You and I, we are lovers

/ 26 March, 2018

From a strange crossing between rational impulses and a confessed and clear seduction, comes this approach of mine to the poetics of the young Cuban artist Maikel Domínguez. Writing requires from the critic as much as painting —in its most fertile irreverence— demands from the artist. For this reason, half-truth and half-lie, Maikel and I are true lovers. The wayward object of our desire is not that which dwells in the contingency of an alien plane. That object of passion and suffering is none other than our self, camouflaged in the lyrics of a bolero. What we do tells of us and tells on us. In his case, painting reveals and stands as a gesture of affirmation; in my case, it´s worth saying, writing outlines a biography in which the image and the verb seal its ultimate destiny.

His is not a work of barely certifiable, if presumable, evidences. His work comes from a distant and dark place where what we are (or what we think we are), mixes up with the outburst of the other people’s fictional dimension. When I carefully observe Maikel´s visual digressions, suddenly, I accept the legitimacy of the death of all that narrative that tends to stereotype those so called attributes of Cuban art. His work escapes, flees, and mocks any pretension of gravity and belonging. Art, he seems to say, is nothing but the unspoken contract between the self and the distorted image of that projection of me fixed at the bottom of that perpetual raft we´re all in. So, art would be that voice (not the voice) that purges the shadows and sentences the beast. Maikel’s paintings go beyond any restrictive notion of themes or trends. In their real and more profuse autonomy they deepen a real or fictitious modeling of the subject that lives behind each surface.

(…) Everything indicates that the consecration of the work as a fact itself is based on the propitiatory tributaries of a rhetoric of healing and the exaltation of the soul. The worldly randomness that haunts and harms existence finds its ease at the very center of an aesthetic operation in which movement and drive stand out as central axes of a visuality that likes the eloquent calm of the delicate and mannered. From this emphatic center, the artist bares himself, tending bridges, almost always invisible, between the speculated/speculative surface and the real world. No wonder he attests “my work is testimonial; it reflects the essence of my experiences, seeks solutions and answers to my conflicts, expands my universe. The images surprise me anywhere; I almost never clearly know their true origin. However, I feel a latent impulse to follow them and reveal their purposes. Each time is unique, even being simultaneously destructive and painful as exciting and pleasurable.”

Evidently, the riddles that accompany him in the chain of visual models and narrative principles are vital and plenty. The reagent and aching hardness of some of his creations and findings borders the projection and sweetening of pastel and cloy appearances, a solid allegation that supports an eye-trap of slight presumption. The lineal or geometric atmospheres fade in the eagerness of protecting the spirit of those strange beings of his that seem to inhabit somewhere between silent pain and tricked complacency. Eventually, the large formats become wide runways of imperfect balance, and dangerous avenues where the represented (and scrutinized) subject plays to be happy.

I once read that Maikel belongs to a generation of young Cuban artists concerned with light painting and the more aesthetic drive. (…) That affirmation is improper from every point of view since it stigmatizes —while wanting to defend and legitimate— the referential body of that new painting, and reduces it to a grammar of formal and dull associations. It would be enough to observe the work of this artist, and many others of his same promotion, to warn the conceptual bias and the psychological thickness of these works, which some consider detached from the critical tradition of Cuban art. I, on one hand, think this new painting, more than any other, keeps a close relationship with the iconographic genealogy of Cuban art, even more than that critical response of a very specific moment that emerged and channeled in the 80´s.

(…) Maikel is, in his essence and difference, an authentic heir of that rich pictorial tradition. His poetics are based on the territories of that previous art, but it´s sealed under the sign of a powerful singularity. I could go through the halls of a thousand museums in the world and safely recognize the presence of his work. His fictional constructions and compositional juggling have the weight of a cosmos. In some way, I think his pieces present as a kind of anachronistic story in which lyricism and derision alternate. I suspect he´s ignorant about it, but Maikel is, unmistakably, a rabid poet. He is a Dandy of seduction, and androgyny in surface. From his canvases emanates a sweet and bitter breath, a hint of birth that rivals the threat of an announced death. His paintings seem to belong to cosmogony as well as to literature. They engender, increase, and compose the vocabulary of a rugged sexuality. The libidinal revolution resolved in them is directly proportional to their clinical sterility. The legitimacy of his paintings becomes manifest when, from their discursive regency, they are able to recognize their imperfection and human vulnerability. They do not reduce the spectacle of life to equivalences or mocks, but celebrate the vital drive in the mirror of the futile and the funereal.

These works, apart from the previous arguments, don’t seem to live in a specific space, nor in a specific geography. These works, I insist, inhabit the areas of obsessions, retraction and narcissism. They are x-rays of a deviation, of a more or less attainable state of things, the adoration of beauty over the ordinary devastation of the prevalent vulgarity. There is a strange and beautiful tendency to unity and to abyss in them. It’s like if, suddenly, their very physicality was subject to a self-destructive principle. The instinct of preservation disguises in its core the same thirst for death.

When men rest from their primeval erections, when language isn’t used to mark but to discern the scent of fluids, when dreams cease to be plans of conquest to speak of renewed utopias, and surfaces tell a story instead of representing one; then, and only then, will Maikel’s paintings give shape to that disturbing voice that enters them into the complicity of an eternal silence.

Then, the lover will replace the mask with the face.

NOTE: This article is a fragment of the words to catalog for the Maikel Domínguez’s exhibition Full of Pollen, Kendall Art Center, march 30, 2018.

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