Manel Surroca i Claret (1917-2007)

Manel Surroca Claret was born in Camprodon on 15 February 1917, son of Remei Claret and Jacint Surroca. His brother Anton, five years younger died very early, when he was only 25 years old.

His father Jacint was a shoemaker and also painted watercolours and theatre sets. Both brothers inherited their father’s vocation for art and painting. From a very early stage, Manel had an interest in the world of art and when he was only 12 he began to attend painting lessons with the already famous painter Darius Vilàs and his brother did the same with Josep Morell.

Their father always encouraged them in this vocation.

With the beginning of the Spanish Civil war in 1936, Surroca went to Paris alone and that is where he learnt to be a sculptor in Joaquim Claret’s studio, who was a family relative. He worked with sculptures for many years although he was more fascinated by the world of painting but to avoid competing with his brother who was painting at that time.

In Paris, the meeting point of great artists, he could follow closely the work of great impressionism painters such as Van Gogh, Cézanne, Seurat..., without forgetting the classics.

During his stay in the French capital he attended lessons in “L’ Acadèmie de la Grande Chaumière”.

Later on, once fully introduced in the artistic life and having been in contact with great maestros of the time Paris, in 1938 he participated in a collective exhibition together with artists such as Roger Chastel, André Derain, Maurice Utrillo, Maurice Denis, Aristide Maillol... being the youngest artist of the exhibition.

L'Acadèmie de la Grande Chaumière

Surroca in Paris

At the same time and in order to earn a living he did several jobs such as gardener, football player with the Saint Germain team and even in one occasion he worked as professional dancer.

Once the war was over he returned to Spain and completed the military service in Coruña and Leon. Later on he moved to Barcelona where he started working at Frederic Marès’ studio after only one year course at the School of Fine Arts, where Frederic Marès was director and teacher. Surroca worked for almost eight years in Mares’ Studios. Throughout these years he collaborated in the restoration of the Royal tombs at the monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet (Tarragona) and also in the equestrian monument of General Prim located at the Ciutadella Park in Barcelona. During this period, he also made some sculptures winning several prizes in the autumn exhibition of the Fine Arts Association from Palma de Mallorca.

In 1948 Manel Surroca abandons the world of sculpture to dedicate all his time to painting. This change of artistic register took place at the end of 1947 when his brother Anton died. He was 25 years old and he was preparing his first exhibition at that time.

Following his death, devastated, Surroca went back to Camprodon and began to paint. As a consequence of this unexpected event, Frederic Marès went to see him and encouraged him to participate in the painting contest at the Real Cercle Artístic de Barcelona. He won the first prize, rewarded with three thousand pesetas, a fortune in those days, an amount of money he used to buy tools for his paintings which became a full dedication.

It is then that, in honour of his brother and the longed for exhibition that Anton could never see, in February 1949 Surroca presents his first exhibition in the Sala Rovira in Barcelona. This was the prelude to many other exhibitions.

At Frederic Marès workshop

In that same year he became a member of group Lais, at Real Cercle Artístic de Barcelona. The group was formed by: Ramont Rogent, José Hurtuna, Manuel Capdevilla, Santi Surós, Enric Planasdura, María Jesús de Solá, Antoni Estradera, Manel Surroca and sculptor Francesc Xavier Modolell. They signed the First Black Manifesto, a revulsive text against official art and dogmatism. They wanted to create discussion and if possible, scandal.

Within this accelerated life, Surroca married Concepció Carbó, la Conxita, in 1950. The wedding’s godfather was Frederic Marès, a key man during his first stages in the world of art. Mares offered him at that time to work as teacher at the School of Fine Arts. As autodidact person, he thought going to University seemed a sacrilege but he accepted the offer and worked as teacher at the School.

From this point, Surroca’s life was exclusively centred in painting. During his career he won important awards such as the Catalan Painting Award in 1954 or the first prize at the Real Círculo Artístico art contest in 1956.

This painting period of his life came to an end when, for different circumstances, Surroca returns to Camprodon to follow the family business, shoe shop “Can Gona”.

It was a shoe shop, but the back room provided an ideal refuge for the painter to release his passions. It was the physical and spiritual corner where the painter had his daily battle with the paintbrush, the canvas and his internal ghosts. In this way, he did not break his link with the world of art and he continued painting and preparing several exhibitions for “Dau al Set” and sala Gaspar in Barcelona.

The shop, as business and the artist’s studio, also served as visiting room. Joan Ponç, visited Surroca regularly and considered him a magic painter. Ponç was who reaffirmed in a most clear and convincing way Surroca’s painting paths.

In the last decades of his life he stopped making exhibitions but never stopped painting. He had been born with the desire of art, of painting and this eagerness accompanied him throughout his life. Surroca always said: “without painting I would have died”.

Manel Surroca at his workshop in Camprodón