gaudi: iron maidens, heavy metal and a lightness of being

… For fences, railings, doors and various unnamable ornaments his favorite material was iron, sometimes in a laminated or cast form, but usually wrought; and here again he had rich local resources from which to draw ideas. Ironwork had been a Catalan specialty since the Middle Ages, had been undergoing and exuberant renaissance in the nineteenth-century , and was about to become what can be called the major Catalan contribution to modern art. It was not just a coincidence that Julio Gonzalez and Pablo Picasso, the pioneers of contemporary iron sculpture, were both from Barcelona.

"From 1905 to 1910, he devoted himself to constructing Casa Milà, more commonly known as La Pedrera (The Quarry). Its impressive, undulating mass, perforated by windows and with strange-looking wrought-iron railings, and the highly original chimneys on the roof make it an extremely noble creation. It could be a mountain with perpetual snow, perhaps calling to mind El Canigó, the mountain in North Catalonia whose name crops up in popular songs and which the epic poem by Verdaguer had transformed into a symbol of the country's personality. It is during this time that Josep M. Jujol began working with Gaudí...." read more: image:

In fact Gaudi himself was a third pioneer, even though some of his ironwork, along with some of his ceramic work was done by assistants under his supervision. He pushed iron decoration into the category of expressionist iron sculpture and left the flat motifs of neo-medievalism and Modernisimo far behind in many of the details of his perverse, tortured, bristling and generally menacing metalwork for the Casa Vicens, the Finca Guell, the Casa Batllo, and the Casa Mila.

Generally menacing are also the nonmetal shapes he invented, not merely as ornaments but as functioning parts of his buildings. The chimneys and ventilator shafts on the Palacio Guell, the Casa Batllo, and gthe Casa Mila might be classified as the conspirational, the molluscan, the horripilant, and the free-faw-fum. Roofs may suggest the backs of a herd of iridescent reptiles, and facades may look like shelved collections of giant human organs. There is no really satisfactory explanation for these forms as to their origins and the thought processes that led to their realization.

"Gaudí used iron extensively in his work, above all in its wrought and forged varieties. All of his output denotes an extraordinary imagination and great mastery. Professionals often were not specialists in ironwork, but they used it as a complement to their usual craft and had begun to acquire a sound knowledge of techniques - frequently with Gaudí’s help. Worth special mention among these professionals are locksmith Ramon Vallet i Piquer, carpenter Eduard Puntí, and the artisans who collaborated in the decorative workshop of Francesc Vidal i Jevellí. Gaudí did not rely solely on the knowledge of smiths and smelters, but on his own knowledge of these techniques, learned via his apprenticeship at the Sardà boilermaking shop and the Ciré ironworks in Reus. Without a deep understanding of these techniques, it is impossible to understand how this genius could direct professionals' work so effectively, even using illustrative models made of wire, wax, or cardboard to explain their projects to them. Gaudí’s mastery is manifested not only in the large pieces of wrought or cast iron, but also in the smaller pieces made from other metals, such as the brass and bronze he used to produce interior decorative elements like doorknobs, handles, peepholes, and others." read more:

The belief that Gaudi was simply a converter and re-packager of the curved patterns of Art Nouveau into three dimensional motifs does not really account for the surrealist, obscure, and sometimes nightmare qualities of his work. The idea that he was influenced by primitive forms, in all their writhing vivacity is not coherently supported by any obvious references or concrete evidence. That he was intent on imitating, or metamorphosing nature is about all one can really discern; beyond that is the realm speculation and a profound psychological examination which would likely prove fruitless, though the relation of Gaudi with Jackson Pollack and the abstract is apparent.

The impulse toward dream biology is apparent as well in his structures; which often of course, cannot really be separated from his strange shapes, anymore than these singular and unique shapes can really be separated from his peculiar textures and ornaments. The suggestion of solid flesh that is about to melt is often accompanied by a suggestion of tibiae, femurs, muscles, and something vaguely cartilaginous. The look of a pre-historic troglodyte dwelling may be accompanied by strong suggestions of petrified prehistoric trees.

"His father was an architectural iron worker, and Gaudí's iron work is at once the skeleton and the final level of ornamentation of all his work. By its nature, iron is skeletal and maleable, and there is no doubt that "thinking in iron" helped Gaudí apprehend and perfect his organic forms...." read more: image:


“Is not the revolutionary architectural framework that Gaudi, thanks to his remarkable knowledge of construction techniques, introduced in some of his buildings (one has only to think of La Pedrera, which seems to defy the laws of gravity, or of the prolific Doric colonnades of the Guell Park) in some respects a unique manifestation of “the profound devaluation of intellectual systems”?…

"Gaudi took his influence from the European Palm leaf for this decorative iron-work fence. This motive is repeated

oughout Park Guell" read more:

And is it not in the Latin countries that we find the most eye-catching examples of ornamental excess, of “hysterical sculpture”, of the multiple metamorphoses of Baroque/Art Nouveau and Rococo/ Nouveau pastiche, from which all sense of restraint is absent? Are not the dragons of a fantastic Orient refashioned by Gaudi’s imagination, or the strange cast-iron fauna evoking the world of the ocean depths and recalling the sculptured gargoyles of Gothic cathedrals, that adorn Guimard’s buildings and lend their forms to this entrances to the Paris Metro, virtually unique examples, in the European context, of that incursion into the fantastic world of dreams, that return to infancy of which Dali speaks?” Read More:

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