Luis Seoane and the Ocean Freedom, Prison, Shelter or Grave


A recurring theme in Luis Seoane’s art, the sea has a significant place in the artist’s imagery, not as an isolated subject, but a permanent one, from the beginning of his career to his death in 1979. The relationship between Seoane and the ocean is based on cultural matters and on his defence of a kind of popular art and aesthetics that are inherently Galician; and it also has to do with his own life experiences. This relationship is the main focus of the exhibition, a selection of over twenty pieces in a variety of formats, and some documents. The project is part of the second edition of the Mar de Mares festival, an event revolving around the ocean that has lots of art, learning and fun activitities happening in a number of cultural spaces –like Fundación Luis Seoane– in the city of A Coruña.

In 1955, in an article in the Galicia Emigrante magazine, Luis Seoane wrote about: “(…) the ocean that for Galician people means freedom, prison, shelter and grave…” The sea was one of Seoane’s preferred themes. He linked it to other central themes in his work, like popular art, the mythical vision of Galician history, the female presence or the sailors. Depicting sailors and peasants at work was his way of giving visibility and dignity to a world that has a recurring presence in his pieces, like in his sketches for the mural Las Barcas, the woodcut Mulleres campesiñas no mercado or the book De mar a mar, all of which are part of the exhibition. The sea is also connected to emigration: Luis Seoane was only five when he first crossed the Atlantic with his family; a journey that he was forced to repeat in order to flee the war, and a journey he made several times over the course of his life. This created a feeling of alienation in him. It made him firmly believe that he was the victim of an injustice, and he couldn’t help but emphatise with the thousands that, like him, were being forced to leave their country, like the characters in Fardel de eisilado, a book of illustrations that the artist published in 1950.

The pieces included in this exhibition have the sea as their central character –like Mar bravo, an oil painting from 1964; his woodcut for the almanac published by the Centro Editor de América Latina; or the sinking ship in Imágenes de Galicia–; but they also allude to it in a more subtle manner, like in the drawings of a starfish, a spider crab or a deep-sea fish, or the mermaid that looks so much like the one on the Mar Dulce books, which Seoane created for the Nova publishing house in Buenos Aires. Mar Dulce, Botella al Mar… those names are further proof of the importance of the ocean in Seoane’s own personal universe. The exhibition includes an illustration that would appear on the cover of William Shand’s book of poems Ferment, with a preface written by Jorge Luis Borges, that Botella al Mar published in 1950.

Lastly, we can’t but highlight the inclusion in the exhibition of the record cover art that Seoane designed in 1970 for a compilation of two books by his friend Rafael Alberti: Marinero en tierra and A la pintura. The Spanish poet wrote a poem about Seoane’s art where he describes the latter’s love of the sea: “Un color finisterre, golpeado // Ojo que sueña el mar, // color mojado. (…) Y siempre, en tu paleta, // una nostalgia quieta // ¡Y el mar!”