signed, titled and dated 1971 on the reverse
oil on canvas
152 by 122 cm.
59 13/16 by 48 1/16 in.
Provenance Donated by the artist to the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation
Exhibited London, Rotunda Gallery, Bertrand Russell Centenary International Art Exhibition and Sale, 1972-1973, no. 539
José Guerrero belongs to the group of contemporary Spanish painters who worked in the tradition of Abstract Expressionism of the New York School. He abandoned figuration after he travelled to New York in early 1950s, developing a very personal synthesis of action painting and colour field painting. Guerrero's works allude to his native Spain in the warmth of reds and yellows, that are juxtaposed against the black which, in his words, is the colour of his memory: "For as long as I can remember, black was always there, a part of life; it was in people, in landscape, in loneliness." In the early 1970s, Guerrero began a shift from the very broad abstraction of generous brushstrokes to a more structured painting, keeping colour at the very essence of his personal vocabulary and creating compositions around vertical elements based on the everyday shape of a box of matches. Presencia (Presence), 1971, juxtaposes the cold, rigid black forms of the three matches in the foreground against the intense warmth of the red background, with the difference in these two colours further enhanced by red's diluted hues towards the edges of the canvas. However, like fellow abstract expressionist painters of the time, Guerrero's canvases were carefully planned, and Presencia is framed with broad dark red brushstrokes that give a three dimensional quality to the matches and bring them to life. Interested in the relationship between the (personal) past and the ephemeral nature of the spiritual and the unconscious, Guerrero thus raises a common every day item to the level of a solemn, adored object. By the time Presencia was painted, Guerrero was a celebrated artist who had made his name amongst the fellow Abstract Expressionist artists in New York, and his work was recognized, among other, by the curator James Johnson Sweeney, who helped Guerrero's work to be included in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Art Museum, in New York. In his native Spain, Guerrero's works are in the collection of the Museo Nacional De Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, and Centro Guerrero in Granada, a museum dedicated to his work and legacy.