Art On Cuba - - INDEX - Alessandra Dini Hidalgo

Raul Cordero pre­sented in Mi­lan Words are wind, eight new oil on can­vas paint­ings in dif­fer­ent sizes, some of them or­ga­nized in the clas­si­cal lay­out of dip­tych or trip­tych. It is an ex­hibit con­ceived for his first solo show in Italy af­ter hav­ing ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion made by the Venezue­lan gal­lerist Fed­erico Lugo, ac­tive in the city since 2005 and who re­cently started shar­ing his own ex­hi­bi­tion seat with Gallery Pack, in a com­mon project named Spazio22.

Cordero’s ex­hi­bi­tion, opened to the public un­til May the 28th, 2017, was lo­cated in a se­cluded sa­lon, en­closed and with thick walls that used to be the vault of a well-known an­ti­quar­ian. The artist’s works there­fore profit from a more re­served and in­ti­mate en­joy­ment, be­cause they are also iso­lated acous­ti­cally from the rest of the ad­ja­cent sa­lons that gather works from other au­thors.

While I was wait­ing for Cordero to ar­rive, I stud­ied the can­vases at­ten­tively. More than ten years have elapsed since our first meet­ing in Ha­vana and since then I have only been able to fol­low his tra­jec­tory from a dis­tance. At that time I was car­ry­ing out some re­search on the Cuban pro­duc­tion of artis­tic videos and Cordero was among the most pro­lific au­thors of his gen­er­a­tion. How­ever, no video ac­com­pa­nies this ex­hibit be­cause since 2006 the artist de­cided to de­vote him­self ex­clu­sively to paint­ing:

“the pri­mary lan­guage of art”—he points out. Our con­ver­sa­tion started with this state­ment, and Cordero con­tin­ues: “Many tech­nolo­gies can be taken as a means of artis­tic ex­pres­sion, but only drawing, paint­ing and sculp­ture are born with this spe­cific pur­pose.” In the past, when com­par­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics and lim­its of au­dio­vi­sual ex­pres­sion in re­la­tion to the pic­to­rial im­age, the artist rec­og­nized that he still saw in paint­ing a wider range of pos­si­bil­i­ties to be ex­plored and what is as im­por­tant, a greater ar­bi­trari­ness in its in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Now, he adds a crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion: “It seems to me that the pro­lif­er­a­tion of video works and their ur­gent re­quest in var­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tion events around the world cor­re­sponds, at least in part, to pre­cise func­tional re­quire­ments: the im­ma­te­ri­al­ity of these pieces made them be very de­sir­able when there are not enough re­sources to or­ga­nize the trans­porta­tion of the works and guar­an­tee the pres­ence of the au­thor. In fact, if we con­sider the lo­gis­tics that reg­u­late the cur­rent art mar­ket, to de­vote your­self to paint­ing is a dar­ing and revo­lu­tion­ary act. In these times that are marked only by ur­gency, tak­ing a mo­ment to face up to the can­vas, of­ten a large size one, con­tra­dicts any rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion.

The idea of an art that is in­tan­gi­ble, re­peat­able and quickly trans­mis­si­ble is the dif­fi­cult her­itage left by the artis­tic move­ments of the late 1960s to the next gen­er­a­tions. “The eas­i­est risk that might hap­pen lies in the risk that young peo­ple, driven by the anx­i­ety to en­ter hastily into the sales mar­ket, ad­here to these “rules” in a util­i­tar­ian man­ner, and in this way, link­ing them to the for­mal re­sult of their works.” Cordero speaks from experience as pro­fes­sor, first in Cuba, at the Higher In­sti­tute of Arts in Ha­vana and af­ter in the USA at the San Fran­cisco Art In­sti­tute and The Art Academy of Cincin­nati.

“Teach­ing has be­come more and more prob­lem­atic. The re­al­ity never cor­re­sponds to the ex­pec­ta­tions of the stu­dents I meet.

It is a fact that very few will be able to make a liv­ing from their work with­out ac­cept­ing com­mit­ments.”

