Pepe Espaliú

Painter, Sculptor, Visual artist, Writer – Spanish


pepe espaliu

Pepe Espaliú was born in 1955 in Córdoba, Spain.

In 1974 he moved to Barcelona where he studied at the faculties of Philosophy, geography and History. He also attended classes at the Massana School, and joined several artists ́ groups then active in the city, taking part in conceptual art exhibitions and performances.

Later he moved to Paris where, influenced by the Figuration libre movement, he took up painting again. In 1983 he joined the Se ville group that publishedteh review titled Figura (1983-1986). Three years later he took part in the groupshow Sevilla: Ohne title (La Maquina Española Gallery, 1986), and thenceforth became a member of the artists ́ group associated with the Seville Gallery; though short-lived, this new venture was to achieve outstanding artistic results.

In 1986, Pepe Espaliú took up residence in Seville, where he embarked upon a series of paintings with strong symbolic connotations (using images of eyes, thorns, syringes, swastikas...), in dark colours. When he moved to Madrid, two years later, he decided to abandon painting and focus on drawing, works on paper, and sculptures. Although his treatment of preferred themes was shot through with intensely personal references (exploring identity, the conflict with homosexual nature, a sadomasochist sense of pleasure), his insights and symbols used started to become more apparent, reflecting an obsessive insistence on the prohibited, the hidden, and the difference. This insistence was evident in his series Glovemaking, Patrones [Patterns], Máscaras [Maks] and Santos [Saints], all produced in the course of 1988. The last two series provided the starting-point for a new foray into sculpture.

In 1990, whilst living in New York, Espaliú discovered that he had AIDS. He moved to México, in vain attempt to outrun the disease, but eventually he decided to return to Spain and get involved in social action in support of AIDS victims. This was the period of his Carrying sculptures, his carefully-assembled cages, and his numerous variations involving crutches, which brought his creative career to close. Whilst teaching at a workshop in San Sebastian, he devised the idea of transferring Carrying into action art; two people carried him round the streets. This form of action art adopted the social sculpture model espoused in his time by Joseph Beuys, whilst at the same time evoking the assistance provided by gay groups in New York (ACT-UP) to AIDS victims once the left hospital. On 1 December 1992, he repeated this action in Madrid, along a route running from the Congress building to the entrance of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, attracting considerable social and media interest. In summer 1993, he travelled to Arnheim (Netherlands), to take part in the performance project The Nest during the Sonsbeek festival. He died in Córdoba not long afterwards, on 2 November 1993.

Pepe Espaliú is one of the key artists in the history of contemporary Spanish art. His work forms part of the collections of leading museums throughout Spain and Europe, including the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (Seville), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), la Fundació “la Caixa” (Barcelona), MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) and Tate Modern (London).