Eduardo Arroyo and James Joyce: a day in New York

When I entered the room that day Marlborough Gallery in New York, there were so many people that the paintings were in the background. The exhibition was inaugurated Edward Arroyo. The slender figure of Isabel Azcárate, the widow of the Spanish painter, floated in the midst of the New York artists, critics, art historians and gallery owners who had come to the event.

The prestigious New York gallery has presented for a month (from September 17 to yesterday) more than 70 works by the great Spanish painter who died four years ago. Since these paintings and graphic work cover more than 50 years of Arroyo’s work, it is obvious that, unlike many other painters, he is a historical-political artist; above all it was during Franco’s life, when he had to go into exile (1958-1976), but also in the later years in which he continued to live abroad, mainly in Paris (1976-1998). His work uses irony, sarcasm and a sense of humor to criticize the Spanish political climate with its nationalism rooted in the Franco dictatorship.

Before leaving the exhibition I say goodbye to the painter’s widow, in whose small group is Eduardo Lago, a Spanish writer based in New York. We talked about the novel Ulisesby James Joyce, which Eduardo Arroyo accompanied with his illustrations that have been published in an edition in English and another in Spanish and will soon be published in Chinese. We talk about Ulisesof which the writer has published a reading guide in his most recent book We are all Leopold Bloom (in Galaxia Gutenberg, as the Spanish edition illustrated by Arroyo). Lago recommends that I go see the exhibition that Morgan Library of New York dedicated to the centenary of the publication of Ulises.

From the gallery to the library it is a walk of three quarters of an hour. In the Morgan Library, that old museum that also houses large historical collections of books, is the room that this year has consecrated the Dublin writer and his entourage, focused on his Ulises. As in Arroyo’s work, in Joyce’s great novel history and politics are very present.

From the Morgan Library I walk half an hour more until I reach the bookstore Shakespeare & Co., and it is that in the case of Ulises you can’t go to another. It was Sylvia Beach, the founder of the original bookstore, near the Odéon theater in Paris, who was the first to publish Joyce’s novel after the refusal of many renowned publishers. The bookstore, on New York’s Lexington Avenue, is packed with students from nearby Hunter College. On the news table is the Ulises Illustrated by Arroyo and published a few months ago in English by Other Press. I open the book and find Arroyo’s magnificent illustrations of Bloom and his wife, Molly; by Stephen Daedalus; of cats, bats and other animals; portraits of Joyce and that of the mysterious man from Mackintosh, who could very well be Joyce or Arroyo, or any of us.

A bookseller approaches and when asked if the book is selling well, she replies: “Yes, a lot!”. And she adds: “In a short time the book has reached the second edition!”.

I go out into the street and I see Eduardo Arroyo and James Joyce in all the people and animals that can be found in this symbiosis of life, literature and art that is always New York.

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Eduardo Arroyo and James Joyce: a day in New York


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