Ever since settling in Paris in the early sixties, Joan Rabascall (Barcelona, 1935) has made a critical study of the mechanisms, limits and possibilities of the media. Beginning with collages, then photographic emulsions on canvas and printing on metal, and, in the eighties, with sculptures and installations, Rabascall has used the visual and textual language of the media to critique its perversity. As observed by the French art critic Pierre Restany, a connoisseur of the artist’s career, Rabascall practises a unique découpage of the gaze, reframing media messages at the service of a new narrative.
His collage technique questions the essence of the construction of images and offers a re-reading of existing images by subverting their meaning. In many of his works, the artist alters the use of an image by changing its context. In others, he simply reframes it or puts it in dialogue with other images. Thus, through minimal and subtle alterations, he reveals the ideological element underlying the social construction of the image.
In the late 1960s, Rabascall began using photomontage and photo emulsion on canvas based on magazine and newspaper cuttings and advertising posters. As the artist explained: ‘My inspiration was the mass media of the time. [...] Newspapers, magazines and advertisements constituted my primary material. By bringing together images taken from various publications, images that should have never have come together, I would get unexpected juxtapositions, new discourses. It was the game of “found images”.’ (Joan Rasbascall interviewed during his participation in the exhibition The World Goes Pop, Tate Modern, London, 2015)
Atomic Kiss (1968) is one of his emblematic works from that time. The artist combines two iconic images in the social imaginary of the West: a red lipstick outlines a female mouth evoking the sensual myth of the Hollywood woman, while in the background, as if coming out of her mouth, there is the profile of an atomic mushroom cloud, a direct reference to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. The superimposition of the two images effectively achieves a double message. On the one hand, in the socio-political context of the late sixties, Atomic Kiss describes the ambiguities of North American consumer society, where a destructive and massive military power hid behind the iconic glamour of the cinema. As Rabascall said, ‘Atomic Kiss reflects the year 1968. It was the year of student protests from Berkeley to Berlin, via Paris. The refusal of the Vietnam War, the threat of a possible world war…’. (Interview cited above, 2015). On the other hand, and in a more subtle reading, Rabascall reflects on the power of the media, alluding to the onslaught of invasive and massive images to which we are subjected.
‘Because the purpose of these works is not to cause fear; you have to show the writing of disaster. We are catastrophe illiterates. Legibility is needed to try to understand.’ (Arbulú quoting Paul Virilio, Lo que viene, p. 9) Claudia Arbulú Soto: Los catalanes de París: un análisis estético. Madrid: Dykinson, 2016, p. 94.