Luis Seoane was born in Buenos Aires on 1 June 1910. His parents were Galician immigrants who returned to Galicia in 1916, first to A Coruña and later to Santiago de Compostela. There he studied Law and became part of the cultural and art circles that were leading the way towards innovation in Galicia. While in Santiago, he first exhibited his drawings and watercolours.
He took an active part in the student and political movements happening in Santiago in support of the Republic and the proclamation of a Statute of Autonomy for Galicia. He would frequently attend the meetings of intellectuals and artists in the city’s cafés, and especially the ones held in Editorial Nós’s printing shop. It was owned by Ánxel Casal, the “martyr of the Galician publishing industry”, with whom he created his first graphic compositions and illustrations for the poetry books written by his friends Feliciano Rolán and Álvaro Cunqueiro.
During those years, he balanced his studies and his work as a lawyer with his work in illustration, satyrical drawings and graphic design. He collaborated at political and avant-garde publications like Yunque, Claridad, Ser, Universitarios or Resol, and he encouraged the debate about the need to articulate a discussion on Galician art.
It was during this period of training and the beginning of his career that he first learnt about and begun studying the aesthetics of the avant-garde movements and he tried to stay informed about any novelties despite the limited communication channels that Galicia had at the time. His stays in Santaia de Arca (O Pino-A Coruña), where his mother hailed from, had a significant impact on him. That is where he would spend his holidays and where he met his cousin María Elvira Fernández. The two got married by proxy in 1937. His memories of those years and the longing for this sort of idealised land marked his life and his career up until the end.
In 1936, he was forced to go into exile in Buenos Aires because of his political activity. There he resumed his work as an illustrator and writer for several newspapers. Crítica and El Diario ran several of his articles on the tragedies caused by the Spanish war. That was also the subject of his first book of illustrations, Trece estampas de la traición. Soon he had founded, with Xosé Núñez Búa, his first weekly newspaper in Argentina, Galicia libre, in 1937, and in 1939 he was appointed as editor-in-chief of the magazine Galicia, which was published by the Galician Centre in Buenos Aires.
Seoane was fascinated by the power of the press to mobilise the public. He was active in the media industry his whole life, as a collaborator, designer, editor or as the founder of publications like Correo Literario, with Arturo Cuadrado and Lorenzo Varela in 1943, or Galicia Emigrante, which he promoted, published and run between 1954 and 1959, and which had its own weekly radio segment up until 1971.
Argentina was at the time the place where people from different places but with shared interests were reaching the highest point in their lives and their intellects. In Buenos Aires Seoane met people who had fled the Second World War. He met Horacio Coppola, Grete Stern, Clement Moureau, Attilio Rossi, Jacobo Hermelin, and Carybé, Falcini, Torrallardona, Urruchúa, Castagnino, Colmeiro, Núñez Búa, José Suárez. He had the support of many Jewish entrepreneurs who sponsored companies that made it possible for Seoane to develop as an artist. They were newspaper owners, lawyers, businessmen, collectors, and generally people with a comfortable economic status with whom he established connections, and often sibling-like friendships.
He started his collaboration with Editorial Losada in 1939. Other publishing houses followed, and in 1940 he joined efforts with Arturo Cuadrado to create and run Dorna and Hórreo, Editorial Emecé’s imprints on Galician subjects and Galician authors. They were later joined by Luis Baudizzone for Buen Aire, which focused on Latin American popular culture.
He and Arturo Cuadrado founded Editorial Nova in 1942, and Botella al Mar in 1947. The latter went on to publish the first works of many Argentine authors, and the designs that appeared on its books are, as a whole, one of Seoane’s –and by extension the Galician and Argentine publishing industries– most representative work in the graphic design field.
The combination of his designs for Botella al Mar with painting, graphic art and murals is the key to how Seoane’s work evolved. With his mind set once again on Galicia, he established Editorial Citania, another publishing house, in 1957. His work at Ediciones Galicia –which belonged to the Federation of Galician Associations in Buenos Aires– and Ediciós Cuco-Rei, his work with Isaac Díaz Pardo at Ediciós do Castro, and ultimately all the work that Seoane did within the book industry make him a key figure in the history of publishing.
He published the illustrated book Homenaje a la Torre de Hércules in 1944, and it was a turning point in his career as he was chosen by the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Pierpont Morgan Library as one of the world’s 10 best illustrated books published between 1935 and 1945.
