Sant Cugat del Vallès, Spain, 1929 - Angers, France, 2011
Josep Grau-Garriga was a key artist in the renewal of tapestry and contemporary textile art, both nationally and internationally. After training in painting, drawing, sculpture and engraving at the Arts and Crafts School and the School of Fine Arts, Barcelona, he made a number of mural paintings and artistic stained glass for various buildings in Catalonia. In 1957, he began working with Miquel Samaranch at the Casa Aymat carpet and tapestry factory. Out of this experience, the following year saw the creation of the Catalan School of Tapestry, where he was able to work with artists such as Joan Miró, Josep Maria Subirachs and Antoni Tàpies.
In 1957, and in connection with his work at Casa Aymat, Grau-Garriga made his first trip to Paris, where he met Jean Lurçat, a master of modern tapestry whose ideas, based on a rereading of Gothic tapestry, revolutionised the technique. He briefly came under Lurçat’s influence, but in 1959 he began to question his practice. Impressed by the material and gestural Informalism of Jean Dubuffet, he turned more towards the weight of matter as a key element to achieve the autonomy of textiles as works of art. Henceforth, he introduced new materials of a more common and less ‘noble’ nature into his tapestries, such as jute, rope and wire. He also started combining threads of different thicknesses and using the carpet-knot, such that the materials began to take on a heightened expression of their own in his works.
This search for the autonomy of textile art and the volumetric games of the materials used, led the artist to experiment progressively with the relationship between textile and space, which in turn led to a gradual abandonment of the rigidity and two-dimensionality characteristic of tapestries and, consequently, of the use of the loom and preparatory cartoons. As a result, from the 1970s onwards, Grau-Garriga’s works acquired a radically different character and freer technique: they were increasingly three-dimensional, no longer hanging on a wall, growing in format and tending to occupy the space in which they were installed. At the same time, his works ceased to be purely descriptive and took on a symbolic value, which, although initially epic in character, ended up adopting a more intimate and poetic aspect arising from the colours and compositions. In this new symbology, the introduction of a whole range of different materials and objects linked to his personal and professional daily life also played a key role, such as burlap sacks, pieces of woven materials from the factory, old clothes from his relatives and newspaper clippings.
Encouraged by this progressive occupation of space and by the exploration of the temporal factor in the perceptive experience of the work, in the seventies Grau-Garriga began creating a set of ephemeral ‘environments’ in the interior spaces of monumental buildings and also in public spaces around the world, such as the Arras Gallery, New York (1971), the Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris (1975), Sugarbush ski slope, Vermont (1978), Montgomery University, Washington (1979), French Institute, Barcelona (1984), the Castellet, Perpignan (1984) and the Cathedral of San Nicolás, Alicante (1985), among many others. These ‘environments’, which he continued to develop throughout his life, were based on textile compositions that occupied the space and invited viewers to take part in the work by inhabiting it and circulating around it. In some cases, the participative nature of this initiative resulted in a process of collective and collaborative creation that materialised in the realisation of prior workshops with various collectives, in which Grau-Garriga explored the pedagogical nature of art, inviting the participants to build these ephemeral creations.
Throughout his career, Grau-Garriga combined his textile work with his artistic production in other media, especially paintings, drawings and collages of an introspective nature and with a marked tendency to abstraction. With these works, made with rapid gestures and great attention to detail, the artist reflected on the unconscious and on emotions linked not only to his personal life, but to the creative act itself.
Since 1964, Grau-Garriga’s work has been exhibited in numerous institutions such as The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1970), Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City (1987), Palau Robert, Barcelona (1988), and Musée Jean Lurçat, Angers (1989 and 2002). More recently, his work was included in the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020).