Design, drawing, painting, politics…and everything else

R10, Once Upon a Time, Casa 8, La Habana, March-April 2017

/ 1 September, 2017

It is not until the second decade of the 21st century that Jorge Rodríguez Diez (known as R10), from his job as designer, starts exploring the relations between the universe of graphics, drawing and painting with the purpose of triggering that relation perhaps gone astray, and activate it in multiple senses and in a subtle, discerning way so that it would assume the vitality of cultural universes corresponding to the past decades. (Something that nowadays, as a result of the changes that have been taking place in the Cuban society and especially with the resume of the relations with the USA at the end of 2014, has become an important issue.)

I was amazed at his most recent exhibition that took place in Havana, after making other ones that acted like research on similar subjects and themes. The works, as real posters of any epoch irradiate the premises and codes of a visual culture that for more than thirty years dominated the graphic and symbolic space of Cuban culture (although its distant origin dates from de 1910s and 1920s) and that was forgotten, or in the best of cases, neutralized by the wonderful countercultural avalanche of the 1960s and the postmodern whims of the 1980s that have lasted until nowadays—conceptualism and minimalism with all its local and regional variants in between.

(…) He applies color without transparencies or tonal hues, in a manner suspiciously close to that of silkscreen printing: they are set on the exact space that he has chosen without impairing the drawing or the illustration that “narrates” or describes an attitude or an action that corresponds to the text that finishes off and culminates the total discourse of the work. There are no loose ends, nothing left to chance in these works that are difficult to classify as drawings, posters, or paintings. They are all that at the same time, which makes them unique in the panorama of contemporary Cuban art.

(…) Fortunately, these works of R10’s lead us to reflect on our changing reality without being labeled as political or social art. Their inherent nature points apparently to other directions but it transcends it as it suggests infinite readings. Without deliberately assuming them as political art, they are at the bottom of any discussion, even if it implies frightening any orthodox and scholastic analyst of history and critique of art.

It is the way that he has found to participate in the current debate on our present and future from the standpoint of art, from the past and its indisputable presence. (…) And he has made it in an elegant, delicate way, sending innumerable winks and cultural quotes, mainly to those who are updated and have some knowledge about Cuba and other cultures. He does not make an art to please current fashions or trends, but to establish deep connections with the legacy and heritage of a country (…).

The non-informed audience, mainly young people, might not be aware of the scope of these works and its plural cultural and political signification. R10 works against all odds, aware that his ideas will not always reach his target. Therefore, he is most likely a lonely being, a creator distant from groups and trends. Neither will he be considered a member of the “millennium generations”, interested in issues quite far from his own. Which position is this artist? In which group should he be included? What critic or curator will invite him to form part of his/her projects? Which fair or biennial will be interested in his works?

I fear that he will feel the solitude like that of Rafael Blanco, Valls and García Cabrera, whose works, only after many years, found an invigorating impact upon the culture of their country due to that special vision of the world and art. He has time enough to wait, I think… even though it does not seem to worry him.

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Art critic, curator, poet. He is co-founder of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center and of the Havana Biennial, an event he led from 1999 to 2001, and where he is currently curator. He has lectured in numerous countries and published numerous critical texts in specialized publications of Cuba and abroad. General Curator of the XVI Paiz Biennial of Guatemala, 2008. Essay Jury of the Casa de las Américas Prize, 2005, and international art events in Latin America. National Award for Arts Criticism Guy Pérez Cisneros, 2007, and National Prize for Curators 2013, both in Cuba.

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