Luis Martínez Pedro. In search of an ignored essay on Optic Art in Cuba

/ 1 September, 2018

The study of the 1960s in Cuba continues to gradually reveal an important number of artistic contributions still not much analyzed and understood, emerging practices that started to impose themselves on the cultural scene of that period and that remained trapped in the devastating wave of the political and social event that was the Revolution.

(…) A detailed study of Martínez Pedro’s work prior to 1959 reveals that, indeed, the seed of his future Aguas territoriales had been gestated in concrete logic, and will make it possible to discern these whirlpools that would later be recognizable in the early pieces of the series (those made between 1961 and 1962), in the abstractions of the series Homenaje (1956-1959) or in the concrete works like El ojo de agua (1960).

At least some 30 abstract canvases, brought together under the name Aguas territoriales and made in the first five years of the 1960s, have transcended as the paradigm of a discourse enthroned in the sovereignty of an island that had to survive an intense economic and political isolation during the period in which they were created.

From the formal point of view, this series resorts to an evident resignificance of the contents associated to the abstract work, as it had also occurred during the years of the Batista dictatorship with the paintings of the series Homenaje, dedicated to the 26th of July.

In both cases an ideological value contributed by color is annexed: the exclusive use of the red and the black to resolve the composition of the series Homenaje; the play with a dissimilar gamut of blues, which on occasions veer toward the black, indicated the sea’s mood in his Aguas territoriales.

The interpretation of the concept of geographical and legal limit which—based on the use of the line—has historically been attributed to Aguas… could, on the other hand, be much more extensive and controversial according to the author’s intentionality. (…)

Aguas territoriales would be, in short, the perfect container that allowed for the continuity of the research that Luis Martínez Pedro had undertaken years ago about concrete art, based on ideological reference, just as would happen with Mariano’s political landscapes. His work not only had the tolerance but also the approval of certain cultural authorities, in a context not favorable to abstraction as a plastic language.

However, this strategy would have a price: the series’ formal contribution to the optic art movement, the biggest of its values from the aesthetic point of view, would go unnoticed in the face of the period’s critical vision. This reality becomes easily understandable when we study the work in drawing about the subject which Martínez Pedro himself bequeathed. More than 500 drawings, dated and signed in the first half of the 1960s, radically break with the belief that Aguas territoriales is a pictorial series, dedicated exclusively to highlighting our impenetrability and to establishing our right in the political sphere.

The boom in op art in the world took place at the same time as its appearance in Cuba, in the mid-20th century. It is one of the few occasions in which the island absolutely assimilates simultaneously the aesthetic contents coming from the West. Perhaps the reply lies in the fact that the essential postulates had been outlined two decades before, in the laboratory of ideas that was the Bauhaus, a movement with which these three Cuban artists had a strong link.

The drawings in the series Aguas territoriales by Luis Martínez Pedro were never considered pieces of op art, nor were they gathered under that conception in any exposition or critical text. However, there is no doubt that they are one of the widest researches, postponed today, of this tendency in Cuba. (…)

Beatriz Gago

Beatriz Gago

She is graduated with a Degree in Science from Havana University. She has devoted the last fifteen years to an approach to contemporary Cuban art as a researcher, art critic and Independent curator. For almost a decade, she has been working for Archivo Veigas, Arte Cubano (Havana) and Ediciones Vanguardia Cubana (Madrid).

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