Eduardo Arroyo Rodríguez (26 February 1937 – 14 October 2018) was a Spanish painter, sculptor and graphic artist. He was also active as a writer and set designer. Arroyo is regarded as one of the most important exponents of politically committed realism.Arroyo was born in Madrid and originally trained a journalist, graduating from School of Journalism, Madrid in 1958. Following his studies and growing contempt for the Francoist Spain, Arroyo emigrated to Paris at the age of 21. He originally began working as an author and journalist, but soon decided to devote himself to painting.
In Paris, he befriended members of the young art scene, especially Gilles Aillaud, with whom he later collaborated in creating stage sets, such as Vivre et laisser mourir ou la fin tragique de Marcel Duchamp, a work in eight pieces intended to criticize contemporary French art. He also befriended Joan Miró. In 1964, he made his breakthrough with his first important exhibition. He dominated the major post-Franco exhibition of Spanish art at the Venice Biennale of 1976. Over 20 years of critical and commercial success followed. In his old age, the ideologically and creatively uncompromising artist was as active as ever.
Stylistically, Arroyo's mostly ironic, colorful works are at the crossroads between the trends of nouvelle figuration or figuration narrative and pop art. A characteristic of his representations is the general absence of spatial depth and the flattening of perspective.
Arroyo also became known to a broad public through his many works as a set designer, as well as partially by his costume designs. In this relation, he cooperated since 1969 especially with the director Klaus Michael Grüber, who encouraged him in this activity. Arroyo created sets for, among others, the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, the Paris Opéra (in 1976, Richard Wagner's Die Walküre), the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin and the Salzburger Festspiele (in 1991, Leoš Janáček's Z mrtveho domu).
In 1982 he received Spain's National Award for Plastic Arts.Arroyo's stage play, Bantam, premiered at the Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel (Residenztheater) in Munich with great success in 1986, with his friend, Klaus Michael Grüber, as director and Ailland and Antonio Recalcati for sets and costumes.
In her monograph on Eduardo Arroyo, Sarah Wilson of the Courtauld writes:
"Eduardo Arroyo was until October 2018 Spain's most celebrated living painter. A violent critic of the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, he left his home country in 1958. He soon joined Paris's international community of politicised artists, including those who fled America like Peter Saul or the Haitian artist Hervé Télémaque, in the run up to the revolution of May 1968. He dominated the major post-Franco exhibition of Spanish art at the Venice Biennale of 1976.
Arroyo became a driving force of the European Narrative Figuration movement, while anticipating by well over a decade the appropriations of the New York Pictures Generation. What I call his ‘killer-quotations’ ¬link him to his great precursor Francis Picabia with whom he has strong affinities (1). And just as for Picabia and Marcel Duchamp the mysterious boxer Arthur Cravan became a hero, a bevy of boxers, in particular Lord Byron and Panama Al Brown became emblematic for Arroyo and his own pugilistic position (2). See Eduardo Arroyo, Panama Al Brown, Paris, Jean-Claude Lattès, 1982 (many reeditions) and Eduardo Arroyo. 1969-1996, Lausanne, Olympic Museum, 5 March – 15 June 1997 (in French and English).
We discover here the boom in Pop Art under the labels of nou realisme in Catalonia and New Figuration in Madrid. (Arroyo’s position was in line with the vehement refusal of Picasso or Pablo Casals to have any contact with life under dictatorship) (3). America is insistently present in Arroyo’s early work, as it was in Spanish post-war politics. The very young Eduardo clandestinely devoured American literature in Argentinian editions that escaped the censorship.
In 1975, Arroyo showed in European Painting in the Seventies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he declared: ‘After a nearly total eclipse lasting almost fifteen years, the idea that the United States seems interested again in European painting surprises and fascinates me simultaneously. While in Europe we were constantly kept in touch with every little fact concerning the evolution of any American artistic activity, it seemed that a black out had fallen over the other side of the Atlantic, prohibiting any artistic and cultural interest' (4). Once again we raise the curtain in this historic exhibition.
Arroyo’s curatorial role in the Venice Biennale’s Attualità internazionali ’72-76 was controversial, but—bearing in mind his arrest and imprisonment by Franco’s regime in 1974 and the confiscation of his passport—how intensely must he have savoured Spain: Artistic Vanguard and Social Reality (1936-1976), the 1976 Biennale pavilion centrepiece, celebrating Spain’s newfound freedom (5). It attempted to reconstruct the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair (minus Picasso’s Guernica) showing Alexander Calder’s mysterious Mercury Fountain together with many Republican posters (6). Alongside contemporary Spanish artists such as Antonio Saura, Arroyo’s Night Watch was the largest, most impressive figurative statement."
1. Sarah Wilson, ‘Of lettuces and kings: the killer quotations of Eduardo Arroyo’, keynote lecture, Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland, University of Durham, 8 April 2019.
2. See Eduardo Arroyo, Panama Al Brown, Paris, Jean-Claude Lattès, 1982 (many reeditions) and Eduardo Arroyo. 1969-1996, Lausanne, Olympic Museum, 5 March – 15 June 1997 (in French and English).
3. Arroyo mentions his admiration for this stance in Trente-cinq ans après, Paris, Union Générale des Éditons, 1974, p. 9.
4. Arroyo in Maurice Tuchmann ed. European Painting in the Seventies. New Work by Sixteen Artists. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1975, p. 45.
5. Valeriano Bozal et al. España: vanguardia artistica y realidad social (1936-1976), Barcelona, Editorial Gustavo Gili, 1976.
6. Francesc Mestre, ‘The Venice Biennale of 1976 as a symptom, Mirardor de les arts, 20 March 2019; the exhibition moved to the Miró Foundation Barcelona, December 1976 (recreated at IVAM, September 2018). https://www.miradorarts.com/the-1976-venice-biennale-as-a-symptom/. This includes the link to the IVAM film with curator Sergio Rubira, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DfLKbk2L0w.
Exhibiting since 1961, Arroyo’s work has been shown in exhibitions across the globe, including the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin (1971); the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1982); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY (1984); Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Dortmund, (1987); Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Valencia (1989); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (1998), and most recently held solo exhibitions at Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao in 2017; Pabellón Villanueva, Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid in 2019 and Naves de Gamazo, Santander in 2021... His most renowned work, Vestido bajando la escalera, belongs to the collection of the Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, in València.