Abstract Ouroboros

/ 1 March, 2018

I, Publio. Confessions by Raúl Martínez was the title of the memoirs of this Cuban artist, who was awarded the Fine Arts National Award in 1994 for his life achievements. Allegretto cantabile was the name of his retrospective exhibited from November 2017 to February 2018 at the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center in Havana, to celebrate the 90 th anniversary of his birth (1927). And we could rename this show I, abstract.

Chronologically and progressively structured and curated by Corina Matamoros, Gabriela Hernández and Rossana Bouza, the show covered periods or milestones through 45 works belonging to the collections of the Fine Arts Museum – for the most part –, the National Council for Visual Arts, the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba and Abelardo Estorino.

Anyone who visited the show noticed it started with abstraction and ended with it; because Raúl was a consistent abstract painter. In the first room, the viewer could see abstract collages, ink and oil paintings from the 1950s, and even notice some rectangular shapes, more or less lyric, more or less geometric.

In the second hall – corresponding to the 1960s – one could find pictorial and gestural abstractions with added materials and texts that could be associated with Rauschenberg’s combine–paintings. You could perceive the rectangles wanted to talk, to communicate with words (…)The face of Martí would be repeated, marking the beginning of his series with Cuban historic figures (…)

The public could also note that Raúl’s figuration – this time in the company of Mario García Joya – reached the domain of photography. (…)

In the third small room – also from the 1960s – the viewer witnessed a contest, an argument. The various faces of Martí conversed with the different, “anonymous” faces of other children of our Homeland. In one of the rectangles, one could recognize Raúl Martínez, as among equals, integrated into the people, into the masses. It is an essence abstracted in the conceptual but also formal level, since the artist started from photographic references.

It was an abstraction with a double meaning, to which Raúl kept coming back to interpret the human and social landscape. And so comes 1970, the year of a utopia: the ten million ton sugar harvest. “We can make it, we can!”– was repeated officially, in the middle of a widespread revolutionary spirit; and finally, we… couldn’t. The painting Nosotros (Us) is from that time, with physiognomies of various expressions: smiling, serious, pensive. (…)

The public probably noticed a chronologic gap in the exhibition until 1976, right when the Grey Quinquennium ended – which intellectually confied artists like Raúl himself – and theMinistry of Culture and the Higher Institute of Arts were created. (…)

And then we get to the Special Period. Here, between collages of the series Oh, America and charcoal sketches from the final years of Raúl’s life (1994 – 1995), the public could admire an abstract painting that closed the room and the exhibition: Atardecer en la Isla (Sunset on the Island) (1994) (…)

At the end of his life and during times of restoration of the aesthetic paradigm, of the enlightened metaphor, Raúl went back to abstraction. Like the ouroboros, eating his own tail, he came returned to the trend that positioned him amongst the avant– garde of Cuban art (…)

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