Antonio Saura was struck at an early age both aesthetically and emotionally by the work of Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, two of Spain's greatest masters. But as a painter setting out in the repressive political and cultural climate of early-1950s Spain, he sensed that this grand tradition had to be wrested from the grasp of Francoist culture, which was setting it up in opposition to contemporary European Art Informel. Paradoxically, it was by subjecting high Spanish tradition to the most radical new modes of painting that Saura managed to free it and give it a powerful new life: he took the gestural painting associated with Art Informel and American Action painting and applied it to the figure and to traditional Spanish themes. After a short period in Paris in the 1950s, during which he briefly associated with the Surrealists, Saura returned to Spain and founded the group El Paso (1957–60), which in its work and in its eponymous publication promoted the advanced forms of painting being developed elsewhere in Europe and the United States. (Saura was one of the first to champion Jackson Pollock in Spain.) During this period Saura limited his palette to white and black and began the thematic series that would occupy him for much of the rest of his career, including the "Crucifixions," "Women," "Nudes," "Crowds," "Portraits," and "Imaginary Portraits" (the latter depicting historical Spanish figures such as Goya and Philip II). Saura was highly versatile: besides painting, he produced prints, illustrated books, and stage sets, and was also a prolific writer.
Works on paper constitute an important part of Saura's oeuvre. He was a committed draftsman throughout his career, and used drawing to explore all the variations and mutations of his many themes. 24 Heads (24 cabezas) is related to the Crowds series, which would occupy the artist from the late 1950s until the last years of his life. In these works, interlocked bodiless faces occupy most or all of the canvas or paper surface, creating an expansive, allover composition. 24 Heads stands out as a looser collection of scribbled figures. Defined by stenographic bursts, with no illusion of depth, the earth-toned heads are articulated by lines of white light or shadow. This work also features a collage element, with the pieces of corrugated cardboard glued to the paper adding a tactile quality to some of the faces.
Rainer Michael Mason. "Antonio Saura." In Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection. Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; Madrid: TF Editores, 2009.