Carlos Mensa

Carlos Mensa

(, - )

Mutual Contemplation. Carlos Mensa


De-concealments of a Mutual Contemplation


I fear no class of being except humans

Goya, letter to Zapater

They are their portraits they are viewing, and their lives which are being recreated in the discourse; the monsters correspond to everyday images which, being so common, they cannot be identified; everybody, me and all of us, pay the requisite tribute to those who have been able to find the key to the door and we are shocked to discover that transcendence, the beyond, is a chicken coop.[1]


The title of the exhibition is taken from a painting from 1981, Contemplació mutual (Mutual Contemplation), which brings about an interplay of an uncomfortable, disturbing and unsettling gaze… the same that pierces the soul when viewing the work of Carlos Mensa (1936-1982), since we always come across the brutality of an irony that moves, ensnares and revolts us.   The mirror distils the things we wish to ignore about the human condition and even now, more than twenty-five years after his sudden death, his de-concealments of reality still carry the same force and relevancy because we always see ourselves in them.  This is why the viewer is invited to approach some of the works that remained unfinished in his studio, in the presence of self-portraits, of different periods side by side (within and outside the work), of the tension between opposing elements and forces, of the de-sacralisation of the powers and sarcasm that destroy… to find at the end the thread taking us back to the beginning.  

Is contemplation within the work there to condemn human stupidity? The work and its reader in mutual contemplation, but only after the artist has produced an intentional rupture of comfortable contemplation.  There is an interplay of mirrors in this act of solidarity.  Mensa, who complained of not being sufficiently clever or skilful with people because he knew that his ideas made him lose control when trying to speak with his fellow human beings, ideas that were not the result of either narcissism or pedantry in his work, also included himself in the human farce and became a cardinal, but also took life seriously.  

I read Siri Hustvet on Goya, about this way of breaking with the idea of the world as “a place of definitive frontiers and articulated and recognisable space.”[2] With Mensa frontiers are brought down too, telling us we are vulnerable, that the urge to avoid definitions and categories exists, but that fear and insecurity are greater, and with them comes concealment, lies and hypocrisy. The interplay of mirrors makes us complicit in what happens in the work and the distance is ever closer, enabling us to see what things are like.  

From the hermit-like isolation of his studio, like Nietzsche or Pavese, the presences from his interior self invade a canvas that later will portray us without limits. The self and his Others, the sum which – like Pessoa’s heteronyms – provide an outlet for the contradictions of human existence.  Perhaps, sometimes, like Alberto Caeiro when he wanted to feel and be himself because he did not understand the obligation of having theories and supporting them in order to be aware of things.


My thought swims across the river, but very slowly since it is weighed down by the clothing men have made it wear.[3]  

To criticise he often uses an atmosphere where violence, with its metamorphoses, becomes the aggression which disconcerts us most; with harshness at the moment of evoking “our own concealed life and our animal selves.”[4] However the attraction, what moves us in these works, is not derived from a political, religious or social reading of the context, although there exist these more or less veiled meanings which, in the end, are not stipulated, but from the brute force of certain forms and content that bring together our most basic instincts with the impotency, alienation, torture and desperate straits of the human being.  The key is in the irony and black humour.  

Mutual Contemplation is an exhibition centred on certain subjects and iconographic elements that are repeated throughout his career, in which we may regard the interior exile of the artist as a consequence of the times he lived in. The changeover from one society to another – from the repression of Franco to the consumer society – becomes a nexus between the different scenes that prefigure proceedings and force. If at first one of the struggle’s objectives was to defend a political and social ideology, later, with the transition to democracy, the powers represented by Mensa were those of a different domain, that of the consumer society.   But we should not fix on this reflection of a specific moment in time.  It is not enough and is part of a common ground shared by many artists.  However, it should be said that, above all else, there is always a siding with the human condition, which means that he shows us its awkwardness and all the values that concern him on culture, religion, history, women and sex are demystified. It enables us to see how things are now and always, no matter how much the scenes, settings and characters may change.  

