Ale­jan­dro Gar­cía:

Art On Cuba - - In This Issue - Nel­son Her­rera Ysla

The strong trend to ab­strac­tion in Cuba, and of paint­ing as a notable ex­pres­sion of our vis­ual arts, has in Ale­jan­dro Gar­cía (Ha­vana, 1974) one of its pro­tag­o­nists. Formed in the al­most bi­cen­te­nary San Ale­jan­dro Academy of Fine Arts be­tween 1989 and 1993, and af­ter ex­hibit­ing in Cuba, Italy and the United States, he is not, how­ever, an artist known as it should be in the Cuban art scene, since his per­son­al­ity alien to groups, in­sti­tu­tions, move­ments and me­dia makes him a sort of lone wolf in the national panorama.

In 1999 he be­gan an ex­ten­sive pil­grim­age through Italy which took him to sev­eral cities of the south and to other re­gions of Europe (France, Spain, Ger­many and Switzer­land) where he con­firmed his pic­to­rial vo­ca­tion also be­cause of his friend­ship and de­vo­tion for the ex­tra­or­di­nary Ital­ian artist Mimmo Rotella, who re­sides in Catan­zaro. Walk­ing from mu­seum to mu­seum, and from gal­leries to artists’ ate­liers, he dis­cov­ers sources of in­spi­ra­tion in some of the great painters of the History of

Art and, spe­cially, the Ital­ian avant-garde of the 1980s, as well as in Ger­man artists, who move and com­pel him to start work­ing with large for­mats and ex­per­i­ment the use of the most di­verse and un­usual ma­te­ri­als with the pur­pose of mak­ing works that, for mo­ments, are dif­fi­cult to cat­e­go­rize in a spe­cific genre.

Al­ter­nat­ing his life be­tween Italy and Cuba, he de­vel­ops a nat­u­ral, spon­ta­neous and some­what an­ar­chic sense of cre­ation that drags him to pro­duce a work and aban­don it, im­me­di­ately, to the ero­sion of time on the roof of his house, near the sea, in the placid neigh­bor­hood of El Náu­tico, west of Ha­vana. Among the sur­prise of many, he ex­poses them un­der the sun and the rain dur­ing days and nights, aware that na­ture has suf­fi­cient gifts and qual­i­ties to col­lab­o­rate with him and con­trib­ute with her strength and her ac­ci­dents to his cre­ation. He di­vests the pieces from their prim­i­tive ma­te­rial con­di­tion know­ing that the sup­port, as well as the ma­te­ri­als, mu­tate and may trans­form them­selves in a sec­ond or third en­tity, not very much pre­dictable in his imag­i­na­tion. From that ir­rev­er­ent ex­pe­ri­ence he se­lects new tex­tures, trans­fig­ures orig­i­nal colors and as­sumes mix­tures where print­ing ink, oil paint­ing, acrylic, as­phalt, wa­ter or nat­u­ral dyes grant a unique rar­ity to each work that, in ap­pear­ance, seems to us as an­tique, found in an old ware­house or per­haps be­long­ing to an an­cient col­lec­tion we be­lieved was aban­doned or had dis­ap­peared.

He for­gets some pieces, al­ways ex­posed to the el­e­ments, to be­gin oth­ers in a con­tin­u­ous ex­per­i­men­tal process of cre­ation un­con­trol­lable by mo­ments, alien to ex­hi­bi­tions, con­tests, trips, grants, res­i­dences, which to­day se­duce nu­mer­ous artists so much.

His pas­sion is work­ing with­out rest, with­out a spe­cific ex­hi­bi­tion pro­gram, with­out an a pri­ori pro­mo­tional goal. In this sense, his free­dom is to­tal be­cause we al­ways find him in his home work­ing, think­ing, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic from mul­ti­ple cul­tures, lit­tle in­formed of what hap­pens in his im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ment or farther away.

