Summary

Back Drawing is one of a group of studies of disembodied torsos produced by the Spanish artist Juan Muñoz during the early 1990s. This painting shows a naked back, in white chalk on a black background, sharply highlighted to accentuate contour, shadow and texture. The torso dominates the upper half of the canvas. Except for the lone hand suspended above the torso, other body parts are absent; the lower body and left arm are truncated and the shoulders form an awkward and uneven diagonal as if the figure is bending forward. In two later Back Drawings 1992 (illustrated in Wagstaff, pp.52-3) for which Muñoz used oil pastel, the figures’ aging skin and stooping shoulders are emphasised, but in this one the back, although arched and with protruding shoulder blades, has smooth flesh. The artist based this work on photographs of himself. Muñoz commented: ‘With the back drawings I wanted to draw the back and make it very beautiful, enticing yet giving nothing away.’ (Quoted in Possible Worlds, p.58.)

Whilst some of these paintings might be related to sculptures such as Backs on Bronze 1990 (illustrated in Wagstaff, p.51), others are not explicitly connected with sculpted works, and the unusually large scale of Back Drawing suggests that the artist saw it as an independent work. Indeed, Muñoz aimed to keep his sculptures and drawings as separate entities. Back Drawing was produced at a time when Muñoz was gaining international renown particularly as a sculptor: 1990 was the year of his first solo exhibition outside Europe at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.

Back Drawing has the stark monochromatic quality of a huge photographic negative, and the use of intense black ink suggests a connection with the artist’s early interest in printmaking. Muñoz had studied lithography and advanced printmaking when an art student in London in the 1970s, the time when he also began to experiment with sculpture. Later, the artist explained that he aimed to ‘retain the illusionistic elements of painting and photography’ for his sculptures (quoted in Juan Muñoz, p.149). Back Drawing has a pronounced three dimensional effect achieved by the startling contrasts of light and dark, and the same supernatural and dreamlike quality that characterises much of his sculpture.

Muñoz used a similarly dramatic chiaroscuro in a further series of paintings, known as the Raincoat Drawings (1988 onwards). The Raincoat Drawings (including Tate T11979) focused on eerie domestic interiors devoid of human occupants; in the Back Drawings Muñoz used figurative subjects but privileged form and luminescent effects over the fashioning of an identity. The absence of identity and the inability of the subject to communicate are recurrent themes in Muñoz’s sculptures and installations. His figures often face away from the viewer, challenging expectations of an ‘exchange’ between viewer and subject, as with Towards the Corner, 1998 (Tate T07872) and Shadow and Mouth, 1996 (illustrated in Wagstaff, pp.74-5).

Further reading:
Neal Benezra and Olga M. Viso, Juan Muñoz, exhibition catalogue, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago, 2001.
Possible Worlds: Sculpture from Europe, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and Serpentine Gallery, London, 1990.
Sheena Wagstaff, ed., Juan Muñoz: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Tate, London, 2008.

Alice Sanger
October 2008