Joan Pedragosa :: Liberation through geometry

Liberation through geometry

Barcelona, 03-2006
Daniel Giralt-Miracle
Art critic and historian

Understanding the harmony and the soul of form has taken me a considerable space of time. (Joan Pedragosa 2004)

To fully understand the work of Joan Pedragosa (1930-2005), the normal process of interpreting a career in art needs to be inverted. One must therefore start at the end by examining his latter works, particularly those from the last four or five years of his life, and seeking their raison d’être or what he termed as “the distillation of forms”. This will reveal those processes that led him to become a true sculptor. Such analysis, however, eventually discloses a deeper substrate as Pedragosa was ultimately not solely a refined draftsman, a demanding graphic designer and a meticulous sculptor (which he was, and very much so) since the common denominator throughout his career was geometry: the theory, practice and poetry of geometry. Like Gaudí, Pedragosa could have said “I am a geometer, which means, synthetic”, “I calculate everything” or “in making surfaces geometry does not complicate but rather simplifies construction”. A simple journey through his work is enough to prove it.

From 1947 to 1950 the technologist Pere Casajoana introduced him in Badalona to line drawing and industrial aesthetics in classes that encouraged his natural leaning towards geometry or, in other words, to that area of mathematics based on an intuition of space. His profession-vocation was thus oriented once and for all, even though prior to creating pure sculpture he was involved in a long process of plastic creation in which geometry was ever present in the background.

From 1955 onwards, he worked with different graphic studios in Barcelona with which he served his apprenticeship as a designer. In 1961, he was involved in the foundation of Grafistes Agrupació FAD and in 1962 he set up his own studio in Carrer de Tuset, which grouped together more advertising agencies and prompted a renovation of graphic image in our culture.

Prior to this, however, he had worked at Conseil de Publicité Ralph M. Chavannes in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he was in charge of the Graphic Creation department. It was not at random that Pedragosa chose Switzerland, where the most radical school in the use of graphics-applied geometric parameters was to be found at that time.

Font types, illustrations, photography, brands and posters were all subject to a rigorous process of diagramation that was even stricter than that proposed by Bauhaus itself. Indeed, the currency of the Bauhaus school (led by Max Bill, Josef Müller Brockmann, Richard Paul Lohse and Emil Ruder) was a defence of “concrete art”, which according to Camille Graeser meant “the constructing and developing of geometrically founded rhythms” and the “strictly logical creation and design of works of art” as Bauhaus considered concrete to be synonymous with “purity, rules and order”.

In Switzerland, he thus found soul mates who shared his concerns and worked as he did. The result was that his innate predisposition for the orderly arrangement of letters and images on flat surfaces was implemented to the extent that when he returned to Barcelona he developed his graphic world on the basis of those lines. It was precisely that capacity to make space geometrical that in 1966 prompted Joan Perucho to define him as a “rigorous and scientific” graphic artist, probably more than any other of his generation. After settling in his Carrer de Tuset studio, he embarked on several years of intense professional activity with a great public echo: he collaborated in organising exhibitions and creating yearbooks, he promoted magazines, supported and was involved in the teaching of design, and he encouraged contact with international associations. He did all this while continuing to design brands, labels, advertisements, leaflets, books, magazine covers, posters and packaging, etc., which have remained in our subconscious while their Swiss influence is still apparent.

We need only remember his logos (for Fogo insecticide, for the Costa Brava or the current logo of the Rosa Bisbe gallery), his posters (for the Barcelona Exhibition Centre in 1960, Barcelona Boat Show in 1964, the IV Joan Miró drawing prize in 1965 and the striking Viva Agi from 1971), his illustrations (particularly those associated with the “Tempore fugit” series), his alphabet (Galaxy) and the page makeup of his books (such as La Polígrafa’s Hispanic Art Collection).

In the 70s he gradually began abandoning geometry applied to design and communication and started experimenting in spatial construction with new materials and different types of paper or cardboard. His first work in the 80s indeed showed clear interaction between volume and space, with a constant search for three-dimensionality. From 1986 onwards this would give way to his “tabletop sculptures” with which he tackled the final phase prior to sculpture in full. Those hinged, transformable or tilting small-format pieces known as rotaries and mobiles, inspired by constructivism and made in cardboard, PVC or fibre glass and the series entitled “Optional Geometry”, which he made in the 90s, were the genesis for the sculpture work that was to culminate in the works included in the “La geometría como seducción” (Geometry as Seduction) exhibition, held at the Centro Cultural Cajastur in Oviedo in January 2002, and “Llum a les Arestes” (Light at the Edges) exhibition, which opened at the Centre Cultural de la Fundació Caixa de Terrassa in April 2004. A selection of these works make up this exhibition in Badalona.

In my opinion, the 80s saw the appearance of Joan Pedragosa at his most genuine. This was the decade in which the artist succeeded in inserting his abstract forms in space, in developing his own poetry and in becoming the ”artist of geometry”(as M. Lluïsa Borràs described him). He sought not to represent but rather to express feelings, ideas, and a vision of space practically, something that can only be done by an all-round geometer who understands geometry as experimentation, as research and as an option for defining forms, space and volume.

It was not in vain that Pedragosa took ordered geometry to its ultimate consequences. Using warped forms he defined interior and exterior spaces and extracted vibration to the full from flat surfaces by bending them, curving them and interweaving them in a new version of Juli Gonzàlez’s “drawing in space”.

He turned geometry into pure plastic that, with the help of the Latin titles he gave his works, gives a notion of the underlying metaphysical charge. Although Pedragosa was an empirical rationalist, he was also a man who engaged in metaphysical reflections that were neither lacking a sense of humour nor sarcasm. He did not require the volume or mass of the representationalists to express his feelings three-dimensionally as he used the flat surfaces, which he cut out, intersected and twisted, to build his own unmistakable world. The roots of this world are to be found in Russian Constructivism, Neoplasticism, Gestalt, Neoconcrete art, Kinetic art and, to some extent minimalism, trends with which Pedragosa coincided solely morphologically. His work was always his own geometry that dated back to Euclides and Pythagoras and was also influenced by Luca Pacioli, Johannes Kepler and the Renaissance and thereafter by L. Euler, and fervently sought modern expression that he achieved in later life. I therefore understand the path he took to be one of liberation of his deepest being through geometry.

Joan Pedragosa (Badalona 1930 - Barcelona 2005) was an acknowledged graphic designer whose creation of three-dimensional cardboard figures, mobiles and other small sculptural items led him to the world of large format sculpture and solid materials to which he devoted the latter years of his life.

This exhibition is the first that Badalona, his native city, has devoted to him. Although it is focused on sculpture, it also includes many of Joan Pedragosa’s designs and provides an opportunity to follow the development of this rigorous artist and lover of geometry, which only he was so capable of using as a form of expression.