Does he speak about icons? Not so much about the interpretive explanations as about the importance of two things: the recurrence and the use of everyday, to-hand elements such as clothing and mannequins, weapons, animals and music.  But in the end, they are instruments that feed and give body to the criticisms of the contradictions, of the trap-door of appearances, via a metamorphosis that implants, blinds, mutilates, takes away freedom and deceives. Mensa never tells us what we should think or feel; but with a negation that aims to close fissures and compress the voice and the gaze, he only opens.

By looking at his subjects associations can be made between formally different periods of his career: women caught between their interior conflict and the metaphors set by men concerning the world; the concern with the powers aiming to control reality; the characters who go from being workers to victims of consumerism; flesh and the human body, as well as all the metamorphoses that displace and invert sense – humanised animals, humanoid birds; the lucidity of a gaze that uses the privation of sight and of the word – the covered faces, blindfolded eyes; and the suits of armour and protection for the most vulnerable parts of the body.

The invisible frontier of the human being, the nexus between the interior and the exterior, is what is made visible in his work, the armour and the skin where implants are grafted or thresholds encountered, as well as the force that strips away flesh that is distorted, desired and tormented… which in the 1960’s would take on a more grotesque sense. While here the frontier was erased by means of sarcastic expressionism, in the following decade it contracted and progressively waned in a terrifying irony that was increasingly uncomfortable for the viewer since, as Virginia Woolf said you cannot keep the freedom of the mind "under lock and key."

If his transformations appear natural it is because, despite the fact of superficial similarities with Goya’s prints, the concave mirrors of Valle Inclán or certain aspects of Surrealism, they are based on lived experience, on the most fragile and vulnerable parts of the human body, also as a mirror effect where every crisis is pain, hopelessness, irony, impotence and contradiction. They are lines of stitches, lines that need sewing, the girdles that become prostheses that press and constrict, to see and not see, to hide and reveal, since we never know where human anatomy begins or ends when seen under an interplay of resemblance, implants, disguises and inversions offering such an extraordinarily mutant quality.  


By disembodying his conquests to reduce them to the essential, Khan had arrived at the extreme operation: the definitive conquest, of which the empire’s multiform treasures were only illusory envelopes, it was reduced to a square of planed wood: nothing…

Italo Calvino[5]


On the black and white of a brick floor reminiscent of his games of chess, Mensa built his last studio in the Empordà region, which also saw his last dialogue, his last efforts, his last light, his last unfinished works and his last match. The empty industrial space and the metaphysical sensation of finding oneself in a painting by De Chirico, like an intuition bringing us back to the painting Autumn Melancholy (1915), which he first saw at an exhibition in the Palau de la Virreina in 1957 in Barcelona, and which helped him find himself. But especially back to an association that takes us, twenty-six years later, to Mensa’s first exhibition in Barcelona, in the same space where he had viewed the De Chirico, but this time as a painter not a gallery goer.

I would like to thank my travelling companions: Margarita Nuez and Patricia Mensa (wife, and art historian daughter), for all their help; Enric Vila Casas (admirer of his work with whom I have been able to compare points of view); the Brodsky sisters (friends and writers who have followed the same leads as I over twenty years ago, when I wanted to approach Mensa for the first time: one in Tuscany and the other in the Empordà); Carla Leiris (art historian who, from the South of France, has visited a metal working workshop where they cast metal and iron, just like the one he saw when he was small), and Mireia Escassi who sent me a postcard from the southeast of the peninsular, from a Mediterranean port where she says he felt his calling to be a sailor.

Recognition, from whom? Carla Leiris asked me. It is from some, but from others it becomes disrespect. We should always distrust success and adulation because they are surely buying us for a specific reason and diverting us from our path.  He, Carlos Mensa, was none of these, but someone who looked at the world, observed only the world and experienced interior growth by making a stand, doing justice to what he believed in.  It is true that Mensa’s world is conditioned by the repression of his early years, which is why people analysing his work usually locate it in the tradition of a Spain in the manner of Vittorini, one which puts a shine on gold while blood is let. It is connected, yes, Carla told me, but one has to “whet the senses”. His outlook was open and went beyond the repressive apparatus of a state that held society in an iron grip, an evasive world that was not what it seemed if we look at the individuals, and where masked strategies were necessary to survive if one wanted to be oneself.   