In con­trast, Cordero was formed in an iso­lated cul­tural con­text in which learn­ing some­thing through di­rect experience and hav­ing ac­cess to up­dated news of the art world was a very hard ef­fort, though it might have mo­ti­vated his gen­er­a­tion to de­fend their own free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

He re­mem­bers there used to be very few books of his­tory of art, many times passed from hand to hand and so worn out that the il­lus­tra­tions of master­pieces were barely rec­og­niz­able. These mem­o­ries do not fit in with the to­tal im­mer­sion into up­dated in­for­ma­tion ex­ist­ing to­day from which he feels the urge to move away. Be­ing a co­her­ent and ma­ture artist, his per­sonal ref­er­ence points are quite solid. A con­cep­tual legacy is, for ex­am­ple, to in­clude the text in the work, a re­cur­rent pro­ce­dure in his pro­duc­tion. In his works there is al­ways some­thing to read: the writ­ten word, which can be pre­sented iso­lated or as part of a pro­posal of a fin­ish sense, sticks out in his paint­ing, is en­hanced in the video and goes to­gether with the pho­to­graphic in­stal­la­tions. Be­sides, the word as­sumes var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tion gen­res such as comic strip sto­ries, film close-cap­tions, neon signs, so­lu­tions to games or puz­zles, list of in­struc­tions, etc…

“In these new works, and for some years now, the writ­ten word in­ter­ests me as a sub­se­quent graphic el­e­ment, hav­ing an ab­stract char­ac­ter that is su­per­im­posed over a fig­u­ra­tive im­age in an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of mean­ings.” The text, that also con­sti­tutes the ti­tle of each can­vas, is not easy to read be­cause the char­ac­ters are traced with a se­ries of dots painted with polyester resin so sep­a­rated from each other that they do not per­mit an im­me­di­ate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the let­ters.

In the ti­tles of the eight new paint­ings that were dis­played each phrase ends with el­lip­sis (three dots), and that makes the spec­ta­tor won­der if those dis­course frag­ments could ac­quire new mean­ings ac­cord­ing to their dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tion. On the other hand, his fond­ness for the lin­guis­tic game has been one of the dis­tinc­tive fea­tures of the artist’s work, who even to­day prefers to elude a uni­vo­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his pieces, leav­ing them open to more op­tions with­out the help of a the­o­ret­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion. Cordero has al­ways been in­ter­ested in re­search­ing the ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion that the writ­ten word may give the im­age, the man­ner in which the two lan­guages can be in­te­grated or can clash, aban­don­ing any jux­ta­po­si­tion of a de­scrip­tive char­ac­ter. The text does not nec­es­sar­ily clar­i­fies the mean­ing of the im­age, while the im­age is no good for il­lus­trat­ing the text. The two sign sys­tems rather than com­plet­ing each other, re­main sep­a­rated like wa­ter and oil.

This im­pos­si­bil­ity of amal­ga­mat­ing them ev­i­dences prob­lems of a per­cep­tive kind in­stead of im­mers­ing us into a nar­ra­tive.

In his most re­cent works this strat­i­fi­ca­tion be­tween the vis­ual code, in the back­ground, and the ver­bal code in the fore­ground is even more vis­i­ble thanks to the silkscreen tech­nique, that clearly sep­a­rates some words from the back­ground, in­clud­ing them within an ab­stract ground of flat and semi­trans­par­ent col­ors. “These are not ran­dom shapes—he states—rather they make ref­er­ence to some pre­cise el­e­ments of some paint­ings by Wifredo Lam that I copied and turned into tem­plates. A con­cealed trib­ute to the Mas­ter.”

Cordero has al­ways been in­ter­ested in re­search­ing the ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion that the writ­ten word may give the im­age, the man­ner in which the two lan­guages can be in­te­grated or can clash…

The quo­ta­tions from the his­tory of art are also a con­stant in Cordero’s work. In Au­tore­trato den­tro de un cuadro de Eric Fis­chl (Self-por­trait within a paint­ing by Eric Fis­chl, 1995), for ex­am­ple, Cordero por­trays him­self in the ver­sion of Fis­chl’s piece, and re­places one of the orig­i­nal fig­ures with his own por­trait.

