1932 Barcelona, Gracia - SPAIN


Francesc Vilasis-Capalleja enrolled in the Escola Massana in Barcelona in October, 1946. Born in September, 1932, in the old district known as the Villa de Gracia, he had already attended classes in artistic drawing at the classical Barcelona Llotja.
Although there was no artistic tradition whatsoever in his family, he nevertheless displayed even from infancy an innate enthusiasm for drawing wich was to gain him various childhood distinctions.

From 1939 onwards the Escola Massana was directed by Miquel Sodevila, an artist who had specialized in the technique of enamelling, wich had brought him recognition and various prizes in Europe. He was a meticulous artist and a perfectionist and carried out a wide labour of investigation wich led him to develop a technique of his own, perfect for the creation of his works of miniaturist preciosity.

In fact, Miquel Soldevila, started out from the miniaturist techniques of the Geneva school, wich had been consolidated in the seventeenth century, as well as that of Limoges. This consists in applying the colours, transparent and opaque, onto a flux spread over the metal sheet in much the same way as when painting on canvas.
In certain areas Limoges white is used, wich lets the base colour show through. This is the technique used for what is known as grisaille: onto dark blue, almost black, the desired subject is modelled with Limoges white, allowing the base to show through the various coats; the more coats there are, the better the clarity. In this way numerous shades of grey were obtained.

The richest, most decorative elements were achieved with gold powder or with paillons, the finest sheets of gold or silver, which were covered with translucent or transparent enamel. The whole of the modelled subject stood out in light relief.

The Genevese technique consists of painting the purest metal oxides onto an opaque white base, hard and resistent to the action of fire, on which the colours stand out vividly. As it is a process almost identical to that of painting on canvas, it is the systems that has been habitually used in creating enamel miniatures.

Miquel Soldevila established a blend of the two techniques: he laid a dark base, modelled the subject and was lavish with the gold and silver paillons, but at the same time used oxides for painting many areas with the most detailed pointillism.

Miquel Soldevila, at the peak of his professional activity, brought prestige to the Escola Massana by converting it into a centre that was internationally famed not only for the objects that were created within its walls but also for the teaching imparted there, in the Section of Enamels.
And from the very beginning there was a striving to create a nucleus of disciples who recognized his techniques and applied them faithfully. This group of disciples began to form in the early forties and comprised the basic group of what has been called the Barcelona School of Enamel.

Francesc Vilasís was the youngest of this group, among whom should be mentioned Joan Gironès, Josep Brunet, Antoni Cortada, Núria Ribot, Núria Nialet…

Francesc Vilasís spent eleven years in the Escola Massana; for the first nine of these he was enrolled in the official courses, in which he attained the highest qualifications that were possible; from the first moment too he worked with his master's team, in which he not only incorporated himself to the full but also formed part of the small group of disciples working closely with him: inside the school and during long stays in various parts of Catalonia, carrying out commissions of marked importance. Given his tender years, his devotion to work that fulfilled his highest desires and the intimate treatment offered by Miquel Soldevilla, for Vilasís the years spent in the Escola Massana left their mark not only professionally but also in the human aspect. It should not surprise us that, in full maturity and with an unusual gesture, he should dedicate an exhibition to his teacher. "I have always believed I was indebted to my dear master and eminent enamellist, Miquel Soldevila i Valls. Now, after thirty-five years of true vocation devoted entirely to the Art of Enamel fired on metal, I find that I amb bold enough to be able to dedicate to him, with all respect, this exhibition of my work, as a simple but heartfelt homage to his memory", wrote Francesc Vilasís in the catalogue for his exhibition in the Galería Comas in December, 1982.

They were eleven long years of intense experience, of education in technique and aesthetics: thus he learned to draw with a surprising academic perfection, learned to paint with realist precision, understand the effect of fire and absorbed the belief that one of the components of artistic creation is decorative magnificence, acording to the aesthetic beliefs of this master.

During these years in the Escola Massana he began to exhibit -besides participating in the collective shows of the Escola itself. In April, 1951 -four years after creating his first enamel- he exhibited some pieces in the collective display of the Foment Gracienc de les Arts, an organization which was commemorating its fifth anniversary and of which Francesc Vilasís was a founder member. This exhibition afforded him his first critical review: on Radio Barcelona Juan Francisco Bosch spoke of: "… the highly commendable contribution of the excellent enamellist, Francisco Vilasís, whose works, of admirable pulchritude, deserve the most effusive praise. A rare expert in the speciality that he cultivates with the utmost propriety in so difficult a task, he offers works which in their exquisite beauty are scarcely capable of being surpassed or even simply imitated". From the very first moment his technical perfection was totally acknowledged.