“Barcelona, his city, ignored him” José Luis Giménez Frontín said in a newspaper obituary.  However, “mentioning his name in Milan, was an open sesame …” What was closed here, opened there because they respected him as one of our geniuses.  And for him Italy, apart from being the country that most appreciated his work, was also one of his great influences.  

The exhibition layout is a dialogue that steers away from labels.  “Art for life” as Enrico Bellati said, or art for not losing touch with life, is what was offered us by Carlos Mensa, a man who “manages to overcome that which was the impassable limit of Surrealism, despite the artistic greatness of its maestros: to reunite, as dreamt of in classical art, in the same creative act, reality and the unconscious, the individual fact and social meaning."

Glòria Bosch


Remembering Mensa


tomorrow is coming with yesterday.

They got together during

a journey to the shadow

of the song that begins

with the word was

Juan Gelman


Behind me, while I write, I there is a picture by Mensa.  It is signed at the bottom on the left: “Mensa 64”. A single figure, a child dressed in red, below the tracery of a Gothic window.  The earthen, reddened face of the child stands out on a dark slate-blue sky. Before sitting down I turned it over and checked I remembered the name properly:  Monaguillo (Altar Boy). It is written in black on the canvas. On reading it I could smell the still intense aroma of the red deal stretcher.  It still has all four corner wedges. (Not very frequent in such a small canvas). I measured it: 27 by 22 centimetres.  More or less the size of a book.  Along with my books it has accompanied me and survived the house moves of over half a lifetime.

Mensa gave it to me to mark the birth of my first child.  We were in Barcelona in his studio, he asked me to choose one, and I liked this one because of its colour and tactile quality, because of the unbalanced composition of the three circles of the Gothic tracery and the ring of the child's face.  A small painting, done in one go, without hesitation or remorse. 

We probably talked about the works for the first Estampa Popular de Valencia exhibitions.  Mensa, rather improbably perhaps, was then a member of the Estampa Popular de Valencia.  (Or at least, I would have liked him to be). We had met at the beginning of that year during the preparations for the Spagna libre exhibition, which Aguilera Cerni was organising together with Giulio Carlo Argan and Mario de Michelli, and which was going to be shown in Rimini, Florence, Ferrara, Reggio Emilia and Venice, cities then governed by the Italian Communist Party. Mensa was in the novissimi section, as were Solbes and Valdés, for whom Aguilera had asked me to write an introductory text for the catalogue.  At that time Solbes and Valdés were part of a group of young artists with whom I regularly met.   We planned the creation of what we were going to call Estampa Popular de Valencia. There were seven or eight of us; at times more. We would meet in either Solbes’s studio or Valdés’s. (They then still had separate studios). Once Valeriano Bozal came from Madrid.  We discussed art and politics, made plans and dreamt of the future; ours and the world's. We invited Mensa. We proposed that he become part of the group even though he was not from Valencia.  He came from Barcelona a couple of times.  He kept a certain distance and did not speak much, but his sense of irony fitted in well.  I remember Solbes, Valdés and me waiting for him at the railway station and then all walking back in the early-summer sun through the streets of Valencia to join the others.

The first Estampa Popular de Valencia exhibition was held in November.  In the end Mensa did not take part in it.  Later, in the following year, he was one of the founders of the Estampa Popular de Catalunya, a more loose-knit set up than the Valencia version and to which he was less artistically (although not politically) committed. Solbes, Toledo and Valdés however went on to form the Equipo Crónica and I associated myself with them. In 1965 Aguilera started another, broader project; a tendency he called a “chronicle of reality”, in which, together with other painters, he wanted to include the Equipo Crónico and Mensa. But we did not feel at home under this umbrella organisation. We went our separate ways. Mensa, for his part, began to spend more time in Paris and Italy. In 1968 we found out that he had been arrested by the political police (then known as the “social” police) in Barcelona, one of the most notorious police brigades of the time. Luckily they let him go after a few days.  We later heard he had gone to Milan and then to Rome. It was in Italy where he found the opportunities that enabled him to consolidate his career as a painter. And so, although he still lived in Barcelona, he gradually drew away from the Spanish art world and we saw him less and less.  