That is how he starts to cre­ate a per­sonal iconog­ra­phy dis­tin­guish­able to­day in the Cuban art scene, but with­out the spirit of es­tab­lish­ing and gloat­ing on it, nor even trust­ing in its own le­git­i­macy. Paint­ing, ac­cord­ing to his form of work­ing and be­ing, re­sists only a pre­car­i­ous and strange bal­ance that in any mo­ment of the day or the night cracks in the search of new pro­pos­als and images, also daz­zled by the lone­li­ness of life in this Ha­vana neigh­bor­hood—with notable ex­clu­siv­ity dur­ing the decade of the 1950s. In his stu­dio-work­shop, built with the strength of af­fec­tion and the lo­cal in­ven­tive in the top of his house, most of the works made in these last nine years are found, since he de­cided to defini­tively set­tle in Ha­vana to chan­nel his en­er­gies here, to­gether with old and new com­pan­ions of cre­ation: Roberto Di­ago, Car­los Montes de Oca, José Emilio Fuentes, Dou­glas Argüelles, Lázaro Navar­rete, Aimée Gar­cía, Rus­lán Tor­res, Jorge Luis San­tos, Hanoi Pérez, Duvier del Dago, Ado­nis Flores, Guib­ert Ros­ales, Edgar Hechavar­ría, Aliosky Gar­cía, Rod­ney González, Rewell Al­tunaga, Mar­i­anela Orozco…

Ale­jan­dro Gar­cía is, es­sen­tially, close to the al­chemist who in­vests un­count­able hours search­ing for the philoso­pher’s stone, of what is ex­tra­or­di­nary, of what is sub­lime. He ex­per­i­ments with can­vases and Bris­tol boards for a to­tal crossbreeding, ready to take both of his in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties when in­ter­vened with ab­so­lute free­dom, with no prej­u­dice at all. He works with used or bro­ken can­vases to en­grave on them, as well as us­ing en­graved Bris­tol boards to paint on their sur­face. Most of the times he prints on a screw press re­con­structed by him­self, or leaves his foot­prints muddy with paint­ing on the sup­port be­cause of the ab­sence of equip­ment. He prefers that can­vases, as well as Bris­tol board, had pre­vi­ously suf­fered changes so as not to feel any guilt at all when mod­i­fy­ing them at his whim. It can be said that he works as to re­cover them for­ever, in a sort of res­ur­rec­tion, as if he were re­deem­ing a corpse and giv­ing it life… in what we could con­sider a two-di­men­sional cre­ole ver­sion of Frankestein.

Las som­bras de la vida, 2016 Mixed me­dia on can­vas

59 x 71 inches

Ale­jan­dro Gar­cia’s Stu­dio, Ha­vana Courtesy the artist

He even had re­taken sev­eral of his “fin­ished” works, con­sid­ers them again and thus be­gins an al­most in­fi­nite process of re­con­ver­sion be­cause, for him, noth­ing is fin­ished, con­cluded, but in con­stant progress. Grosso modo, he cov­ers the en­grav­ings with can­vas and en­graves the can­vases with full self-as­sur­ance, since the ex­pres­sion prob­lems are the most im­por­tant for him, the dear­est in his in­nate cre­ative world.

It is not dif­fi­cult to sup­pose that this con­tro­ver­sial way of cre­at­ing is fully ex­pressed in Cuba, where he does not has at his dis­posal all the nec­es­sary or de­sired ma­te­ri­als given the in­suf­fi­cien­cies of spe­cial­ized stores. In Italy, for ex­am­ple, where he goes for short pe­ri­ods of time, he uses what he has at hand (which is much more than what he finds in his stu­dio in Ha­vana) with­out rep­re­sent­ing an­guish or anx­i­ety when de­cid­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate so­lu­tions. In one or other case, of course, he acts in the me­dieval method to pre­pare the can­vases. He re­fuses to use can­vases in­dus­tri­ally pre­pared: that is how we can see him plac­ing the Rab­bit-Skin Glue or the Fish Glue on the can­vas just as in their time Da Vinci, Miguel Án­gel, Wifredo Lam or Amelia Peláez did… Then it is the turn for the Lin­seed Oil, for the Whit­ing, un­til leav­ing the can­vas ready to ac­cept oils, inks and acrylics.

In re­cent dates he has ar­ranged to ex­per­i­ment the use of the can­vas’ sur­face on the front and on the back, ac­cord­ing to that se­ries of works pop­u­lar­ized by Mimmo Rotella as RetroD'Af­fiche, which con­sisted in rip­ping off the printed posters placed on the walls of any city, with­out mind­ing the phys­i­cal state of those which were found, to cover them with can­vas and suc­ces­sively in­ter­vene them. That is why sev­eral of the paint­ings by Ale­jan­dro have to­day one of more faces, a sort of “dou­ble aesthetic moral” and may be hung in the mid­dle of the ex­hi­bi­tion space to en­joy their pic­to­rial impact on both sides, in which the wood of the frames, the sta­ples, the ac­ci­den­tal scratches, hang­ing threads, num­bers, stains, be­come un­ques­tion­able pro­tag­o­nists.

