"As soon as you are affected by what goes on around you, well, you get lost. And since one has to gamble his whole life, at the end everybody is a loser. Because I think that nobody succeeds really. I mean that in a case like Cezanne himself, his hope was such that he never reached his ideal. But in the process he did something extremely significant. So in the end that is the nature of art, it continues, goes on forever. Nobody can say, "This is it". Everything is it. Everything. So you cannot decide that this is the thing because when you think of music, let's say, well, you cannot say that Mozart's music is Music; it is part of Music but it is not Music. Music is more than that and goes on... So this is the nature of the arts: that nobody ever can find the final solution. You open a path and you go to a point and there you stop, and then from there is another path and it goes on forever."
- Esteban Vicente
Esteban Vicente was born in 1903 in Turégano, Spain, and at the age of eighteen he began studying art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. He embraced the European art scene, spending time in Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris, and became acquainted with current developments in both art and literature. He exhibited for the first time in 1928 at the Ateneo de Madrid, alongside fellow painter Juan Bonafé. In 1929, Vicente moved to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso, Raoul Dufy, and Max Ernst, among others. The following year, he moved to Barcelona where he held several exhibitions.
In 1936, Vicente immigrated to New York City and quickly found a place in its burgeoning art scene. His studio was on the same floor as Willem de Kooning’s on Tenth Street, and he became friends with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline. These associations, together with the resolutely abstract nature of his work, confirmed his status as a formidable first-generation Abstract Expressionist. While his contemporaries emphasized gesture in their work, however, Vicente focused more on color, producing ethereal paintings of abstract shapes in vivid, complementary hues.
Besides painting, Vicente devoted a large part of his career to teaching, including at such famed institutions as Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the University of California, Berkeley, and Yale University. At the same time, he regularly showed work at such influential New York galleries as Leo Castelli and Andre Emmerich, and even participated in the watershed Ninth Street exhibition of 1951.
Vicente earned numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the Gold Medal of Honor in Fine Arts, Spain’s most prestigious award. In 1998, a large retrospective exhibition was held at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the following year, a room dedicated to his work was inaugurated there. Perhaps the greatest tribute to his accomplishment, however, is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, founded in 1998 in Segovia, Spain, and solely to his work. Vicente continued to paint and exhibit until his death, shortly before his ninety-eighth birthday, in 2001. In addition to the holdings of his eponymous museum, his work can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among other art institutions.