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From Antic Assemblages to Cartoonish Canvases, Pere Llobera’s Stylistic Gambles

Two exhibitions in Barcelona and Sabadell explore the artist’s ever-changing styles and painterly references

Pere Llobera has exhibited his paintings since the 1990s and has taken increasingly perverse pleasure in stylistic switchbacks and self-sabotage. An allegiance to magical-realist-inclined painting, underpinned by his skilful drawing, has long since dilapidated into offbeat objects, prolific zine making and performance. But the thrust of ‘Action’, Llobera’s first solo at Barcelona’s Bombon Projects, is carried by six works in oil on linen. Comprising more than 30 works, ‘Kill Your Darlings’ at Sis Galeria – an exhibition space above an artisan framing shop in nearby Sabadell – is essentially a drawing show, with a title that paraphrases advice attributed to novelist William Faulkner to be unpitying in eradicating one’s own stylistic crushes.

Ink drawings at Sis could be bolts of inspiration or electrocution warnings (Lightning flash, 2017), while a swashbuckling portrayal of a playing card tower motif salutes fastidious peril (House of cards, 2015). In a wickedly comic watercolour, a burly wrestler in the form of the Valle de los Caídos, the mass grave and mausoleum of Francisco Franco near Madrid, squares off against another in the shape of Montserrat, the storied mountains and monastery near Barcelona.

Pere Llobera, S/T (Blown up cake), 2018, acrylic on paper,  2 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and Bombon Projects, Barcelona; photograph: Ketevan Gvinepadze

Llobera’s fidgety approach convulses from studied contrariness into forthright wackiness, encompassing successes and failures, dog-eared sketchbook whimsy, photographs, antic assemblages, cartoonish canvasses and repurposed juvenilia (in Barcelona, Fed up and fearful, 2011, is based on Arms, 1979, a childhood drawing of weaponry shown in Sabadell). Likewise, in one venue a framed snapshot of a manspreading friend morphs in the other into a painted bloke-shaped custom guitar (both Trippy, 2006/18) that speaks of crust-punk fantasies and solitary hobby-craft.

In the manner of painters old, I can imagine Llobera would have delighted in unveiling sensations at the Beaux-Arts Salon. Rococo crash barrier (2018) would have wowed the squalid aristocracy while mocking them: a crisply realistic painting of a verdant roadside verge with an inexplicably ornate gilt barrier. Amongst two shows of stylistic gambles, its verisimilitude is a mordant Llobera insurance policy. Stashed like contraband in Bombon’s back space, it hawks his marketable technical prowess, yet through an elaborate allegory for keeping safe and avoiding crashing out. Llobera shows how trustworthily he can paint, pending something worth painting.

Pere Llobera, 'Acció', 2018, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Bombon Projects, Barcelona; photograph: Ketevan Gvinepadze

As if tormented by his own cursed hand, Llobera’s darkly fugitive shtick is his alarm at its ability to paint so adeptly so easily, despite his mind’s suspicion of painters painting to be admired. Hence one of the largest works at Bombon is a self-portrait caricature of sorts. Against a slosh of blues and blacks that recalls Martin Kippenberger, comic-book vigilante Superman punches himself through the face (Untitled, 2018). Several further works reference US comics and cartoons. The home of the traditional painter (2018) imagines painting as a slapstick cat-and-mouse game in which a brush character poses smugly in a mouse hole archway, as if a cell from a Tom and Jerry animation. Freely painted in tones of grey and greyer, Untitled (2018) teases the ashen canvasses of Luc Tuymans: a 1930s-style Mickey Mouse blows a cream cake all over a hapless chef.

Llobera’s loquacious art often hinges on the Catalan moral dichotomy of seny versus rauxa, common sense and prudence versus rash eccentricity or ‘madness’. In which hell would the artist prefer to fry? At Bombon, a polychrome branch sculpture and a large canvas, both titled Lysergic log (2018) refer to the Tió de Nadal, a traditional Christmas log character in Catalonia. Sporting a red barretina, a blanket, and a grin, the tió is urged to shit presents by children who beat it with sticks. Llobera’s wonderfully potty painting of a hallucinogenic, fractal tió-within-tió emblem for this scatological festive rite eagerly adds fresh fuel beneath this cultural cauldron, intensifying his bonfire of painterly vanities.

Pere Llobera, 'Acció' was on view at Bombon Projects, Barcelona, and Sis Galeria, Sabadell, from 26 September until 10 November 2018.

Main image: Pere Llobera, Tio Lisèrgic, 2018, mixed media44 × 130 × 34 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Bombon Projects, Barcelona; photograph: Ketevan Gvinepadze

Max Andrews is a writer, curator and co-founder of Latitudes, Barcelona, Spain.  He is a contributing editor of frieze

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019
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