The literary talent and political commitment of Max Aub (1903–1972) would turn him into an undisputed reference point in 1920s and 1930s Spain. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Aub joined the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Writers for the Defence of Culture in Madrid, and was a cultural attaché to the Spanish Embassy in Paris and, appointed by the Ministry of Public Education and Fine Arts, a member of the Deputy Commission for Spain’s cultural expansion abroad.
A friend of painters like Josep Renau and actively involved in the Guernica commission for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition of 1937, Max Aub began in 1939, the year of his exile, the novel series El laberinto mágico (The Magic Maze), in which he narrates his experience of Spain’s war and internment camps. Titles such as Campo cerrado (Closed Camp, 1943), Campo abierto (Open Camp, 1951) and Campo francés (French Camp, 1965), which belong to this series, as well as Diario de Djelfa (Djelfa Diary, 1944), are also part of the aesthetic identity and literary universe of this extraordinary writer.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s, however, that Max Aub invented the figure of Jusep Torres Campalans, an apocryphal artist from Catalonia who participated in the formation of Cubism in Paris and was later exiled to Mexico. In addition to writing his biography, published in the book Jusep Torres Campalans (1958), he created playing cards with illustrated texts in 1964 and over thirty works he signed under this name and exhibited in Galería Excelsior in Mexico in 1958 and in New York’s Bodley Gallery in 1962. It was an artistic game, a literary and plastic project imbued with humour but also extensively reflecting on some of the aesthetic approaches of historical avant-garde movements. In fact, many of the works supposedly by Campalans set forth visual allusions to the aesthetic of Picasso, a key figure from this narrated artistic period and from the imaginary of Spanish exile in 1939. Thus, anachronistically, the -isms of the past would return to the table. In the context of the Cold War, Aub spoke of art that was and the memory that remained and warned of the uncertainty of the time and possible future losses.
In 1969, he visited Spain for the first time since the establishment of the Franco regime, encountering a country at odds with the one he had left behind and had reconstructed in his memory through his years of exile, expressed on the pages of the diary La gallina ciega (Blind Man’s Bluff, 1971). One year after the publication of this book and following a second trip to Spain, Aub passed away in his home in Mexico City located at number 5, Calle Euclides, from where he had evoked his nomadic comrades on posters marrying fiction and reality, word and typographic image.