Jean Marie del Moral

WORDS BY manuel navarro. PHOTOGRAPHY BY jean marie del moral.


One rainy night on a boat in rough seas, I’m heading to Mallorca to visit Jean Marie del Moral, a Spanish photographer born in France. While rocking on the waves, I go over Jean Marie’s bio and his work, a sea of experiences, travels, projects and encounters that have delved deep into one of the subjects that I’m most passionate about: portraits of artists and their studios, those great temples of creation, places moulded by the artists themselves, where they keep their secrets and sources of inspiration.

Joan Miró. Mallorca. Spain. 1978.

Jean Marie has forged his way as a photographer from a young age. He left school at 14 to work full time at photography. At the end of the 60s, he began to doing his first sports and social articles for local media. At just 20 years of age, he joined the staff of the L’Humanité newspaper as a press photographer, and two years later he moved to Canada, where he was the photographer of the official film of the Montreal Olympic games in 1976.

He also travelled to the United States. There he discovered the work of Irving Penn, Walker Evans and Paul Strand, one of his favourite photographers, who also showed him a way to his photographic style. He returned to Paris in 1977. He worked freelance for L’Humanité Dimanche, a prestigious magazine with an extraordinary design for the period…

Miquel Barceló. Farrutx. Mallorca. 1991.

I arrived in Mallorca early in the morning, satiated by my marine adventure, a small weakness of great pleasure. And with a big smile after my breakfast of llonguet, orange juice and coffee with milk, I headed to Jean Marie’s home, where he received me with open arms.

Practically with no time to break the ice, we sat down and were already talking about art and artists, surrounded by little pictorial jewels hung on the walls or leaning against books. Catherine showed up, Jean Marie’s partner, the first ray of sunshine on that rainy morning that was beginning to clear. The three of us had coffee together, talking about spring’s imminent arrival. Catherine left us alone, and we continued the conversation.

Jaume Plensa. Barcelona. 1985.

Tell me the story about the photos of Joan Miró, the first artist you photographed in his study.

In 1978, L ́Humanité Dimanche commissioned me to do a report on Spanish intellectuals who had opposed Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. We travelled to Barcelona to cover the play Mori el Merma, in the Liceo, which included Joan Miró’s scenery and wardrobe. As a show, it was extraordinary. I remember that when it was over, the people applauded for over half an hour, with several people weeping.

A success. A shy and moved Miró went out on stage to greet the audience, and I mentioned to my colleague that we should go to the dressing room to see if we could say hello to Miró, which was going to be nearly impossible because of all the commotion at the time. On the way, we ran into his wife, Pilar, and I said “Look, we’ve come from Paris, we’re doing a report on anti- Franco intellectuals and I am very interested in photographing Joan.” She replied that this wasn’t the right time, but if I wanted, the next day around noon at the Hotel Colón, I’d find him more relaxed. No sooner said than done. I went to the Hotel Colón the next day and found Joan Miró in the hotel’s bar, together with his wife Pilar and another couple, friends of theirs. I greeted Miró and Pilar, and without meaning to (I was so excited), I didn’t pay any attention to the other two. I told Miró that I would like to photograph him in his studio, and thinking that I wouldn’t come, he told me that his studio was in Mallorca. And I said, “Ok then, I’ll go to Mallorca.” And he told me, “But look, I won’t be in Mallorca for another four days”, to which I replied, “Ok, in four days.” In brief, he couldn’t say “no”, and, funny thing about life, it turns out that the couple seated next to Joan and Pilar was José Luis Sert and his wife.

I didn’t realize it until some time later, when I saw a photo of Sert. Four days after the encounter at the Hotel Colón, I showed up at Miró’s studio in Mallorca. Just going inside was like being hit in the stomach: seeing that freedom, seeing how one could love poetry and painting so much and then be able to translate it using four colours and such simple shapes. I was so fascinated that I was thinking about it for days on end. After that, looking at objects and at the actual architecture of the studio, I thought to myself “You have to begin a project about an artist’s studio as their mental space.” This was immediately very clear to me.

