Friday, August 19, 2011

John Barrett enriches visual legacy of Federico Garcia Lorca´s poems

"Fable of Three Friends" by John Barrett (2011)

A black Buick with suicide doors drove out of Granada in a small caravan into the night and onto Viznar, a small village.

It was 19 August 1936.

Three weeks before, General Francisco Franco and his allies had declared war on the Spanish Republic.

A victim of bad timing or fatalism, playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca (1898 - 1936) rode in the back seat of that Buick surrounded by armed men on a mission.

Lorca, one of Spain´s most important poets, was being “taken for a ride,” a phrase the Spanish borrowed from Hollywood´s gangland movies that became common for both sides in perpetrating an estimated 175,000 assassinations from 1936 to 1945.

Illustrator/artist John Barrett at his 2009 opening in Canillas de Albaida of "Lorca: A Dream of Life."

Seventy-five years after his murder by falangist militia, British painter, illustrator and academic, John Barrett, is developing a new series of screen prints from his yet to be shown collection of more than 150 visual interpretations of Lorca poems he calls, "Lorca: Poet in New York."

Barrett, who is full time senior lecturer at Birmingham City University´s Institute of Art and Design, started his Lorca Project as a master´s thesis while at Leeds University.

More than 15 years later, Barrett has created more than 300 paintings, photographs, illustrations and drawings interpreting most if not all of Lorca´s poems, dividing them into “Lorca: A Dream of Life”  and “Lorca: Poet from New York”.

Barrett debuted “Lorca: A Dream of Life” in Spain, first in Canillas de Albaida (about 75 images) and in later in nearby Competa (more than 175 works) in the summer of 2009.

Both these villages are traditional Franco strongholds during the Spanish Civil War.

"Sleepless City" by John Barrett

by Federico Garcia Lorca

The field
of olive trees
opens and closes
like a fan.
Above the olive grove
a foundering sky
and a dark rain
of cold stars.
Bulrush and penmumbra tremble
at the river's edge.
The grey air ripples.
The olive trees
are laden
with cries.
A flock
of captive birds
moving their long long
tails in the gloom.

The legacy of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poems by John Barrett

These representative artworks are from a series of visual interpretations of the ‘Poet in New York’ poems written by Federico Garcia Lorca between 1929 and 1930.

But I have also responded to other poetic works and they can be viewed on

Prior to his visit to New York Lorca was concerned principally with the themes of fate and death in the lives of country people and the Gypsies of Andalucía. 

His early poetry portrays elemental human passions and emphasizes the interpenetration of dreams and reality in their lives. In addition, the plays incorporate elements from traditional Spanish and Andalucían popular songs as well as from surrealist poetry.

His move to New York enabled him to continue to explore the startling images and highly original metaphors, which marks his spontaneous and refined language. I have attempted to visually interpret these evocative images and powerful metaphors, as they have been a rich source of inspiration in the development of my own personal visual language.

During the last 10 years I have continuously returned to illustrating García Lorca's central themes of love, pride, passion and violent death, which also marked his own life.

Many of the poetic words are interwoven into the fabric of the image, thereby building a rich dialogue between the depiction of the meaning of the words through letterforms and image.

Colour, line, texture, space and form are intimately connected to the content of the words written by the poet and thereby the interplay of text and image is crucial to the way that the image is read.

Lorca’s early poems are some of my personal favourites as they evoke the quintessential quality of the Spanish landscape, language and culture and my website shows my many interpretations of his words. 

Of course Lorca’s other legacy was he was not afraid of dealing with questioning social norms as well as raising difficult political issues facing western democracies at that time and he exposed these issues eloquently in the ‘Poet in New York’ series of poems.

In my interpretations of these varied themes I have tried to suggest that they are both trans historical and universal. 

The main legacy of Lorca for a visual artist was the ability to communicate intense emotional states in a lyrical and moving way that combines a powerful vision and an acute observation that stimulates a personal visual response. 

As an Illustrator I am very interested of how to combine words and images to interpret meaning and Lorca has inspired countless generations of artists and performers since his untimely death.

John Barrett's intellect, his own intimate journey into the soul of Spain's perhaps best known and most certainly, most martyred poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, grabs you.

John Barret at his Canillas de Albaida opening
The genesis behind each image is an "immense amount of drawing before the final illustration....dry runs often determine the medium."

by Federico Garcia Lorca

The  children gaze
at a distant spot.

The lamps are put out.
Some blind girls ask questions of the moon
and spirals of weeping
rise through the air.

The mountains gaze
at a distant spot.

"I needed to see the whole story of Lorca's birth, his life, visit these places and see the village where he died,"John adds. He did.

The Lorca Project compelled him to appreciate "incredible metaphors often used as a surrealist technique of juxtaposing absolute disconnected meanings creating a third meaning, which dislocates the reader."
Hence, at least 12 huge sketch books, each a work of art in itself, complete with detailed annotations and hundreds of drawings, many worth framing.

Few artists have entered upon such a journey to visually intepret the poems of an iconic poet. HIs Lorca Project is unprecedented.

Open any of his scores of sketch books and you'll see colorful and detailed sketches, notes, quotes from his poems, page after page.

It sometimes took days and weeks to develop a single concept that Barrett thought worked for Lorca's verse.

When he finally decided on it, the construction of the work seemed explosive, fast, like magic, like pent-up adrenalized intensity, something erupting from deep inside him and flowing onto paper or canvass or wood panel.
"It is True" by John Barrett, acrylic on wood, 42 cm X 60 cm

"There's a mixture of spontenaiety and also it's very calculated because of my experience working tight deadlines as an illustrator;

"Most images are small compared to painters, so I come up with lots and lots of various pieces of a puzzle," he said.

 "His early poetry portrays elemental human passions and emphasizes the interpretation of dreams and reality in their lives," Barrett said.

"Arc of Moons" by John Barrett, acrylic, 80 cm X 80 cm

Saying Goodbye 
by Federico Garcia Lorca

I'll be saying goodbye
at the crossroads,
Heading off down that road
through my soul.

I'll arouse reminiscences,
stir up mean hours.
I'll arrive at the garden spot
in my song (my white song),
and I'll start to shiver and shake
like the morning star.

De Profundis
by Federico Garcia Lorca

Three hundred lovers
are asleep forever
beneath the dry earth.
andalucia has
long, red coloured roads.
Cordoba, green olive trees
for placing a hundred crosses
to remember them.
Those hundred lovers
are asleep forever.

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

ArtTraveler notes:

After living at the Hotel Queen Mary in Budapest (3.5 stars), I heartily recommend it: old on the outside, otherwise totally modern (23 rooms); 

The owner and staff are affable and speak English and German. Tel: 0036-1-413-3510;;

Visit Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop. 

"Spanish Life Stilled," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)

You may reach me at or by calling (34) 915 067 703 or from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349.  

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