The small oil painting by him that has been with me all these years speaks to me of that separated past.  It is the starting point of a branching off; but it makes me think there could have been connections or bridges between our respective paths. Imaginary bridges: books we both read, music we both listened to, and painting.

The ones I imagine most clearly are literary connections.  The first, the most obvious, is the one I encounter when remembering Luis Martin Santos.  We coincided in Carabanchel prison at the same time in 1959 for four or five months and I knew well (or so I thought) his thoughts on psychiatry, politics and literature. His novel Tiempo de silencio (Time of Silence), which I read avidly in Valencia when it first came out, provided me with all kinds of examples and images for our discussions.  Examples of contrasts. Solbes, Valdés and I sought other models.  In Mensa’s painting however one could see, I believed, something of the emotional urgency and fleshy plasticity of Martín Santos’s characters, the baroque density of his settings, his nods to the Spanish cultural tradition of the picaresque.  We were in search of something different but we could not help but admire these qualities (especially Solbes).

We were contemporaries and we were close; there could well have been other links. Nuevas amistades (New Friendships) by García Hortelano for instance, or a little later Últimas tardes con Teresa (Last Evenings with Teresa) by Juan Marsé. The hard, grey Barcelona during the years of political repression was without doubt the natural setting of the characters Mensa depicted at the time.  (I have to remind myself once again, incredulously, that he was not able to read Rabos de lagartija (Lizard Tails) by Marsé, which he would have loved). And there was of course Latin-American writing, which amazed us all.  There was the open window to the Central-European current of the bizarre and grotesque, which made living in our stifling atmosphere a little more bearable.  Mensa, I think, would perhaps not have made the change that can be seen in his painting in the late 1960’s, when we had already lost touch, a step that took him closer to the slower vein of surrealist tradition, if reading Latin-American literature had not prepared him for it. I cannot say. I seem to remember our conversations in Valencia mentioning Lezama Lima (who neither of us had yet read). We must have talked about La ciudad y los perros (published as The Time of the Hero in English). (Years later he painted a portrait of its author, and later still Vargas Llosa returned the favour wrote about his painting).

As for me, I did not travel to Italy until the early 1970’s and never came across Mensa while I was there.  But to continue with the game of looking for connections, many could have been Italian. Moravia, who he was crazy about (especially, I seem to remember, The Conjugal Love) produced in me (although it is a long time since I last read it) a mixture of fascination and boredom (an unlikely mix, I know). It is because of That Awful Mess on Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda that every time I am in the area of St. John in Lateran I am reminded of Mensa.  I wonder if his stays in Italy allowed him to read it in the original (I had to make do with a laborious Spanish translation). When I read Dicería dell’ untore (in the original) I could not help but wonder if he had read it too.  I came to Caravaggio later than he did and, although I preceded him in a fondness for painting of the quattrocento, including the School of Ferrara, I did not know of Antonio da Crevalcore, the quattrocento painter he would have liked most, until 1997.  Fifteen years too late.

While I write, behind me is playing a madrigal for five voices by Gesualdo: "Art and life, sensitivity and violence, instinct and premeditation are intertwined in the journey of Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), Prince of Venosa” it says in the CD notes): Ahi disperata vita.

Tomàs Llorens  


Carlos Mensa, Royal Painter

I prefer the other current of modern art,

Determined to wrench meaning from change.

Figuration, disfiguration, metamorphosis…

Octavio Paz


The royal chamber is a place where only gentlemen and people who wish to display grandeur are allowed access, and Carlos Mensa, who is neither one nor the other but an astute and bold painter of our times, has gained access to the royal chamber of our society and, like a magician or perhaps a conjurer of colours who was until precisely this instant locked away in the palace of his thoughts, surprises all the beings he came across by looking into what was really inside them; beings who he well knows carry in their humps the corruption of an age that is mistaken for the degradation of his person, while far away frozen countries whine, purged by an inquisition more exacting than poverty itself.  