He was a remarkable creator of books of illustrations and prints during his whole career, an innovator and one of the main figures of graphic art in the 20th century. He produced woodcuts for important deluxe editions of the works of Lorenzo Varela, Neruda, Lorca, Unamuno, Kafka, José Hernández or Alberto Guirri.
In the words of Seoane, Campesinos, a book containing his screenprinted illustrations and Rafael Alberti’s poems, was the first of its kind to be published in Argentina, in 1954. Libro de Tapas and Segundo libro de tapas were compilations of his book cover designs for Botella al Mar, some of his satirical drawings appeared in his book Paradojas de la torre de marfil and he illustrated Gil Vicente’s Autos. From 1958 he started to include collage in his woodcuts, and his posters for Cinzano and Otard Dupuy are, according to him, Argentina’s first abstract advertising posters.
He always balanced his illustration and painting production. When he took the plunge into painting and had his first exhibition in Buenos Aires in the forties, he was also fully committed to his work in graphic art and publishing. As he liked to point out, he had always painted. Seoane considered himself a painter. He had his oil paintings exhibited in solo shows in Buenos Aires and other American and European cities like Montevideo, London or New York, and from 1954 he had a yearly exhibition at Buenos Aires’s Galería Bonino.
In 1962, Argentina’s National Academy of Fine Arts awarded him the Premio Palanza, its highest honour. A few years earlier he had received the silver medal at the 1958 Brussel’s World Fair. His painting evolved from its more lyrical beginnings and developed a taste for synthesis, achieving order by how he used shapes and composition through colour, and he created his own personal visual language. He painted nearly fifty murals around Buenos Aires, which highlight the influence of graphic on his paintings and his exploration of new materials.
Luis Seoane became a full member of Argentina’s National Academy of Fine Arts in 1968. Reviews and essays were written about him by important critics and authors like Herbert Read, Manuel Mujica Láinez, Jorge Romero Brest, Lorenzo Varela, José Corredor Matheos, José de Castro Arines, José Hierro, Juan Carlos Areán, Raúl Chávarri, Rafael Dieste, González Garcés, García-Sabell or Fernando Mon; and he himself wrote remarkable pieces on art and design for several media outlets. Seoane also wrote fiction –Tres hojas de ruda y un ajo verde–, poetry –Fardel de eisilado, Na brétema, Sant-Iago, As cicatrices and A maior abondamento, which were described as “social poetry”–, plays – La soldadera, Esquema de farsa and El irlandés astrólogo–, and articles and other pieces on any subject that had to do with Galicia.
He represented Argentina on many occasions, like the 1956 Venice Biennale and several editions of the São Paulo Biennial and the Cincinatti Art Museum’s International Biennial of Contemporary Color Lithography, and in Tokyo, Krakow, Santiago de Chile, etc. He had solo and group exhibitions in America and Europe, where he travelled through Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Spain, and had longer stays in cities like Geneva or Madrid. In Germany and Switzerland it was his work as a printmaker what made him stand out. He would always try to have first-hand knowledge of the artistic heritage of each place. His travels were a key part of his training. He met people like Carlos Velo, Luis Soto or León Felipe in México; and he visited Rafael Alberti in Rome.
From the 60s onwards Seoane started to spend more time in Galicia. He would stay with Isaac Díaz Pardo and his family at O Castro, where Isaac prepared a room for him to use as his studio. Together they brought to life one of the most brilliant ideas of 20th-century Galician culture: Laboratorio de Formas. It was a multidisciplinary project created to foster the development of Galician culture and as part of that effort they rebuilt the Sargadelos ceramics factory and established the Carlos Maside Museum in 1970.
The museum was the culmination of the purpose that lay behind all his work: to rebuild the history of Galician art from the innovative approach of the first decades of the 20th century, which had been disrupted by the war. It had been conceived as a true contemporary art institution and it aspired to become a centre of information on Galician aesthetics and a place to educate Galicia about the global art movements.
Painter, designer, publisher, printmaker, writer, cultural organiser. Luis Seoane is one of Galicia’s most versatile artists and the first to deliberately choose to use different forms of expression in an open and contemporary manner. He passed in his A Coruña home, which was meant to become his permanent address, on 5 April 1979.