Canvases of various sizes crowded the walls and floor of Agustí Puig's studio. Arms folded across his chest, he stood in the middle of them. Behind him, his artwork exploded with color and bold lines. He seemed nervous in the unaccustomed role of a photography subject as I watched him through my camera's viewfinder.
After a film shoot in Valencia, I ventured to Grenada, Andalusia, Seville and Barcelona, one of the world's great art centers, to tour and touch and taste the exuberance of a place known for sensory overload a century after Antoni Gaudí and the Modernistas turned this seaside Mediterranean city into one of Europe's most charming centers.
Visitors strolling its wide boulevards find much to admire in its history, food and Catalan culture. But at its heart, Barcelona is a place where art and architecture rule. And so I plotted an itinerary that would let me see it through the eyes of its artists.
That's how I wound up at the three-story studio of Puig, an internationally prominent Spanish painter, sculptor and printmaker known for his abstract, figurative style.
He's also known for his close encounter with Hollywood: Puig's studio and paintings were featured in Woody Allen's film " Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Penélope Cruz, who won a supporting actress Oscar for her role as an artist, became Puig's student before the film was shot, visiting his studio to learn how to paint in his forceful, energetic manner so she could emulate his style.
Now it was my turn to become his student, if only for a moment. Puig showed me around his studio, a former textile mill, and we talked about Pablo Picasso, who moved to Barcelona in 1895 when he was a teenager and was Puig's inspiration. We also talked about Puig's fondness for Barcelona's liveliness and artistic culture.
While he talked, I photographed him. He tried to ignore the camera, but it made him nervous.
Suddenly, he threw a blank canvas on the floor and said, "Let me show you how I work."
Released from his role, he relaxed, splashing white and black paint on the canvas, then etching fine lines onto it.
Within a couple of minutes, he was done. I put down the camera, looked at the canvas and gasped. He had created a figurative painting of two men engaged in conversation in the time it would have taken me to sharpen a couple of colored pencils.
"When I start a painting, I never know how it will turn out," Puig said, smiling at my surprise. "The worst enemy of a painter is to be bored with his work."
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