José Ramón Amondarain

Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

José Ramón Amondarain: Time and Urgency (Guernica). Studio view, 2012: Image courtesy the artist and Artium: Basque Museum of Contemporary Art, Vitoria-Gasteiz.José Ramón Amondarain: Time and Urgency (Guernica). Studio view, 2012: Image courtesy the artist and Artium: Basque Museum of Contemporary Art, Vitoria-Gasteiz.

By Bill Clarke

José Ramón Amondarain
To September 2, 2012

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the painting of Picasso's Guernica  in 1937. Created in response to the bombing of the village that gives the painting its name during the Spanish Civil War, Guernica has become one of the world's most-lauded and recognizable works of 20th Century art. An indictment of war and the terrible toll it takes on the innocent, the painting currently resides at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, and is accompanied by a series of eight images documenting its creation taken by the photographer and poet Dora Maar, who was Picasso's lover at the time.

San Sebastian-based painter José Ramón Amondarain's commissioned project Time and urgency (Guernica) uses Maar's photographs as the basis for the exhibition's fascinating main installation. Titled "Urgencia" – an anagram of Guernica – Amondarain's suite of eight canvases recreate, in painstaking detail and almost at the original painting's full size, the stages Picasso's painting went through as captured in Maar's photographs. Amondarain's intention is not to simply to recreate Picasso's work; rather, his project stretches time, allowing viewers to trace the painting's pictorial evolution at their leisure. (As the exhibition's brochure notes, Guernica has been endlessly analysed, debated and viewed since its creation, which is interesting when one learns that Picasso was under a deadline to create the painting within the space of a month.)

Each of Amondarain's canvases is given its own viewing space. Being painted at almost the same size as the original, one is immediately impressed by the scale at which Picasso, who was not a very big man, was working. Key elements, such as the wailing woman holding the limp body of her dead child in the left side of the painting, are present right at the start and remain pretty much the same through to the completed canvas. Other elements, such as the position of the horse's and the bull's bodies shift dramatically over the course of several of the painting's stages, while elements found in earlier stages of the painting are completely absent from the final picture – one of these is the corpse of a woman with her innards spilling out that is reduced to just a decapitated head by the fourth stage of the a painting, and then disappears altogether by the fifth. Also fascinating to note is Picasso's experiments with spots of colour. By the fourth stage, a red, blood-like tear appears beneath the eye of one of the large heads in the centre of the painting, and a red triangle appears on the chest of the dead child, though, again, these touches are eventually painted out. Insight into Picasso's approach to mapping out the pictorial space is also revealed. Several times, scraps of fabric appear on the canvas, covering areas of the painting that, at that stage, Picasso was having difficulty sorting out. Amondarain went so far as to even recreate the patterns on these pieces of fabric as seen in Maar's photos.

Bookending the main installation are two suites of loose, colourful drawings by Amondarain based on or inspired by elements within Guernica; one set is drawn on Hotel Guernika letterhead. Several of these are wonderful studies on their own. Apparently, there has been a campaign in Spain's northern Basque country, where Picasso was born, for Guernica to be displayed in one of that region's institutions rather than in Madrid. (The Guggenheim Bilbao seems the most logical place; however, both museums contend that the painting is probably too fragile to be moved.) Since this seems unlikely to ever happen, visitors to this exhibition can at least have the pleasure of parsing the visual wonders of many Guernicas.