As I focused on the mysterious figure of Joaquín Pertierra I discovered the legacy of a restless graphic artist who, while faithful to his era, also looked towards the future and whose work brought more question marks to the surface as I uncovered it.

An illustrator by profession and both elusive and sporadic, he developed his work in a myriad of small foreign publishing houses, many of which also shared a liking for independence and instability. The majority of them have disappeared without a trace, with Joaquín’s images the only evidence of their existence.

Knowing the complex events in Joaquín’s life that were narrated in Fernando Marías’s book El silencio se mueve (The Silence Moves), I can’t help but smile, despite shuddering at the distressing cover of Metamorphosis, when perceiving the subtle irony involved in an illustrator drawing a hand defined as The Beast with Five Fingers and can barely discern what he must have felt when illustrating The Prisoner of Zenda or Fallen Angel.

They all share clear compositional distress, a chromatic yell, drawing carved with black. Yet underneath them throbs the intention to whisper a message – this may not simply be a message, but also a confession.

It comes as a surprise to observe how this illustrator, who chose graphic exile by working for a large number of foreign publishers, managed to define a tone and discourse within the narrow limits afforded by work carried out almost completely by commission.

This whole search has caused me to look at myself as an illustrator, to ask myself what style means, what defines it to make it recognisable in different methods, and how it becomes a kind of prison one builds over the years; to me Pertierra is that chalk door prisoners draw on the wall of their cells and cross in their dreams. Today, I’m still figuring out the mystery hidden behind this illustrator – discoveries about his work continue to fuel the blog El Enigma Pertierra (The Pertierra Enigma), featuring album and magazine covers, unpublished illustrations and remarkable documents. This all reflects a time when anonymity, besides being a refuge for many illustrators, was the palpable result of the whole of society’s lack of interest in this ghost profession, still exercised in those years with professionalism and diligence by a handful of admirable spectres.

By Javier Olivares