Josep Grau-Garriga

Josep Grau-Garriga was born in 1929 in Sant Cugat del Vallès. He lived and worked in Catalonia until 1992, then in the French region of Angers until his death in 2011.


In the 1970s and 1980s, having become veritable textile sculptures, Grau-Garriga's tapestries attracted the attention of Philippe de Montebello, the young American curator and future director of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, who proposed to present Grau-Garriga's first big retrospective at the Houston Fine Arts Museum (Texas) in 1970. This collaboration marked the beginning of an international career that led the artist to realize numerous projects in the United States, Canada and South America, with solo exhibitions in institutions such as LACMA (Los Angeles) in 1974 and the Museo Rufino Tamayo of Mexico in 1987.


Josep Grau-Garriga is also shown in some important group exhibitions such as, De l'ombre à la lumière; Tapisseries catalanes, from Picasso to Grau-Garriga at the Musée Jean Lurçat in 2011 (Angers); Decorum. Tapis et tapisseries d'artistes at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2013; Creative Crossroads: The Art of Tapestry at the Denver Art Museum in 2015 (Denver, USA); Tapisseries nomades. Toms Pauli Foundation; Twenty century's collection at the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne in 2016 (Switzerland) and the reopening of the Musée Hyacinthe Rigaud in 2017 (Perpignan).


Especially, 2020 is marked by the presentation of one his major historic installations, Altarpiece of the Hanged People (1972-1976) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney NIRIN. 2019 is also marked by the opening of Grau-Garriga's Centre of Textile Art at Sant-Cugat del Vallès, in the area of Barcelona, his native and living region for many years. In 2018, in collaboration with Salon 94, Galerie Nathalie Obadia also presented a huge and historic work of the artist at Art Basel Unlimited. That year, his work was also exhibited at the Quadrilatère de Beauvais as part of the show Muralomade and at the Fondation Villa Datris (L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue) within the show Tissage/Tressage... quand la sculpture défile. Galerie Nathalie Obadia dedicated him a show in Brussels, unveiling an exceptional set of tapestries and drawings from the 1970s to the 1990s.


Josep Grau-Garriga's work is part of significant collections in France and abroad, such as in the United States the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum (New York), the Denver Art Museum (Denver), the Houston Museum of fine Arts (Houston), the Cordoba Museum (Lincoln) and the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Centre (Oklahoma); in Switzerland, the Toms Pauli Foundation (Lausanne), the Gandur Foundation for Art (Geneva) and the Ghisla Art Collection (Locarno); in Mexico, the Museo Tamayo de Arte Contemporaneo (Mexico) ; in Chile, the Museo Salvador Allende (Santiago); in Spain, the contemporary art museums of Barcelona, Vilafamès of Elche and the fine arts museums of Seville and Alicante, the Museo Montserrat (Montserrat) of the Fundacio Vila Casas and of the Banco Sabadell Foundation in Barcelona; in France, the work of Josep Grau-Garriga is part of the collections of the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Musée Jean-Lurçat and the Musée des Beaux-ars d'Angers, the Musée Réattu (Arles), the Musée Cantini (Marseille), the Musée Hyacinthe Rigaud (Perpignan), the Musée du château des ducs de Wurtemberg (Montbéliard), the Musée de la Ville (Montpellier), the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Saint Lo, as well as many other FRAC's collections.


Josep Grau-Garriga'work has been represented by la Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels, since 2016.


When Josep Grau-Garriga was born, in 1929, in Sant Cugat del Vallès, near Barcelona, his village was small and rustic. As a child, he helped his parents with their rural activities, which taught him about the realities of daily life. Marked by the village's customs and touched by the pastoral landscapes that surrounded him, he soon developed a taste for drawing. He recalls a happy, bucolic childhood, until the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. Three years later, he witnessed the defeat of the Republican army, then Franco's rise to power and the establishment of his dictatorship. These traumatic events would deeply influence his work. Despite the vicissitudes, Grau-Garriga was able to graduate, in 1952, from the School of Fine Arts of San Jorge, Barcelona. In 1954, influenced both by Catalan Romanesque art and by the art of inter-war Mexican muralists, from David Alfaro Siqueiros to Diego Rivera, he made frescoes for the Sant Crist de Llaceres Hermitage. This marked the beginning of his recognition.


In 1957, Josep Grau-Garriga was commissioned to make his first tapestry for the Casa Aymat, the local producer of carpets and tapestries that employed "haute lisse" (or high-warp) looms, based on a technique developed by the Gobelins Manufactory. Encouraged by Casa Aymat's new owner, Miquel Samaranch, the artist traveled to Paris for the first time, to study gothic tapestry and familiarize himself with the latest trends in contemporary French tapestry, led by Jean Lurçat. It was also in Paris that he underwent his first profound aesthetic shock, by discovering, in particular, the informal painting of Jean Fautrier and the "Art Brut" of Jean Dubuffet, along with abstract works by his fellow compatriots, Antoni Tàpies and Antonio Saura. Equipped with all these visual experiences, he joined the atelier of Jean Lurçat, in Saint-Céré (Lot, France), in 1958.


