It’s been a long time since Francisco Leiro (Cambados, Pontevedra, 64 years old) has had ideas for his new projects come to his mind as he walks around the corners of the New York neighborhood of Tribeca, where he has lived since the early 1990s. Almost everything that occurs to him he writes and draws schematically on small papers that he accumulates in his pockets. Until he returns to his workshop in Cambados, Leiro does not know if these notes will come to life. It will be the pine, oak or chestnut tree trunks that will tell him if the birth of new characters is possible with which to increase the fantastic metaphors that populate the artist’s world. The last stop for the wood already converted into sculptures is in Madrid, in his spectacular workshop next to the Plaza de Toros. Chiseled, polished, painted, they go out into the world ready to be admired in exhibitions and museums in Europe and the United States. The last sample is led by A filla da porteira (2021) and can be seen in the Marlborough space in Madrid until November 19.
At 64 years old, Leiro maintains the appearance of the ordinary type, not vulgar, with which he came to study in the Madrid of the Transition, when in the mornings many ran in the demonstrations and at night they dispersed in the premises of the Movida . Dressed in black with summer shorts, Leiro could be confused in the middle distance with Quentin Tarantino. He shares with the American director a similar stocky body, his patchy hair, and the same mix of enthusiasm and humor when he talks about his characters.
The main piece of the exhibition is not his most recent work, but it does perfectly summarize how some characters have evolved that seem to be born from a cross between the portentous imagination of Lewis Carroll and the descriptive power of Chaves Nogales. A filla da porteira (the caretaker’s daughter) is a block of chestnut wood measuring 2.26 by 1.37 meters in which one of the characters, the girl, hangs around the neck of who could be the mother. Painted gray and without human features on the faces, only a touch of pink and yellow paint gives a clue about the girl. The artist wants the viewer to imagine a story. He recalls that the figure of those who occupy the gates of buildings has constantly swarmed through literature and says that, in this case, the idea had haunted him for a long time. He is the figure of what New Yorkers recognize as the “super”, the superintendent of the building whose function is between that of a doorman and a getter.
Due to its large dimensions, A filla da porteira she enjoys for herself one of the most spacious rooms in the gallery. More than thirty characters of different sizes are distributed throughout the remaining rooms, forming a forest in which, as Manuel Vicent wrote in an article in EL PAÍS last year, the trunks of the trees would have become human figures. “There are goblins, avatars, giant contortionists, tormented by this Galician sculptor, protean and unlimited, capable of handling the roughest saw, sometimes with the precision of a scalpel and other times as a self-defense weapon,” Vicent described. “One can imagine that the work of this artist has a very physical character of fighting against his dreams, as a force of nature.”
Leiro, the only boy in a family of five siblings, learned to carve stone in Santiago de Compostela and completed his training in drawing and modeling at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid. He arrived in the capital in 1976, just a year after Franco’s death, with the Transition underway and an unstoppable cultural euphoria.
His first relevant exhibition was at the Montenegro gallery, in Madrid, when he was 27 years old. The owner died, but luck meant that in 1989 he met the president of Marlborough in Barcelona, Pierre Levai, the famous shaman of contemporary art, who offered him an exclusive contract along with such well-known names as Jackson Pollock, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon. or Lucian Freud.
When in 2004 he was able to exhibit his work at the Palacio de Cristal del Reina Sofía, critics linked him to the Italian trans-avant-garde and German neo-expressionism. Also surrealism, Galician mannerism and Romanesque sculpture in its polychrome version. Influences from Henry Moore or Constantin Brancusi have also been pointed out. But he maintains that he is influenced by all the sculpture that precedes him and if he is pressed to cite some name that he can place in his wake, he only agrees to mention Bruce Nauman for his ability to invent new forms out of everything. conventionalism. Antonio Muñoz Molina, a profound connoisseur of the Galician artist’s work, wrote that Leiro is part stubborn craftsman and part pop prankster, a humor somewhere between avant-garde and pigheaded.
At the beginning of the year, Leiro received the news that he had been elected a member of the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, something that surprised those who knew him and, of course, the artist himself. He has two years to prepare the speech. It will be necessary to see if his innate irreverence allows him to enter a club like the academy.
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