Gabriel Sánchez Toledo:
If you go into the contemporary art world, and want to get deeper into the subject by asking critics, journalists, gallery owners, museum directors, biennials… about Cuban art, all of them either exclaim, sob, discuss, love, or hate… but nobody remains indifferent when asked this question.
This is the greatness of Cuban art in these moments, everybody has or pretends to have an opinion on this subject. Right now there is like an oneiric atmosphere enclosing what is Cuban, in which Chronos, with its legendary wisdom, will solve the political and social alternative of the island. But as regards the subject that concerns us, there is absolutely no doubt that for decades Cuban artists have ranked highly worldwide for being one of the groups that participate more in every kind of circuit. It is difficult to attend an international artistic event and not meet a wide range of Cuban artists.
Quality and quantity do not always go hand in hand, but in
Cuba an exception could be made: the ratio of talent is simply overwhelming and it would make the most skeptical person blush.
Within the thriving number of this extensive contingent, I like to make a stop at those that are uncommon, strange particles that unleash a distinctive creative process, surprising and simple at the same time. Although we strive to go over things again and again, simplicity often leads to great findings.
I have been travelling to this seductive country for years and have tried to immerse myself into the most isolated and unusual places, wherever you could glimpse a spring of creativity. In this Cuban orchard I have found big rivers whose banks were already very consolidated; I have also enjoyed pure, fresh springs that gradually became big, losing freshness and purity, although never its brilliance. Others were almost dry when I arrived, wells where we used to drink from but now the murky water of market has disrupted everything. I even saw some of them emerging for the first time and I have followed them since then, like the little prince followed the growth of his rose, in my case, not to domesticate it but to taste each of its steps.
Gabriel Sánchez Toledo (Cabaiguán, Cuba, 1979), majored in Fine Arts from the Escuela de Arte Samuel Feijóo (Villa Clara), is one of those cases I have been following for some time and his work has gradually evolved until finding its space. In a global world, where everything looks too much like everything, to accomplish your own identity sign is something fundamental. Normally artists try to look for it outside, but Gabriel’s trip to his inner self has had a surprising outcome, simply intimate and personal.
In a short period of time I have been able to visit two of his solo shows, so juxtaposed in its formal character and its procedure as in the distance that separates them. The first one at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (Center for the Development of Visual Arts, CDAV), in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) until May the 28th; the second one at QUAN, Center of International Art of Song Zhuang, Beijing, until June the 15th, 2017.
When I faced the work that Gabriel was presenting at the
CDAV I was struck by all those worn-out adjectives that art critics often use when somebody leaves us astounded. I refuse to enumerate them… Well, just a few will not do any harm: I thought it was a courageous bet, daring, rupture-like and I would even dare to use the term “brazen”. Both in the presentation—five dozen papers flooded the space and took over the museology; indeed, work on paper, which was considered a minor genre but that has been magnified by all the great artists—as well as in the conceptualization of the work presented. It is not a preparatory work, nor a sketch, rather it is a firm wager for a pictorial reality assumed from the most intimate to be later exported as a joint visualization, as a whole. The “I” turns into “you” or rather
“we”, forming a segmented but not partitioned whole.
The proposal at Song Zhuang, titled Dust and Fog, is like looking from the other side of the mirror, the reflection is enlarged and it turns pluperfect, the narrative essence remaining. Large pieces on canvas measuring 20 x 20 ft. that display the same strength and the same truth reflected on the papers, the same path.
When I entered the exhibition, my mind was set on the past, a pictorial work close to the abstract landscape. Landscape is part of his DNA: Since he was a small child he used to watch his mother, the prestigious landscapist Ania Toledo, for hours. His academic formation is based on the prestigious Cuban pictorial school, having as referent a generation with forceful poetics like those of Tomás Sánchez, Zaida del Río, Roberto Fabelo, Nelson Domínguez and Pedro Pablo Oliva. When I entered the CDAV I received a surprising image, the space was filled up of black papers that had a force and skill only attained by the greats, and the figurative abstraction almost expressionist that persisted in GST had disappeared completely.
Abstraction had been able to impose itself. He had moved away from fashion and from the different trends that have been established around figurative abstraction. He had gone farther in his meticulousness and perfectionism: from his absolute subjection to techniques that he mastered to his plunge into emptiness, which supposedly means to embrace abstraction. He has been able to incorporate a singular life to his abstractions and by doing this, also different discourses that respond to the broad parameters that his experience treasures, and that in these two exhibitions he fulfills and regales still preserving all the essence of his chromatics.
I am disposed to assure, without any apprehension, that Gabriel Sánchez Toledo is one of those artists who learned how to look without being seen, to explore themselves without any complex in order to be able to convey afterwards, that truth that each of their works offer us.
Gabriel Sánchez Toledo had gone farther in his meticulousness and perfectionism: from his absolute subjection to techniques that he mastered to his plunge into emptiness, which supposedly means to embrace abstraction.
Untitled. From the series Dust and Fog, 2017 Triptych (Detail) / Acrylic on canvas
78¾ x 53 inches (each)
Untitled. From the series Desarraigo, 2017 Acrylic on paper
23½ x 31½ inches
Courtesy the artist
Untitled. From the series Dust and Fog, 2017 Diptych
Acrylic on canvas
23½ x 31½ inches (each)
Courtesy the artist