Between 1964-1965, his work moved towards critical realism, paying greater attention to detail. This served to enhance his sarcastic condemnation of the ruling classes that sometimes bordered on caricature, as well as of particular professions with very specific meanings. Groups and initiatives like " Crónica de la realidad", "Estampa Popular " and "Intrarrealismo", with whom Mensa exhibited during that time, coincided in their intentionality—a kind of painting committed to the clear aim of advancing a political struggle that would ultimately incorporate strong pop-art connotations. This reorientation was marked by historical events: the transition from the repression of Franco to a consumer society.
Between 1964 and 1965, an iconography appeared in Mensa’s works that would remain constant over the years. Starting from expressionism, his work would shift towards critical realism, paying close attention to detail. This would help to reinforce his condemnation of the ruling class, as well as of particular professions imbued with specific meanings. In 1965, further technical refinement can be observed alongside his abandonment of oil for acrylic paint.
In addition to the oppressor classes, like the clergy and military, Mensa portrayed those who collaborated and had dealings with them, leading to the series on magistrates, grotesque dwarf bullfighters and prostitutes. The painter described social groups, myths and everything surrounding them, beings in which a spectacular fatuousness prevails over any kind of ideological or moral content.
This intensified realism emerged as a consequence of the wave that came across the painting world in reaction to informalism and its romantic and individualist attitude, criticised especially by painters committed to the historical present. Mensa was also open to the recognition that pop art received and to the American influence on Spain in the late 1950s. Initiatives and groups like Crónica de la realidad, Estampa popular and Intrarrealismo, with whom Mensa showed his work during this period, coincided with his aims: a socially engaged painting with a clear ambition of political struggle.
The pop art lying at the root of Equipo Crónica influenced a series of works in which references to marketing language were introduced: the serialisation and compartmentalisation of the image and the use of foreign iconography, like in Una lágrima furtiva, where he paints a crying Statue of Liberty. As Baltasar Porcel describes it, his paintings feature ‘hippies, rich daddy’s boys and posh ladies: representatives of the neo-capitalism that took hold in the 1960s … new important men with the old important men still in charge, caricatured by Mensa through a personal style removed from the whirlwind of the latest artistic trends’.
It addresses a reorientation marked by historical reality: the shift from the repression of Franco to a consumer society. While the struggle initially intended to defend a political and social ideology, with the transition to democracy, the powers represented by Mensa drifted towards another type of power produced by the consumer society.
Crucial to his career was Vicente Aguilera Cerni’s invitation to participate in the Free Spain Exhibition of Spanish Contemporary Art, which travelled through various Italian cities between 1964 and 1965. This was the painter’s first trip to the country that he would consider his second home years later. Other exhibitions were also essential, though in a personal sense, like those in 1966 in Turin, Milan and Palermo. However, it was the exhibition at the L’Agrifoglio gallery in Milan in 1968 that would attract the attention of a wider public.
(1) BALTASAR PORCEL. Los sarcasmos de Carlos Mensa. (From the catalogue of Mensa’s exhibition at Sala Pelaires in Palma in September 1970.)