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Valencian Institute for Modern Art shows a retrospective of Spanish painter Menchu Gal
Menchu Gal, Nocturno en el Cantabrico, 1950.

VALENCIA.- The exhibition, organized in collaboration with Menchu Gal Foundation and sponsored by Social Kutxa, shows oils, drawings and watercolors, representing different stages of the creative artist and genres that grew from his first works influenced by êcole de Paris in the 30's, to his latest creations of the 90's.

If we look at the work and artistic career of Menchu Gal (Irun, 1919 – 2008), a woman who managed to find happiness in painting during the dark years after the war, who succeeded in being herself despite all the obstacles imposed by the society of the Franco regime, we make a great discovery. A discovery because, although she occupied a place of honour in the Spanish art of her time, although she was one of the few women artists who shone in a world dominated by men, and although she was the first woman to be awarded the National Painting Prize, in 1959, her name fell into oblivion, like those of María Blanchard and, to a lesser extent, Maruja Mallo or Remedios Varo, all unjustly distanced from the general public but who achieved ever greater closeness to those curious nonconformist followers who wanted to discover the alternative, hidden, parallel paths of art.

Menchu Gal is there, and her sensibility places her in contact with many other restless spirits who are capable of connecting with the warmth of her indoor scenes, with the salty tang of her seascapes, with the fragments of the world outside that she captured, in all of which we feel the pulse of life. Her work invites the viewer to walk with her, following her steps and marking out a map of shared affinities in which every individual will draw up their own personal itinerary with a starting point determined by their longings, tastes and wishes. One particular thing that this Basque artist's work produces, apart from her themes and her use of styles such as Cubism or Fauvism to express herself, is the feeling of closeness. Her pictures make one want to live in those interiors where there is someone peacefully reading or where the human figures are absent but have left behind the warmth of their words, their smiles, the everyday expressions behind which the true happiness that so often goes unnoticed lies concealed.

Menchu Gal painted still lifes, interiors, landscapes and portraits, but whichever path she took she always attempted to reflect herself, to take up her brushes and express herself with them, as if she felt that the colours and textures were an alphabet of her heart. If there is one thing that is characteristic of her oil paintings it is undoubtedly their lack of coldness, the sensation that behind every brushstroke the artist has left a small part of herself, a kind of positive energy that lives on in a latent state. There will be those who look at her Bahía nocturna (Bay at Night) and imagine themselves inside the story that it depicts, dreamers seeking the calm that is always conveyed by boats drawn up on the beach, white sand, the sacred murmur of the sea with hardly any other sounds to be heard. There will be those who gaze at her Acantilado (Cliff) and become aware of the nightmare of the abyss, the giddy sensation of its sheer drop. And also those who feel the desire to cross El puente (The Bridge) and get to the bottom of the mystery that lies concealed behind the balanced serenity of the scene.

Menchu Gal presents the repeated miracle of the harvest, soars high above rooftop terraces, experiences the ecstasy of falling dusk and makes her way – taking us with her – into the "great forest" of storytelling, a world where everything is possible, and she is capable of making us count the clouds and delight in the different colours of the earth in her marvellous Abstracción paisajística (Landscape Abstraction). Her most internalised geographical settings, the ones that are drawn from the solid trunk of the tree of her childhood, are scenes of the north, panoramas of Irun, Fuenterrabía, Baztán, Elizondo, Bidasoa, San Juan, Cantabria and the simple moist green mountains that mark out the map of her personal experiences, but the branches of her emotions also reach out towards the landscape of Castile, filling the sprawling plains with bands of light-hearted colours that invite the spirit to expand. There are traditional compositions, such as Plaza del Ensanche (Irún), Fuenterrabía and Paisaje castellano VI (Castilian Landscape VI), but also bursts of subtlety and freedom that represent her personal imprint, such as Bodegón con sandía y otros objetos (Still Life with Watermelon and Other Objects), 1960, or Pueblo II (Town II), 1959, where she draws us into scenes from children's tales, as in the "great forest". Along the way we also find compositions that are almost "naive", such as Bodegón con pajarito (Still Life with Small Bird) or Bodegón con figuras y tulipanes (Still Life with Figures and Tulips), from the final period of her life, which can be read as a return to childhood, an acclamation of innocence. The road is not monotonous, it varies and is renewed, it changes and forks in various directions, like Menchu Gal's paintings.

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