Juan Genovés, a celebrated Spanish artist whose realist works captured the nation’s postwar political upheaval, died of natural causes on Friday, according to El Pais. He was 89.
Genovés was born in 1930 in Valencia, Spain, and grew up amid the Spanish Civil War and subsequent fascist regime of Francisco Franco. The era of oppression proved formative to his artistic practice.
One of his most widely known works, the 1973–76 acrylic and silkscreen print El Abrazo (The Embrace), depicts an anonymous crowd—Genovés repeatedly returned to that image, calling it “an artistic obsession.” Some 500,000 reproductions of the print were printed and disseminated across Spain, which was in political and social flux following the 1975 death of Franco. The image became emblematic of the people’s desire for democracy and led to Genovés’s arrest and weeklong imprisonment. (El Abrazo was acquired by Madrid’s Reina Sofía Museum in 1988.)
In the years that followed, during a period known as the Transition, Genovés emerged as a key figure among the artists revitalizing Spain’s cultural landscape. The running figures of his early paintings, reminiscent of masses fleeing bombings, gave way to pictures meditating on the relationship between individuals and collectives. Often, Genovés takes an aerial view of his subjects, as though he were channeling the perspective of a god or a bird.
“I realized that my crowds came out as individuals,” Genovés once said. “I am interested in painting each person with their minutely different ‘being.'”
Today, his paintings and sculptures are held in institutional collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern in Spain. In 1966, he won a special honor at the Venice Biennale in Italy. Genovés is represented by Marlborough Gallery (New York and London).