Given his range of exceptional skills and talents, it is perhaps ironic that nowadays Roc Riera Rojas is one of the least well-known of Spain’s graphic design pioneers, despite the fact that his work is familiar to several generations of Spaniards.
As a graphic artist, illustrator and painter, or painter, illustrator and graphic artist, or even better illustrator, graphic artist and painter, Riera Rojas had an immense and innate versatility that was instantly recognisable and always obstinately honest. Illustration (which finally looks set once again to swap the bowels of the art world for the dizzying heights of the sphere of creative endeavour known as ‘low’ culture) was Riera Rojas’ principal medium and one that he never abandoned, opting instead to employ it using a graphic artist’s perspective. All of his compositions were based on an idea that was at once concise, elegant, imaginative and always able to allure. Furthermore, he always adapted the style to suit the purpose of the piece as well as the prevailing trends in visual arts.
Riera Rojas used many styles, but always followed the same vision. Or, in other words, he was able to adorn his unique style with a range of different attire. No sphere was unfamiliar to him, be it advertising, publishing, illustration, comics or art galleries. If, for example, he had been born in Connecticut, he would have no doubt long ago received all the accolades traditionally reserved for an artist and designer of his calibre.
Most of these drawings were made using quick, loose strokes on a newspaper background and represent the very essence of Riera Rojas’ work. The compositions demonstrate his ability to use the same sophisticated dexterity to express both the most realistic and most schematic subjects graphically, at the same time incorporating the latest innovations in visual arts linked to illustration.
Although Riera Rojas may only have opted for a newspaper background due to a lack of resources, his inclination to use this technique also demonstrates the direction of his work, which was governed by applied arts and graphic design, as illustrated by the use of image in conjunction with text. These sketches paint a portrait of the illustrator surrounded by words and entranced by the act of painting. They reveal the self-awareness required to express an idea visually and the pictorial nature of his diverse style.
These are life drawings and preliminary sketches carrying their own significance that are enriched by the printed word background. Unlike the cubists, who included aspects of “verité” and irony in their work through the use of daily newspaper fragments in numerous still-life collages, the work of Riera Rojas seems more in-line with the Dadaist method of basing compositions on a commonplace background full of real information rendered extraneous, neutral or meaningless by the change of context. However, this merely graphically coquettish portrayal of his work is in no way representative of his actual intention, nor does it in any way explain the nature of his work, which did not represent an act of rebellion against any existing traditional or contemporary artistic concepts. On the contrary, in his work, Riera Rojas sought to adopt and adapt these concepts to make use of them and thus infuse with interesting visual content of the highest quality a veritable host of commissions ranging from commercial posters to children’s books, calendars to magazine covers, romantic and adventure novels to both Spanish and international literary masterpieces. Perhaps it is the literary field that best represents his work, where he designed book covers for numerous publishing houses such as Molino in the 1950s and 1960s (most notably for the books of Salgari), Noguer in the early 1970s (for a series of detective novels) and for Planeta from the 1950s to mid-1970s.
Riera Rojas was a lyrical and versatile illustrator; an exceptional illustrator.
By Albert Culleré