His time with Lurçat marked a decisive turning point. It made him realize that tapestry could be something beyond a merely decorative object, that it could, in fact, become an arena for formal research, as relevant as other fields of visual arts. Armed with this certainty, Josep Grau-Garriga returned to Catalonia with new ambitions that he would apply without further delay, by taking over the artistic direction of Casa Aymat, which had supported him from the beginning. To modernize the production, he invited artists to make tapestry cartoons. These first collaborations laid the foundations of the new Catalonian school of tapestry, with Sant Cugat del Vallès at its epicenter and Grau-Garriga as its inspired leader. Over the course of nearly thirty years, a number of artists would come to experience his new conception of textile art, including Josep Royo, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Antoni Tàpies, Josep Guinovart, Ràfols Casamada, and Joan-Josep Tharrats.


The studio he directed soon became a laboratory for research that inexorably led him away from the legacy of Jean Lurçat. While the latter still preferred to have clear lines in his drawing compositions, Josep Grau-Garriga headed in the opposite direction, by exploring the possibilities of three-dimensionality. Thus, his tapestries increasingly resembled sculptures. Grau- Garriga often claimed that he wove like a sculptor, working textile in relief and attempting to give the fibers an exceptional variety of textures. This novel preoccupation with texture and relief - breaking with the two-dimensional art of traditional tapestry - found its deepest roots in the artist's rural childhood. His friend and biographer Arnau Puig recounts that Josep Grau-Garriga had, as a child, been intoxicated by the fragrance of freshly tilled soil, and was often struck by the geometry and relief of the deep ruts traced by the plow. Very early on, he remembers having tried to bring back that memory, which was both olfactory and visual. At first, he tried to do it with drawing, before finding, in weaving, the surest and most exalting way to proceed. His very first tapestry, in which texture takes primacy over motif, dates from 1960 (Chien et Lune, 1960).


Two particularly rich and technically and stylistically audacious decades ensued. One of the innovations - and not a small one - consisted in progressively abandoning the tapestry cartoon in the early 1970s, with the artist tackling his composition directly on the loom. This new attitude, which favored spontaneity, unleashed Grau-Garriga's imagination. The total freedom he acquired allowed him to abandon the exclusive use of "noble" fibers (silk, wool, gold and silver thread), in favor of all other materials, whether natural or artificial. Thus, he began to mix in, without hierarchy, cotton, hemp, jute, spart grass, iron and copper wires, and even plastic cords. This transgression echoes the research conducted by his contemporaries, including his fellow countryman, Antoni Tàpies, or Italian artist Alberto Burri, who, like him, incorporated "non-academic" materials in their work. The use of these new "poor" materials, combined with increasingly complex visual solutions, contribute to the rugged topography of Grau-Garriga's tapestries and are "materials employed by the artist both for their intrinsic qualities and for the aesthetic and expressive impact they were susceptible of causing." Arnau Puig adds that these materials, while retaining their primitive nature, "do not speak only of their nature; they also express a universe and a reality that seeks to critique and document, that speaks of our world."


The 1960s and 1970s, decades that were so fertile in artistic research, are also when the artist showed himself to be particularly sensitive to the contemporary political and social context. Repression ran rampant. Freedoms were attacked from all sides. One had to fight to live and even more to express oneself, especially as an artist. In reaction to this, Grau- Garriga wove, painted, and drew some politically engaged works that denounced the many violences perpetuated at the time. On an allegorical level, his tapestries, with their red stains, pay homage to the blood of Republican martyrs, while the gaping holes and the crevasses incarnate the assaults against fundamental human rights. The jute sacks and clothes that are incorporated amongst the fibers are the tangible proof of the sweat spilt by laborers and factory workers in their daily fight for survival. Some of his works on paper - drawings and collages of press cuttings - directly reference Franco's oppression.


By abandoning the classical approach to tapestry-which was still relevant for Jean Lurçat, one of the great reformers of his time-Josep Grau-Garriga revolutionized the genre. Thanks to him, tapestry, which was until then static, became dynamic, active even, since it was founded on movement. His experiments on new materials, relief, and textures allowed him to "capture and fix light in its most expressive modulations." By basing his aesthetic on risk and accident, Grau-Garriga follows in the footsteps of the American Abstract Expressionists. Over the years, he gradually freed himself from conventions and, in doing so, his art became organic-he even tried to transcribe olfactory memories of his childhood home. He revolutionized tapestry to imagine a new, decidedly contemporary textile art. A true sense of presence emanates from his work: it is life itself, at once harmonious and exalted.