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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 Wifredo Lam 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 continued the friendships with Benjamin Péret and Wifredo Lam which had started in Madrid before the civil war. 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 City. In the Dominican Republic, he was in the company of other Spanish exiles, including artists José Vela Zanetti and Josep Gausachs. And writers like Vlady Serge, Segundo Derrano Poncela, Vicente Llorens.
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, which he helped organize with the musician Casal Chapí, and as a journalist for the newspaper La Nación. In 1941 he began painting 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. Granell created, along with poets from the Dominican Republic, and the Chilean diplomat Alberto Baeza Flores the much lauded magazine "La Poesía Sorpendida". 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 Mexico where he was going to work with his party comrade Costa Amic. But landing in Guatemala, Eugenio and his wife Amparo liked Guatemala City and decided to stay. Once there, he became an art professor, contributed to magazines and had a radio show in which he talked about art and artists, among other subjects. He also continued his painting and writing. His stay in Guatemala was cut short when the revolution began and he was seen as an anti communist. Jaime Benítez, the Rector of the University of Puerto Rico, had met Granell when he had shown his art on the island a few years earlier and invited him and his family to move to Puerto Riuco and become an art professor at the University. His stay on the island was very productive. He ignited interest in contemporary art in his students and many continued to paint and at some point had created a group called "El Mirador Azul". Some of these students are: Juan Maisonet, Rafael Ferrer, Frances del valle, Rosado, Cosette Zeno, and the poet "El Boquio". As he did in the Dominican Republic, Granell left a school of art and thought on the island.
In 1952, Granell traveled to New York with his friend José Vela Zanetti, a fellow Spanish exile whom he met in the Dominican Republic. Once there, through Vela Zanetti, he met and developed a strong friendship with Marcel Duchamp. In 1957, after a sabbatical, Granell and his family moved to New York and lived mainly on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, until 1985 when the Granell's returned to Spain. He had several exhibits at the Bodley Gallery, some were individual, others were collective with surrealists like Magritte, Max Ernst, Duchamp. He studied Sociology at the New School for Social Research and earned his PhD with the publication of a very personal study of Picasso`s Guernica: "Picasso's Guernica. The End of a Spanish Era" (UMI Research Press, 1967 and 1981). Granell 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. The Fundación Eugenio Granell was created in 1995 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, Miró, Esteban Francés, and many other surrealist artists. Granell published several books, most of them in Spanish including "La novela del Indio Tupinamba", a surrealist, personal and unique vision of the Spanish Civil War. It has been translated into English, published by City Lights. Another important publication is "Isla cofre mítico", dedicated to André Breton and his wife Elise whom he had met in the Dominican Republic in 1941. This was a lasting friendship. He died in Madrid in 2001.
His personal archive is located in the Pavelló de la República CRAI Library - University of Barcelona. It consists of press clippings about Spanish Civil War, Exile, Francoism, POUM, and cultural activities.
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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 in sculptural 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. All of the catalogues of Granell's exhibits published by the Fundación Granell, are also written in English. 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).
- Picasso's Guernica : the end of a Spanish era (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press. 1981)
- The Novel of the Tupinamba Indian (San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers. 2017) (translated by David Coulter) ISBN 9780872867475
- 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 978-84-453-4101-8
- Eugenio Fernández Granell; César Antonio Molina, Eugenio Granell (Publisher: A Coruña : Diputación Provincial de A Coruña, 1994) ISBN 9788486040857
- Eugenio Fernández Granell, Picasso's Guernica : the end of a Spanish era (Ann Arbor, Mich. : UMI Research Press, 1981) ISBN 978-0-8357-1206-4
- 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
- Inventari del Fons FP, Subsèrie Eugenio F. Granell, del CRAI Biblioteca del Pavelló de la República de la Universitat de Barcelona