I remained silent during the session, taking photographs and trying not to disturb. I never asked Miró to pose. I was the one who adapted to all his movements. Suddenly, he sat down on his rocker, calm, looking at the floor or some of the paintings around him, and I made a portrait of that moment: a pensive and silent painter; the silence of the studio; the artist surrounded by his works, somehow imitating them.

Joan Miró used to say: “I never dream at night; I always do it in my studio. I sleep like a log. But, awake and working, I dream.”

Joan Miró. Mallorca. Spain. 1978

So that was what lit the fuse. What happened afterwards?

As the son of exiled Republicans, living in Paris, I became interested in exiled Spanish artists of the School of Paris. Some had already died, but there were still others such as Antoni Clavé, Hernando Viñes, Baltasar Lobo and Apel·les Fenosa, with whom I had an extraordinary friendship. And there were others of a different generation, such as Eduardo Arroyo and Antonio Saura, who also used to live in Paris.

One day I came upon an exhibition at the Rodin Museum, by Apel·les Fenosa, a sculptor and good friend of Picasso, who was also a great admirer of Fenosa. Picasso bought over one hundred sculptures from Fenosa. He was an extraordinary person, a friend of major celebrities of the time, important artists and poets of the 20th century. An article about that exhibition was published in Le Monde, and I managed to get Fenosa’s phone number. On a trip to my parents’ home in Catalonia, his studio in Vendrell was on my way, and I met with him. He welcomed me, and we became friends right off the bat. After that, I began a long-term project that ended in a book I published about him, La Casa del Escultor (The Sculptor’s House).

Fenosa was the one who gave me the phone numbers of other artists such as Viñes, Lobo, Clavé, Antonio Saura and Arroyo. In 1985 the generation of those who were not exiled arrived in Paris, meaning the generation of Miquel Barceló, Campano, Broto, José María Sicilia and Carmen Calvo. Saura gave me Campano’s number. We struck up a friendship, and he gave me Miquel’s number.

Apel·les Fenosa. El Vendrell. 1985

Miquel Barceló?

Yes. I called him and explained my project to him and explained that I wanted to take some photos of him. He grumbled a bit but agreed to meet the next day at his studio in Paris. An enormous flat, in ruins, being remodelled, which had been loaned to him by a collector, where he was working on the paintings for his first exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York.
I remember entering the studio, and it was the same shock as when I entered Miró’s studio. I thought, “This guy’s one of a kind.”
Without a word, he put on some Jimi Hendrix full blast and started painting. I started taking photos. After a while, I took his portrait, we talked a bit and we had a coffee. A few days later, I took the photos over to him. I can’t tell you whether or not he liked them, but he said “Look, come by whenever you want.” Right then I thought that something good was about to begin.

We’ve spent a lot of time together. In ‘88 he took his first trip to Africa, and he told me to come by if I felt like it. Aware of the importance of being able to photograph that trip, a few months after he’d left I decided to travel to Mali, without knowing much of his whereabouts. After travelling for two days, I arrived in Gao without being certain of finding him there at the time. When I got off the bus, I asked some children who were playing ball if they knew a Spanish painter, and they took me to his house. Fortunately, Miquel was running a fever at the time and hadn’t gone on a planned trip. I spent two days photographing everything: the town, its people, the studio, the house and the landscape, the same one that Miquel saw from the terrace of his home and that he painted with his watercolours. Miquel absorbs and is inspired by everything surrounding his studios, from the place itself to its civilization, the light, the textures and the objects he encounters there.

Miquel Barceló. Paris. 1985

You’ve photographed Joan Mitchell, Sam Francis, Motherwell, Frank Stella, Lichtenstein, Cattelan, Hirst, Soulages, Katz, Schnabel, Ai Weiwei, Tàpies, Chillida, Jaume Plensa… A long list. Any that you were especially excited about?

