Carlos Mensa decided to become a painter after seeing a painting by Giorgio de Chirico that had a profound impact on him: " Malinconia di autunno " (1915). In 1960, his artistic career started with informalism and rapidly turned towards a textured and tactile painting language with schematic gestural figuration and expressionist connotations. Towards the end of 1962, his ‘monigotes’ began to appear: faces and half-bodies projecting outwards in hard and gushing colours, producing an irreparable and frustrated feeling of rupture. Due to their beauty, they could be entered in the greatest anthology of despair.
Informalism and early expressionism
Seeing Giorgio de Chirico’s Malinconia di autunno (1915) at an exhibition on Italian painting in Barcelona in 1957 helped Carlos Mensa to decide to devote himself to his most deeply considered calling: painting.
In 1959, through the Cerle Maillol of the French Institute, he began a friendship with the painter José María de Sucre, who organised his first solo exhibition in Mataró in 1960. With a language of artistic inquiry that had yet to be defined and influenced by the artistic avant-garde’s informalist boom, Mensa presented a series of large abstract oil paintings made with thick textures that were scraped, scratched and sometimes mixed with dirt, powder or various other ingredients and had a reduced colour palette.
In 1961 he met Teo Asensio and Enrique Maas, with whom he founded Grupo Síntesis. Despite its short lifespan, it organised several group and solo exhibitions.
From the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc emerged another group, the Cicle d’Art d’Avui. Only six of its thirteen initial participants would ultimately remain: Carlos Mensa, Lluís Bosch, Joaquim Llucià, Owe Pellsjö, Amèlia Riera and Francisco Valbuena. In addition to editing a journal of the same name, they exhibited in Spain and abroad. Starting in 1962, they organised the Joan Miró International Drawing Award and founded the Muestras de Arte Nuevo (MAN, 1964-1975).
Although Mensa was not one of Cicle d’Art d’Avui’s most active members, during these three years he contributed to the multifaceted activities of the group, which had taken on the goal of acting on and promoting new art aimed at influencing and changing society.
Mensa remained committed to the social objectives of the group, but never fully identified with the abstract informalist movement and his distance from the stylistic principles of the group became increasingly evident. While art criticism still emphasised this abstraction at the Salón de Mayo in 1962, at his exhibition in Madrid at the end of the same year, Mensa was working towards a textured and tactile painting language with a schematic gestural figuration of clear expressionist connotations.
His dramatic and deformed anthropomorphic figures called " monigotes" began to appear: faces and half-bodies projecting outwards in hard and gushing colours, producing an irreparable and frustrated feeling of rupture. Critics found influences of Dubuffet, de Kooning, early-1960s Saura and even Goya’s Black Paintings in these figures.
In 1964, Carlos Mensa still had yet to define his language, but he undoubtedly understood that as an artist his work had to go beyond virtuosity and establish a concept of painting. In turn, he left us with a series of "monigotes" and expressionist figures that, due to their beauty, could be entered in the greatest anthology of despair.
FRANCESC MIRALLES. Aproximación a la obra de Carlos Mensa. Palau de la Virreina, Barcelona City Council, May 1983.
ANTONIO BENEYTO. MENSA. Artistas españoles contemporáneos. Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. Madrid 1977.