My archangels found, caught in the nets of space, the gleaming remains of my tunic of opal, which were floating above amazed peoples. They were not able to put it back together, and my body is still naked before their innocence; memorable punishment for abandoned virtue.


Naked, stripped, not only of their dress – whether patterned, velvet, cotton, silk, linen, or of their own skin – but slaves to their old subjugation and their servility through the centuries, the women he paints are always found alone, although there are sometimes groups of men at their feet, as if worshipping or protecting them: women with dolls’ heads made of porcelain or of simple wood; or mannequins; or with a dog giving the impression of accompanying them by their side; or flanked by hippopotami, with the head of a hideous monkey appearing from her belly; or with a man who came down from the sky with an umbrella impassively watching her; or the one with a fly on her behind; or rooted like a plant to the ground; or showing her rollers or letting her hair be cut: or the woman bound to an easel in pain; or being confused with a still life and with scissors pointing her sex; or “Bipes Eden” with her viola body and her boy prince on her head; or the mother hiding her face in helmet from a suit of armour and hugging her rugby-ball child; soon after a caesarean and the static child by her side; or feeling shattered and trapped by her twin friends; or dreaming of being the Maid of Orleans inside a beautiful suit of armour; or serving simply and surprisingly as a diplomatic bag; or going down stairs, headless with a crown of air and covered in a cloak painted with arabesques of old gold; or feeling pleasure through her nipples; or corsets disfiguring and hiding her face; or perhaps her face is held, clutched by male hands as if imprisoning them; or that her hair sometimes seems primordial due to its lushness, its infinite curls, its infinite colours – reds, yellows, whites;  or with a spanner trapping her; or a perverse thread tugging at her nipple; or serving as a race for an English-looking cyclist; or her hair is woven with little soldiers’ heads; or her twisted arm is a shocking continuation of her flaccid companion’s leg; or as a virgin with a child but without a face; or as the Lady of the Doberman, proudly poised: all these women so subtly painted by Carlos Mensa are unsettling, ambiguous and perverse.  Generally their bodies give the impression of having undergone mortification – have they mortified the flesh with penitence in order to purge their sins? Other times they seem gaunt, flaccid, squashed, cornered and tragically devastated:


At dusk they will put the tumbler girl

In a cage, take her to a crumbling temple

And leave her there alone.


Yes, when the sun sets and the tumbler girl is put in her cage, Mensa’s paintings will still be there, petrified, stuck to the canvas, to the colours, in the frames that surround them.

Even his own self-portrait is a delirium of cross-dressing, directly siting us at the heart of Spanish dark humour. From the aesthetic-experience point of view of, Mensa’s paintings represent the liberation of his repressed instincts, the processes by which he punishes the exterior world, unleashing a charge of ferocious anger. The men Mensa describes with his pictorial language are tortured, ridiculous and essential provocative and mocking: the mechanical Behemont; Henry VIII as a cake, as if referencing the beheadings for which he was famous; Van Dyck’s knight; the ape or ape king frightening away a woman; the cat-like gentleman giving the impression of being half-cleric, half-layman from the Victorian age, although he also reminds us of Jonathan Swift’s kindly offered insults; the young, paranoid-looking man illustrated with five faces of Góngora; the ape on the piece of cheese; the fragmented man in a wheel chair, covered, his face masked with a corset typical in Mensa’s work; the apple-man, shifty and evasive; Góngora again, this time with the bust of a naked woman on his head; a waxen and peaky face almost hidden by a cabbage; or simply the Hombre (Man); the trio of young men or triplets; the reading man with stitches running from his forehead to the nape of his neck; the lion-headed man; the half-dog, half-man posing masterfully in his chair; also the boy-cabbage in his yellow suit with a sky-blue ribbon tied to his waist, surprising us by trying to get out of the frame; and the girl-mannequin swinging attached to a cable… Everything in his painting is like a great procession of human beings – also of objects – covered with masks or perhaps muzzles. Everything is a juxtaposition of images, of words, of artistic-human connections, of ever dubious characters, always cruel and trapped within a continuum of silences, vacuum and darkness.