With Ale­jan­dro Gar­cía’s work we see ab­strac­tion fall­ing in­jured in its own bat­tle­field, once again, to be­come other ab­strac­tion.

And, with all prob­a­bil­ity, new in the Cuban con­tem­po­rary art scene.

His most re­cent show, part of the group of col­lat­eral ex­hi­bi­tions in the Twelfth Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, en­ti­tled Zona Franca, in one of the vaulted spa­ces in the Morro Cas­tle, as­sured in the cat­a­logue that you could “…per­ceive the tem­per­a­ture of the struc­ture of the works […] The idea con­forms it­self in the cre­ation process.

It is the con­se­quence of an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of in­for­ma­tion and of ex­pe­ri­ences that af­fect me, pos­i­tively or neg­a­tively…” In that oc­ca­sion, al­though his at­ti­tude and ap­ti­tude were ex­ceed­ingly fed from ab­strac­tion, in the vast com­po­si­tion of hard, cracked, roasted colors, he equally le­git­i­mated the fig­ure of a tiger or a sign in Ital­ian he con­sid­ered pru­dent, with­out mind­ing much the pu­rity of the genre, since its lev­els of con­tam­i­na­tion and of ir­rev­er­ence are well high, and still are, with­out need to re­sort to blas­phemy, par­ody or cyn­i­cism, since I con­sider him fur­ther away from what in past times was named as “rebel”. He is a re­bel­lious artist, but of him­self and of paint­ing.

He does not re­dound in codes, sym­bols, signs, since he shies away from all rep­e­ti­tion or prox­im­ity with what is es­tab­lished out­side and inside him. If to­day we see those re­cent cuts with knives he pro­duces in his can­vases (late in­her­i­tors of Lucio Fon­tana) to open the pic­to­rial space in un­usual lev­els of fig­ure, back­ground and dou­ble-back­ground, or ad­mire other un­equal fab­rics that now he in­cor­po­rates through hol­lows, we will no­tice that we are be­fore an ex­ceed­ingly rest­less cre­ator. When it seemed he had ex­hausted the ad­van­tages of­fered by con­ven­tional ways, we then find rup­tures, also new trans­gres­sions as to the use of ir­reg­u­lar, empty for­mats, to sur­prise us and feel that ex­treme un­con­for­mity of his, ca­pa­ble of go­ing be­yond even of his own imag­i­na­tion.

We see ab­strac­tion fall­ing in­jured in its own bat­tle­field, once again, to be­come other ab­strac­tion. And, with all prob­a­bil­ity, new in the Cuban con­tem­po­rary art scene. In 2016 we found in many of his works el­e­ments with fig­u­ra­tive as­cen­dance that seemed es­caped from for­mer pe­ri­ods, or from the history of paint­ing, co­ex­ist­ing with stains and tex­tures com­ing from the most ran­cid ab­stract tra­di­tion. Those hy­bridiza­tions, that crossbreeding, have far-off prece­dents in that provoca­tive trend of bad paint­ing that few re­mem­ber to­day, to which an­other one could be added, bad en­grav­ing, both alien to any aesthetic or politic correction.

The only re­it­er­a­tion we discover in him is an un­govern­able cre­ative ea­ger­ness, a to­tal lack of ad­he­sion to aesthetic rules and con­ven­tions: it is one more who es­caped the squad, a sort of black sheep with very lit­tle as­pi­ra­tions to the sat­is­fac­tion of the mar­ket or the cu­ra­tors.

His die is cast on polem­i­cal foun­da­tions on which, in­ci­den­tally, we art crit­ics re­flect lit­tle. Cre­ation is some­thing we have left in­creas­ingly more to the artists and I think we have not en­tered into it with enough strength and pas­sion as to discover its ins and outs, cor­ners, cracks, folds, its so many lights and shad­ows; its paths and labyrinths, ready to con­duct us to the con­tro­verted and en­tirely free world of art. ƒ

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