Republic
When Granell arrived in the Dominican Republic in 1940, he had not yet discovered his talent for painting. Initially he worked as a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra and a journalist for the newspaper La Nación. In 1941, he began painting in his free time and in 1942 he participated in an exhibit entitled Private Exhibit of Modern Spanish Painters. Granell had his first solo exhibition in 1943, exhibiting 44 Surrealist paintings. This was the first exhibition of Surrealist works held in the country. He had another solo exhibition in 1945 featuring 200 works. In 1946 he exhibited in Puerto Rico and Guatemala. Later that same year, he left the Dominican Republic due to problems that arose when he refused to sign a document supporting the dictator Trujillo.
Guatemala and Puerto Rico
In 1946, Granell left the Dominican Republic for Guatemala. Once there, he became an art professor, and continued his painting and writing. His stay in Guatemala was cut short when the revolution began. He then moved to Puerto Rico, where he became an art history professor.
In 1955, Granell traveled to New York with his friend José Vela Zanetti, a fellow Spanish exile whom he met in the Dominican Republic. Once there, he met and developed a strong friendship with Marcel Duchamp. Between 1957 and 1985 Granell lived mainly on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, and was Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at City University of New York (CUNY).
Return to Spain
In 1985 Granell returned to Spain, where he was awarded numerous prizes and recognitions. In 1995 he opened the Fundación Granell in his home town Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. The only museum in the world entirely devoted to surrealism, it holds some 600 of his paintings along with works by Picabia, Duchamp, Man Ray and Breton. He died in Madrid in 2001.
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Although springing from the depths of his subconscious like that of all the surrealists, Granell’s work is influenced by the places where he lived, particularly the exuberance of the Caribbean and the blend of Spanish and native cultures. Surrealism recognises no social function of art other than that of liberating the individual and society from the repression of reason, allowing the creator to express his instincts and dreams. In 1959, André Breton organized an exhibit called The Homage to Surrealism Exhibition to celebrate the Fortieth Anniversary of Surrealism which exhibited works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Enrique Tábara and Eugenio Granell.
There is absolutely no censorship in Granell’s work. Poetry blossoms, shrouding unrecognisable figures where trees, animals and people merge into hybrid beings that undergo constant metamorphosis. Works where the strong colours are framed insculptural compositions, in human figures on the verge of formal delirium, or in voluptuous compositions that appear to be a microscopic dimension of an unknown world. Playfulness, advocated by the surrealists as an expression of freedom, pervades the whole of this artist’s work. Granell’s dialogue and writing have always ironically mocked solemnity and reason itself. Such are his painting, his sculpture and his readymades: an extremely beautiful elegy to freedom and the purity of feelings.
The major books on Granell and his work, such as monographs and catalogues, are mostly in Spanish or Galician, but they are widely available in libraries throughout the world, including the United States. Granell also published a book of meditations and critical reflections on Picasso's Guernica, and this book is available in English as well as in Spanish and Galician (see "References" section).
- Carlos Arias, Eugenio Granell (Publisher: Santiago de Compostela : Xunta de Galicia, Consellería de Cultura, Comunicación Social e Turismo, Dirección Xeral de Promoción Cultural, 2005) ISBN 84-453-4101-4, ISBN 978-84-453-4101-8 9788445341018 8445341014
- Eugenio Fernández Granell; César Antonio Molina, Eugenio Granell (Publisher: A Coruña : Diputación Provincial de A Coruña, 1994) ISBN 84-86040-85-X 9788486040857 9788486040857 848604085X
- Eugenio Fernández Granell, Picasso's Guernica : the end of a Spanish era (Ann Arbor, Mich. : UMI Research Press, 1981) ISBN 0-8357-1206-0, ISBN 978-0-8357-1206-4 9780835712064 0835712060
- Obituary of Eugenio Granell in Britain's The Guardian newspaper (November 10, 2001)
- Guiarte.com information on Granell
- Centro Virtual Cervantes: Granell - El arte de la conversación