He does not name things by their names.

Things have toothed edges, luxuriant vegetation. But

Who speaks in the room filled with eyes. Whose teeth chatter

With a paper mouth. Names that come, shadows with

Masks. Cure me of the emptiness – I said. [The light reveres itself in my

Darkness. I knew there was not any when I found myself saying:

I am me.] Cure me – I said.


Carlos Mensa reflects a rich stylisation in his work, which does not only appear in his men, women and children, but in his societal-heterogeneous groups which he paints with extreme subtlety and, at the same time, with tremendous humour, with sharp and powerful ingenuity, often reminding us of our classical painters.  This is why we believe Carlos Mensa is striding along paths – many of his pieces clearly show it – that connect with the classic Spanish tradition of black painting.

Antonio Beneyto







Carlos Mensa was born on 28 February 1936 in Barcelona, son of Juan Mensa Bada, who worked at the Sopena publishing house, and Manuela Corchete López, a teacher employed by the Generalitat de Catalunya.




In January a French Red Cross ship docked in the port of Barcelona to carry children of Spanish Civil War refugees to a safer and healthier life in Casablanca. One of these children was Carlos Mensa, who was separated from his family at the tender age of three.  His mother, who had fled to France, was only able to meet up with her son a few months later. They lived for a short time in Paris, and then moved to Villeneuve-sur-lot in southern France.  The frequent moves prevented young Carlos from settling down into a proper education, as happened with many children of his generation. But despite this, his natural restlessness and passion for reading gave him a good cultural grounding which he instinctively displayed throughout his childhood and part of his adolescence through drawing.



The 1940’s


In 1945 an amnesty issued by Franco allowed him to return to Spain with his mother and they moved to Cartagena. Five years later they returned to Barcelona and were reunited with his father. 


From a young age he decided to be an artist and tried out various techniques with the aim of finding the right field for him. He did not find it, working variously as an apprentice in textile design, ceramics, lithography and drawing. However, at the age of 18, he was transfixed by De Chirico’s Autumn Melancholy on display at the Palau de la Virreina in an exhibition entitled Italian Painters. Such was its impact, he decided to become a painter and De Chirico was to be a major point of reference for all his subsequent output. 


Late 1950’s, early 1960’s


Carlos Mensa became firm friends with the painter Josep Maria de Sucre and was an active member of the Barcelona artistic scene.  Competitions and other events were evidence of a new cultural generation in the country driven by the need for change. Mensa took part in the Concurs Extraordinari de Pintura i Escultura organised by the Reial Cercle Artístic de l’Institut de les Arts de Barcelona (1956), and a collective exhibition organised by the Cercle Maillol and the French Institute in Barcelona (1958).

 His first solo exhibitions were at the Mataró Municipal Museum (1961) and the Balarte gallery (1963). 


1961 was the year the Grup Síntesi was set up by Teo Asensio and Enrique Maas, with whom he took part in various collective exhibitions. Their success meant that within a year they were joined by other artists and they formed a new group, the Ciclo de Arte Hoy, which included sculptors as well as painters.  In 1961 Mensa had his first exhibition outside Catalonia at the Galeria Amadís in Madrid, showing his work alongside that of Enrique Maas. 


This period is notable for his use and combination of materials, gouache and oils on cardboard, revealing the influence of artists such as Baj, Dubuffet and especially Schumacher, and also for the appearance of the Monigotes (Rag Dolls), social characters populating Mensa’s imaginative universe which gave a face to the “chronicle of reality”. The outcome of this aesthetic process resulted in forceful working and well-marked outlines of the figures, the deformation and drama of which was exaggerated thanks to the lack of shine the painting acquired on rough supports.


In 1963 he met the art critic Vicente Aquilera Cerni who included his work in the travelling show Exhibition of Contemporary Spanish Art in Italy, which allowed Mensa’s art to be seen in Rimini, Florence, Ferrara, Reggio Emilia and Venice during a period of two years.


