“Artists, all of us, are obsessed by two or three things,” says Francisco Leiro, shrugging his shoulders as if to settle a question which is complex and to which there may be very few answers. Maybe only questions, in fact.
These obsessions many never make the headlines, but they reflect a personal, intimate disquiet and restlessness, something which in the case of this artist finds a gentle but steadfast anchor through cedar and pine wood, carved into monumental sculptures.
These are works which ask about politics, love, and war. Works between the hamlet in which the artist was born and the global world, works which grow like a tree and put down roots, in the main space of the Contemporary Art Centre in Malaga (CAC Malaga).
And there is a type of logical continuity in the fact that Leiro's sculptures have followed on from the exhibition of paintings by Santiago Ydáñez in the same rooms at the CAC Malaga, because Ydáñez and Leiro share a formal rawness which means that their respective works can be read in multiple ways. They also share a reflection about the relationships of power in contemporary society, a concern about nature which goes beyond the mere decorative and an interest in politics as an expression of conflict.
Until 7 January, the CAC Malaga is exhibiting more than 40 works created during the past decade by this Galician artist. An artistic journey which, as Leiro himself explained this week, began in the terrain of surrealism and over time moved closer to expressionism, to the German trend, as the director of the CAC Malaga, Fernando Francés, who has curated the exhibition, also explained at the official opening.
The display includes a group of monumental sculptures in wood, almost like totem poles. “Nowadays, it seems we are all executives or bankers,” said Leiro sarcastically, about his works on social and labour issues. Visitors are welcomed by the 'Supervisor and three haulers' (2013), beside 'Box' (2011) and facing a circular composition, 'Don Quijote beaten by three muleteers' (2005) which mark the start of the exhibition.
Horror and dreams
War shouts from the pile of impaled bodies in 'Alepo' (2016), situated beside the anonymous person in an orange jumpsuit of 'Operario' (2009). This could stem from an environmental matter, such as the Prestige disaster off the Galician coast. That would be the undertone of 'Requiem' (2005), which opens a door to a more intimate atmosphere with works like 'Caulker' and 'The Move (both 2010). 'The Move' shows a human figure carrying a shirt and pair of trousers, and may reflect the research which Leiro did for years about clothing being a metaphor for life. It was a project in which Leiro looked into “how you can make a figurative piece in which the individual disappears.”
And this interest in universality and at the same time anonymity, this local but also planetary desire, rises like the crossing of conceptual paths which marks much of Leiro's works, “summing up what sculpture in Spain over the past 50 years signifies,” as Fernando Francés put it. He described Leiro as the final link in a chain which includes Julio González, Oteiza, Chillida and Juan Muñoz.
“His work has always ranged between the poetic and social issues,” he explained. Between the global and the local, the intimate and the political. If, of course, in the end, it is not all the same thing.