In A paint­ing the same size as Jack­son Pol­lock’s Num­ber One (2008) all that re­mains from the ref­er­ence to the orig­i­nal is only the size of the can­vas. In these cases paint­ing in it­self be­comes the re­search ob­ject and even though a fig­u­ra­tion is kept, a di­rect re­la­tion with re­al­ity is not nec­es­sary.

In the past, the reper­toire of cho­sen im­ages as the sub­ject of his paint­ings was based on a mass me­dia and het­ero­ge­neous imag­i­nary made of scenes from films, pho­to­graphic files, and video stills, all of them al­ready rep­re­sent­ing a fil­ter from re­al­ity and that had been cho­sen for the mere vis­ual plea­sure they aroused. In his re­cent works there is no longer a mark of the hu­man fig­ure, in­stead, land­scapes pre­vail, and among these many tree-lined av­enues are re­peated very of­ten. Then I asked Cordero if in these cases it is also about “stolen” im­ages from a pre-ex­ist­ing source and used in a new con­text, his an­swer sur­prised me: “No, it is not about ex­trac­tions in these sub­jects. They are re­cur­rent el­e­ments that I keep in my mind and that I use con­tin­u­ously and re-ex­am­ine many times while I am con­struct­ing new com­po­si­tions. They do not re­fer to any par­tic­u­lar place be­cause they are a prod­uct of my imag­i­na­tion. How­ever, in my cre­ative process I fol­low some steps that also con­tem­plate the use of tech­nol­ogy. In fact, I use graphic soft­wares to pre­pare the sketches, af­ter I print the draw­ings and trans­fer them onto the can­vas us­ing the tra­di­tional sys­tem of oil paint­ing. I have de­lib­er­ately re­cov­ered the clas­sic genre of land­scape, pre­cisely be­cause it is ob­so­lete, that is, it is to­tally use­less within the con­text we live in; it is some­thing that has no re­la­tion what­so­ever with our ev­ery­day life and sim­ply in­ter­ests us due to the vis­ual data it con­veys.”

Cordero’s pic­to­rial style is ex­tremely per­sonal and rec­og­niz­able. The out­lines of the shapes are de­formed by evanes­cent ef­fects, al­most out of fo­cus, that in the past seemed like the peren­nial vi­bra­tion of the elec­tronic pix­els and that to­day looks like low res­o­lu­tion im­pres­sion in which the im­age def­i­ni­tion yields its place to a de-com­po­si­tion in hor­i­zon­tal lines.

With noth­ing else to say, we said good­bye. Be­fore leav­ing I stopped again be­fore the large can­vas The race pro­gressed be­tween the mo­not­o­nous se­cu­rity of the know and the dread of do­ing what had been done be­fore… in which sev­eral sail­boats are piled up, sat­u­rat­ing all the space. I think that noth­ing but the sea can give back as a metaphor the in­sta­bil­ity sur­round­ing us. What should we found our knowl­edge on if ev­ery­thing runs flu­idly? Knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion are not equiv­a­lent; to com­pre­hend it is nec­es­sary some time for the news to sed­i­ment so that they be­come a solid base on which an opin­ion can be set up. This is no longer the time to wait and ma­ture; nov­elty is an ev­ery­day con­di­tion be­cause ev­ery­thing changes at a great speed and as Cordero says, words are just wind, they float in the air and no one wants to re­tain them any longer. ƒ

Un­ti­tled (The race pro­gressed be­tween the mo­not­o­nous se­cu­rity of the known and the dread of do­ing what had been done be­fore...), 2017

Oil, polyester and wax on can­vas

46 x 46 inches

Cour­tesy the artist, FL Gallery and Mai 36 Ga­lerie

To­tal view of the space, FL Gallery

Cour­tesy the artist, FL Gallery and Mai 36 Ga­lerie

Un­ti­tled (The wise who knows not…), 2017 Oil, polyester and wax on can­vas

46 x 46 inches

Three Pas­torals, 2017 Oil and wax on can­vas 69 x 57 inches (each)

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