From 19th century classical masters to some of the most avant-garde European virtuosos of all times, Barcelona has inspired countless artists over the ages. Here are eleven names from the art world who found inspiration in the Catalan capital.
One of the most famous Catalan artists of the 20th century, Joan Miró‘s surrealist work was in many ways directly inspired by the Catalan capital and surrounding countryside. A painter but also a ceramicist and a sculptor, Miró rejected classic mediums as bourgeois and experimented with a number of alternatives, declaring an ‘assassination of painting’. Today the Joan Miró Foundation is located on Montjuïc hill in Barcelona and contains the largest collection of the artist’s work worldwide.
Pablo Picasso’s affinity with Barcelona is no secret and even when the artist left to live in Paris he would regularly return to the Catalan capital to seek inspiration. As a child he studied at La Lonja art school in Barcelona and his first studio was rented for him by his father in the Old Town. One of his most famous paintings, the Demoiselles d’Avignon was directly inspired by the prostitutes who worked on the Carrer d’Avinyó in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
While Antoni Gaudí is best known for his architectural masterpieces such as the Sagrada Família or Casa Batlló, he was also a skilled ceramicist and draftsman. He pioneered a technique called trencadís, whereby he created mosaics using pieces of broken ceramic-wear – a great example of which being the ornate benches of the Park Güell. He was also a master of symbolism and his designs for the Sagrada Família are rich in religious references as well as natural themes and organic forms.
Born to a family of affluent book publishers in Barcelona in 1923, Antoni Tàpies was one of the most influential post-war artists of his generation. He was a founding member of the surrealist Catalan movement Dau al Set – meaning ‘seventh face of the dice’ in Catalan and throughout the sixties and seventies his work was politically engaged against the dictatorship in Spain. He became famous for his use of mixed media, working with materials such as saw-dust, clay and marble. The Antoni Tàpies Foundation is based in Barcelona and contains numerous artworks donated by the artist himself.
One of the most famous street artists in Barcelona, El Pez – ‘the fish’ – is best known for his colourful fish characters and their large beaming grins. Adorning the streets of his native Barcelona since 1999, today the artist is recognised world-wide and he has been invited to display his work across Europe and the USA. Through his work –which he describes as ‘happy style’ – he hopes to spread a message of positivity and pass on the smile from his characters.
Ramon Casas i Carbó
A turn of the century artist born in Barcelona in 1866, Ramon Casas i Carbó is considered one of the founders of the Catalan Modernist movement. Living through what were turbulent times, he used his paintings and drawings to capture the social, political and economic changes he observed around him. While he made a number of famous portraits on commission, some of this most remarkable works are those which capture scenes of public life, such as the Charge of Barcelona 1902 (1899-1900). He also helped found the artistic and literary café El Quatre Gats in Barcelona, modelled on Paris’ Le Chat Noir.
Born and raised in Barcelona, Pere Jaume Borrell i Guinart –or Perejaume as he is known in the art world – is both a visual artist and a poet who was heavily influenced by notorious Catalan poets Joan Brossa and Jacint Verdaguer. His work investigates the relationship between humans and the environment in which they live, existing at the intersection of the written word and artistic visual expression.
Another notorious street-artist hailing from Barcelona, Sergio Hidalgo Paredes a.k.a. Sixeart began as a graffiti artist in the 1980s before branching out into sculpture and painting in the 1990s. His work is rich in colour and has a certain geometrical rigour to it, lines and forms overlap with precision but also with a child-like innocence – a quality which has earned him comparisons with the aforementioned Joan Miró. In 2008 he was invited to exhibit his work at the Tate Modern in London as part of an exhibition entitled ‘Street Art’.
This contemporary Catalan artist has succeeded in achieving an immediately recognisable style thanks to his bold, canvas-works on which paint seems to come alive. Smearing, smudging and spreading paint in different formats Yago Hortal gives a multi-dimensional expression to the material, exploring new boundaries. His palette of colours is vivid, modern and playful, creating paintings which appear to jump to life as you look at them.
One of the most talked about contemporary Catalan artists, Guim Tio uses his painting to depict the irony and humour of the human condition. His portraits invite the viewer to reflect on modern society, how we view ourselves and each other in an era of glossy magazines, reality TV and selfies. His work is exhibited across the globe and he has proved particularly successful in Asia, where he has had numerous solo exhibitions over the past few years.
A keen artist from the age of nine, Lluís Ribas went to the prestigious Escola Massana art school until he was 18 years old. A skilled painter, he is best known for his hyper-realist large-scale paintings of women, often in natural settings such as by the seaside. As a child he grew up in the coastal town of El Masnou, some 20 km from Barcelona, and spent much of his youth by the water observing fishermen and bathers. Today he runs his own gallery in the town of Sant Cugat del Vallès just outside Barcelona.