From 1965


In 1965 he left oil painting to concentrate on acrylics, giving his paintings smoother textures and shades, with unsettling, mystic atmospheres that play with a revolutionary message of protest. 


In 1966, having stopped experimenting with materials to settle on the artistic stability of acrylics, Carlos Mensa set about converting his anonymous characters, faceless and devoid of identity, into social elements that are recognisable due to their status as generals, bourgeoisie, church men or bullfighters. 


He took part in various collective exhibitions and received his first awards: Medalla Gimeno in the Concurs Nacional Medalla Gimeno de Tolosa and second prize at the Saló d’Alacant, just behind the Equipo Crónica, which won first prize despite a critical outcry in favour of Mensa.


While in 1963 his work had travelled to Italy for a collective exhibition, in 1966 it did so to promote him individually in the country with an exhibition tour that took in Milan, Turin, San Giovanni Valdarno, Fiesole and Palermo.  In the same year the French Institute in Barcelona awarded him a grant to go to Paris where he had the opportunity to study works by painters he felt a special affinity for.


In 1967 he met Miguel Lerín Seguí, a figure from Barcelona high society who became his patron and one of the major collectors of his work.




Carlos Mensa travelled to Milan for a solo exhibition at the Agrifoglio gallery and decided to stay on for a while. He was to maintain very close ties with Italy throughout his career, especially after May of this year when he was arrested and imprisoned in Barcelona as a suspected anti-Francoist for slandering the military establishment. From then on he distanced himself from Barcelona artistic life, and it was only possible to view his work abroad or in other parts of Spain, except for in a collective exhibition in 1969 in the Palau de la Virreina, and after his death in 1985.




Increasingly attracted to Italy, he travelled to Milan and Rome.  During these long stays he painted Perros (Dogs), showing a change in his artistic language focusing on surreal symbolism rather than the material aspects found in his earlier output.


Early 1970’s


Intense period of solo exhibitions in Italy, Palma and Madrid.  Carlos Mensa's inimitable style reaches its maturity, signalled by the incorporation of a key symbol in his iconography: the mask. His transition towards surrealism gains momentum with the inclusion of surreal elements which are soon played down due to the need to award logical meaning to images that he began to create using collage-assemblage




He bought Mas Noguer, a farmhouse in the Empordà region near the village of La Pera, by Púbol Castle where Salvador Dalí lived. He drew up plans for a huge workshop next to the house where he could paint large-scale pieces. 




Further changes in his style and use of material which can be seen in Pintor en el studio nº 1 (Painter in Studio Nº1) (1979). Leaving aside deformed figures and surrealist symbology, he concentrated on personalising the human face and displaying in the strength and refinement of his colours an urge to express almost three-dimensional textures which, together with the technique of non finito, produced contrasting atmospheres within a single painting. 


The 1980’s


In 1980 he travelled to Bremen (Germany) for a solo exhibition and in December had his last solo exhibition at the Sala Pelaires in Palma.  In 1981 he made a handful of trips to Italy and continued with the style he debuted in Autorretrato 79 (Self-Portrait 79).




He had a successful display at the Arco 82 art fair in Madrid.  The sudden onset of an incurable illness caused his death on 29 March. His last project was a long stay in Venice to study the work of the Venetian masters, especially Titian's last period. 


[1] In the book Carlos Mensa. Crónica de una realidad tangible (Carlos Mensa. Chronical of a Tangible Reality) by Camilo J. Cela Conde. Madrid, Ediciones Rayuela, 1975, p. 38.

[2] Siri Hustvet, Los misterios del rectángulo (Mysteries of the Rectangle).Barcelona, Circe, 2007.

[3] Section of a poem taken from the book by Fernando Pessoa, Poemes d’Alberto Caeiro (The Poems of Alberto Caeiro). Barcelona, Quaderns Crema, 2002. p. 157.

[4] Op. Cit. 2. In the text on Goya’s Caprichos there are points like this which are perfectly applicable to Mensa’s approach.

[5] Italo Calvino, Les ciutats invisibles (Invisible Cities). Barcelona, Editorial Empúries, 1985.