Rafael Zarza´s work, both pictorial and graphic, is without doubt one of the most peculiar, disturbing and valuable within Cuban plastic art of the last four decades. At 70, Zarza has accomplished a status difficult to obtain in any artistic context, his work is virtually unclassifiable, not only with respect to the most dominant trends that have been happening in the passing of contemporary Cuban art, but also with respect to international aesthetic trends.
Zarza is popularly known as the painter of bullfighting figures. The bull is the main character of the vast majority of his artistic production.
It is known that the physical attributes of certain animals become, within specific cultures, symbolic projections of the men’s virtues. So, the bull’s virility, strength, anger, elegance, Indomitability, majestic are part of the ideal of masculinity of an historical archetype that the Spanish gentleman is. And also by cultural heritage, as these are attributes that also appear in our own conception of masculinity, despite seeming stereotyped today.
The conceptual richness of Zarza´s work lies in the way he has been able to play with that Hispanic cultural matrix, but taking it to the plane of the Cuban reality that he lives. Hence, the bull is something like the tip of the iceberg of his speech, that is, the most visible, the leading and symbolic plastic element, which occupies more space in the composition.
The animal is represented by Zarza both as object (of torture, teasing, manipulation), or as a subject (advertising model, dictator, sex symbol), among many other variants. And the battle between the knight (the bullfighter) and the fierce animal (the bull), is merely a aestheticized ritual of the duel between man and the animal’s attributes that he wants for himself, and at the same time seeks to dominate, subjugate, subdue to his will to power.
So, in the deep, Zarza’s work ends up being a story of the struggle between men, of power relations, violence, manipulation, death; but there is also eroticism, enjoyment of sex, carnal provocation. Eros and Thanatos. All expressed in strident colors: green, red, orange, yellow, blue, pink, vibrating within the areas delineated by those synthetic traces that characterize his unique configuration.
If you visit Villa Manuela gallery at UNEAC by these days, you can enjoy an exhibition that compiles some memorable works of this important Cuban artist. Zarza: lo que no se vio (Zarza: what it was not seen) is the title; precisely because there are little-known works, perhaps overlooked by the context in which they were born, hard to locate on the periodization of contemporary Cuban art. But the true art eventually finds accommodation in history, transcends circumstantial world and challenges us from the vigorous present of its wisdom.