With Robert Motherwell, it was extraordinary. I met him in 1991 through my friend Bernar Venet. Bernar is a sculptor and collector, and he has a historical painting by Motherwell in his collection. I had always spoken to Bernar about Motherwell, and one day he told me that he’d call him and we’d go see him together. So that day arrived, and we went to Greenwich, Connecticut. We made it to his studio; he was older by then. We introduced ourselves, and soon he saw that I was very excited and he asked me what the matter was. I said, “Look, I grew up with you, because my dad, an exiled Spanish Republican, had a postcard from Guernica and a newspaper cut-out of an Elegy to the Spanish Republic hanging by tacks in the kitchen, and I have those two images fixed in my mind as icons.” Robert looked at me, also somewhat moved, and said “That’s the best compliment you could make about my work.” He uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux and the three of us got drunk. It was great.

Robert Motherwell. Greenwich. 1991

You’ve visited so many artists’ studios, what’s so special about those places?

The studio is a self-portrait of the artist. It’s fascinating. The type of light, the silence: it’s a lot like being a monk. Miró talked about his studio as if it were a cave. It was in his studio that I realized that all the objects there —some on shelves, others on top of a table or hanging on the wall— were all related to each other and all had something to say about his creative process and his actual painting. All those objects say a lot about the artist. They are the starting points for the imaginary that ends up being painted.
Let’s go to the library, and I’ll show you some books where you can see what I’m talking about.

Miquel Barceló. Paris. 1986.

Yes, please.

Jean Marie showed me a number of books that he’d published, beginning with El ojo de Miró (Miró’s eye), in which, through the objects that the artist collected in his studio, Del Moral offers us a poetic look that clearly shows the relevance of the objects in the artist’s work. Objects that were the inspiration for the first sketch of a painting or the key to completing a work.

We continued with La Casa del Escultor (The Sculptor’s House), a book dedicated to Apel·les and Nicole Fenosa. You can see the great friendship shared between the photographer and the sculptor through the care and love that emanate from all of Jean Marie’s comments about Apel·les and his wife. A highly recommendable book that takes us inside El Portal del Pardo, inside that private universe of this great 20th century sculptor, “the only one that matters”, according to what Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso used to say about him.

The book gives an intimate view of the daily lives of the protagonists, of the tranquillity of the Mediterranean summer, based not only on the presence of the sculptor and his wife but also on what makes their universe unique: photographs of details, of furniture, of sculptures, of objects, of interior spaces. Wonderful!

We continue with Barceló, fotografías de Jean Marie del Moral (Barceló, photographs by Jean Marie del Moral), a book that is beginning to look like a relic, and quite right, too: for me it’s possibly the book that makes the best connection between artist and photographer. The book itself is a work of art. It shows us the fruit of the unique relationship between Del Moral and Barceló over 17 years of friendship and collaboration on a number of trips through Europe and Africa

The book’s jacket is an original work by Barceló based on a photo of Jean Marie del Moral. The section titles are also the work of Barceló. Some texts from the artist’s personal workbooks are also shown. The photographs contained in the book not only plot the route of a long journey, they also suggest a reading of his work like a continuous novelty or constant evolution.

It is my pleasure to have Jean Marie going through these books with me, page by page, showing and commenting on all the photographs, anecdotes and trivia. Reaching the end, I realize that I’ve most certainly been one of the privileged few to experience a moment like this. I am infused with emotion, and full of happiness, my mind fades to white.

Miquel Barceló Studio. Mallorca. Spain.

Piece with Artist MAGAZINE ISSUE 00. JUNE 2022. © www.piecewithartist.com

Bibliography: ·Barceló, fotografías Jean Marie del Moral, text Patrick Mauriès, La Fabrica, Thames and Hudson, Actes-Sud, Steidl, 2004. ·El ojo de Miró, fotografías Jean Marie del Moral, text Joan Pun- yet, La Fabrica, 2015. ·La casa de l’escultor, fotografías Jean Marie del Moral, text Josep Miquel Garcia, Fundació Apel.les Fenosa, 2021.Pere Antoni Pons Conversaciones con Jean Marie del Moral, En- Siola, 2018. ·Jaume Plensa / Interiors, foto- grafías Jean Marie del Moral, text Marius Carol, By Publications, 2022. 200 numbered copies signed by Jaume Plensa. Each one of the 200 book jackets is an original work by Jaume Plensa.

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