There follow long years of silent work and practice: study trips to Paris, Limoges, Florence, Rome… Exhibitions in which enamels are frequently alternated with paintings. An enamellist who never forgets drawing or even painting, this persistent academic, inclines more and more towards a taste for colour. They are long years of patient seeking for technical perfection, long years of impatience to reach maturity.

On one occasion in this youth he sent a sketch to his master, Miquel Soldevilla, and asked him for his opinion. The latter wrote back, in a letter from Reus, dated August, 1949, in the following words; "Concerning the project you propose, I can see no great difficulty, although always on the basis of going to previous studies of the matter, since I suppose that the drawing you have shown me is not the result of any previous study of the real thing but is a sketch done from memory.

"I believe too that, as it is a case of a single static image, it would be better if all the elements, including, the accessories of veils and cape, hung according to their weight, without giving the sensation of billowing in the wind. This is correct when the subject of the composition or the movement entails this and, through such influence, expresses, in the case of flowing elements, some suitable circumstance; but in the case of your project it would only lead to emphasize an inappropriate barroque style.

"Proceed, in the free time that the enamel you are engaged on leaves you, to prepare the studies and then when you have finalized the basis of these studies, the definitive project, which I should be pleased to see before you begin the piece".

I belive that the transcription, and the reading, of this letter is of importance, because, whether it was in order to follow the advice of his master or simply from personal inclination and need, Francesc Vilasís was to work and carry out his projects with the most extreme precision and detail, trimming them, refining them and leaving nothing to chance.

Long years of work. For the catalogue of his exhibition in the Sala Nonell in Barcelona in 1978, he wrote a lengthy explanation of the evolution of enamel -later to be published separately- which was really a digest of the techniques of enamel which have appeared over the centuries. It is clear that this text, unusual in the catalogue of an individual exhibition, responded to a passion for the technical medium through which the creator expressed himself. I would even say that during these long years there existed a greater concern for the technical means than for aesthetics. "The art of enamelling on metal is marvellous, almost magical. Its principal element is fire". he was to say. And if on some occasion Vilasís-Capalleja complained of the mean tricks fire could play, he would at once confess that, thanks to fire, he and other enamellists were able to create beauty.

Like his master, Miquel Soldevila, he did not limit himself to repeating techniques in a mechanical way: perhaps Soldevila did not do this because of certain limitations; Vilasís did not do so because of greater knowledge. Thus, he felt that the dark base of the traditional technique of Limoges could achieve better results if it were not uniform: in areas of shadow cold colours could be placed and in areas of light the warm colours, so that when the subject was being modelled new effects would be obtained, since what was modelled was already shaded. At the same time, he introduced the chiselling and engraving or cutting of the metal that served as a support and so achieved better results in the metallic reflections, in the reverberation of the metal: as a result, a greater splendour in the decorative and ornamental parts of the composition of the work being created. At those moments he was dedicated to a profound and detailed study of the technique employed in the Gothic period known as basse-taille (low relief cutting), with which he carried out a number of commissions of a religious nature.
In this way he strengthened an aspect that belonged more to technique, more to enamel, distancing it from the Genevese manner, which was less technical and more pictorial. A nuance that brought notable results and which has been followed by numerous enamellists.

But it is not the slight techincal variations made by Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja that give him his greatest value: what consitutes his real contribution, what distinguishes him and gives him his place in the history of art, with a pages to himself in the history of enamelling, is his transcending of enamel as miniature, as painting; according to himself, he conceived of this fifteen years ago.

A faithful disciple of Miquel Soldevila, for years he sought technical perfection together with the decorative sense of the work. Not only could he display his consummate skill through a classical miniature subject -a fishmonger beneath a slate-covered porch in a Dutch setting- but he could also show it in his reinterpretation of a graceful Renaissance head or the combination of steely faces with magnificent costumes, long tresses and subtle veils. Everything was studied with perfect composition to reveal an unequalled mastery of technique and skill; of the knowledge and control of fire. But, at that moment when everything is perfect, when one begins to repeat oneself because it is difficult to surpass oneself, at that moment when one creates an individual manierismo, Francesc Vilasís realized that enamel is not only a technique: or rather, that enamel should not be only a technique. And so, in the 1976 Barcelona exhibition, alongside his miniaturist preciosity, he began to surpass technique, not by rejecting it but by converting its use into something unorthodox: he timidly used ivory and iron in little pieces… materiales are mixed. This attempt saw its full affirmation in his exhibition of 1982, also in Barcelona: on that occasion he presented himself no longer as a profound connoisseur of all the systems for making enamel, but also as one who questioned everything that enamel had been until that moment: he broke the frame into which enamel fitted, the pieces became irregular-shaped, they incorporated cardboard and there was an appreciable tendency towards three dimensions… and in his last exhibition in Barcelona in 1986 he reveals himself to us as a staunch demolisher of the concept of enamel up till then. Now we no longer know what to call the works he creates: because the enamel always perfect, is becoming smaller and smaller and the little piece of "enamel" is converted into the organizing element of a composition which includes materials he has found that range from wood to cardboard, from fabric to iron and wire; and even other small pieces of enamel made by the artist himself are introduced not as enamel but as a closed element, like an object found in the memory and remembrance of oneself.

Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja reveals himself to us as a staunch demolisher of traditional enamel and at the same time as a solid creator of modern enamel. But he does this, skilfully compensating between the old and the new ("I have never understood why, in order to be modern, it is necessary to renounce all one's academic apprenticeship", he will say), thus comparing two opposing concepts. So, in what we continue calling "enamel", his enamels, we find that collage acquires a determinant value, when enamel is precisely a technique of impeccable surfaces; in his works we find the inclusion of poor or discarded elements, when enamel has always been a sumptuous object, to be used only on the most ostentatious of occasions. Vilasís-Capalleja has succeeded in challening basic connotations of enamel by grafting on to them basic conotations of modernity.

We are faced with works which make us doubt as to whether we can continue to call them enamels because the part carriet out in this tecniques is minimal, but we know that we must continue to call them enamels because the small fragment caried out with this ancient technique is the origin of the work, is the centre of the work, is the organizer of the work: the little piece of vitrified metal is the heart of the work. They are enamels in the modern sense; like other artistic disciplines, they cross boundaries and break with conventions. This is the great lesson of Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja: to be at the origin, to be the origin of a new stage in enamel.

On the occasion of his last exhibition in Barcelona in 1986, I wrote: "The present exhibition of works by Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja represents the most important step taken in the world of enamel in the last forty years: because of their technical and conceptual contributions. Techinically, he reaches supreme perfection in the enamel and offers results in the colours and the opaques that are unique. Conceptually, he snatches enamel away from its dependece on painting and jewelry and converts it into a genuinely autonomous and independent work".

It is consequently not difficult to imagine that in the restriced world of enamel his works are internationally recognized as being among the most outstanding of their kind. Marie-Madeleine Arnold wrote of his exhibition in Brussels in February 1979: "Les émaux de Francesc Vilasís, d'une finesse exceptionelle -visage longs et botticelliens de vierges et de jeunes femmes- sont autant de réussi tel qui rappellent, sans en démériter, les maitres d'autrefois. Comment ne pas acquiescer à la beauté, à la delicateuse, à l'élégance de ces miniatures qui témoignent de la pérennité d'un univers artistique sans concession à la facilité et fort proche d'une perfection presqu'irréelle".

And together with these words, facts: acts of recognition which qualify his work beyond dispute: such as being the only artist to have been awarded two distinctions in Limoges -in 1975 he obtained the Medaille Ville de Limoges and in 1984 he obtained the Prix Internationale à l'Art de l'Email Peint, in the Third and Fourth Biennials respectively- and being asked to run seminars and give talks in San Diego State University, in the Japan Shippo Council in Tokyo, in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Hiroshima, in the German university of Kaiserslautern, in the Enamel Guild South, Wolfson Campus University of Miami, in l'Escole Nationale des Arts Décoratives de Limoges, in the Maison des Arts Laval in Canada…

Recognition … Besides what I have been saying about the technical and conceptual aspects of the world of enamel which he modifies and transforms, Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja goes on thinking of enamel as an ornamental element -in this he does not disdain history. Because of this he has always let himself be captivated by that plastic art which made the ornate its essential characteristic: Vienna, the Secession, Klimt… Gustav Klimt, the painter of the decadence of the decadent Austro-Hungarian empire, the painter of morbid symbolism, the scintillating player with lines and patches of colour… Those fields of red and blue flowers, those vestments with arrhythmic geometry, enchased in gold and silver, those kisses whose eroticism is an explosion of colours and forms… Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja is subjugated by the sensuality of Klimtian decoration: in this, aesthetic reasons dominate the philosophical. Vienna, Klimt, enamel! How it flashes and shines! And it is all united to the figures that the Renaissance drew better than any: enamel, which Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja has wrested from its ancient ways and chanelled towards the path of genuine creation.

Traducción por: RONALD . ROUND (Cambridge Officier)