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#196: JUJOL.

#196: JUJOL. Rather like Samuel Palmer trailing along in the shadow of William Blake, the architect and artist Josep Maria Jujol’s fame stays a very distant second to that of his contemporary, Antoni Gaudi; some see him still as a mere disciple of the more famous master. Gaudi himself rejected this view, vehemently: “No! Not disciple. Brother.” And the shock, when you begin to read up on Jujol—not the easiest thing to do, considering the paucity of material available in English—is that some of what you might have noticed first in the Barcelona works of Gaudi is actually the collaborative work of Jujol: the façade and the opera-mask balconies of the Casa Battlo; those jagged and alarming cast-iron balconies of the Casa Mila; the beautiful medallions in the ceiling of the hypostyle hall at Park Guell and the trencadis work on the splendid, undulating benches on its upper level. The scholar Carlos Flores has suggested that Jujol was actually at his best when arriving late in the game, doing his finest work in decoration and renovation; but what Jujol built was his own, for all its being a part of the spirit and style of Barcelona’s modernismo, and what he restored he transformed.

You can’t pin Jujol down to modernism, or Gaudi, or anything or anyone else; there are some spiny, spiky sides to him that are right out there into surrealism, along with an intense pleasure in discarded and found materials that recalls Picasso. (Laborers arriving to work on the Park Guell during its construction would find Jujol already patiently at work, piecing together bits of ceramic and glazed china, and being told to bring with them whatever such pieces they might salvage from the local dumps.) Look at the Casa Bofarull and it’s hard to tell, from a distance, what is time’s wear and damage and what is the thrown-together look of the façade and tower, with the sgraffiti blending into the faded surfaces, and the twisted coat-hanger look of the ironwork; you can’t tell what’s style and what’s scruff. And Lord alone knows where Jujol’s influence has wandered off to: look at the creature on the fountain at the Casa Bofarull and tell me you can’t see the emaciated ancestor of that H.R. Giger thing that chased Sigourney Weaver around in “Alien.” Look at the bannisters in the Casa Planelles and tell me you couldn’t imagine them wriggling around in a Tim Burton movie. They may not be coming to get you, but they’re alive.

Some of the work of both Gaudi and Jujol does have, for my taste, its disadvantages. That inspired little house in the Park Guell (where Gaudi resided during the park’s construction) is a joy to see, but how on earth would you live in it? Those u-turn passages and narrow stairwells—how the hell would you get a queen-size mattress upstairs? As so often, the charms and horrors of a style are inseparable. What’s lovely in modernismo is the energy, the swoop and swirl of those energetic curves, the forsaking of all straight lines; but how do you turn it off? You close your eyes to give them a bit of rest, and when you open them again—damn, the walls are all still doing all that stuff; it’s like having a nest of sparrows in the eaves that won’t stop twittering. It’s wonderful to visit and look at, but it’s certainly not restful. Still, you don’t wear high fashion every day, but you’d be sad if it didn’t exist. The style of the modernist époque is what, to this day, gives Barcelona its visual energy, its personality, its unique cheer and delight.

The Architecture of Jujol, by Josep Maria Jujol Jr. (translated by Ronald Christ for SITES/Lumen Books, 1968) is a detailed guide to Jujol’s work, laced with an affectionate biography of the architect by his son. It’s informative rather than a great read, but it’s good source, and it gives due to the infinitely varied media in which Jujol created. It has only black-and-white illustrations, which with an artist like Jujol is like publishing poetry with every fourth word omitted; but pictures and color are happily and generously supplied in Jujol (Rizzoli, 1991), with a text by Ignasi De Sola-Morales and photographs by Melba Levick, and in Jujol’s Universe (Minsterio de Fomento, 1998) with bilingual text by Dennis Dollens and five other scholars and photos by Jodi Cuxart.

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