THE UN­PRECE­DENTED STARE

graphic print­ing and draw­ing dur­ing the twen­ties and thir­ties

Art On Cuba - - Index - ROBERTO COBAS AMATE

The ex­hi­bi­tion La Mi­rada in­édita; la grá­fica y el dibujo en los años veinte y treinta (The un­prece­dented stare; print­ing and draw­ing dur­ing the twen­ties and the thir­ties) cur­rently on show in the Na­tional Fine Arts Mu­seum in Ha­vana, draws its at­ten­tion to the strate­gies of the Cuban plas­tic arts avant–garde dur­ing the tur­bu­lent decades of the twen­ties and thir­ties in terms of draw­ing and print­ing, on find­ing pre­cisely in those artis­tic ex­pres­sions the es­sen­tial lines of de­vel­op­ment that marked the evo­lu­tion of that move­ment, ahead of the ap­pear­ance of paint­ing or sculp­ture.

The plas­tic arts re­newal move­ments would have im­por­tant ex­pres­sions in graphic arts and draw­ing, be­ing the main routes of the as­pi­ra­tions of the pro­gres­sive in­tel­lec­tu­als of the day to cre­ate a model of the na­tion and to strongly es­tab­lish in the arts the con­cept of a Cuban iden­tity. In the mag­a­zines of the time, a real revo­lu­tion took place, con­tin­u­ously in So­cial, leader of this visual trans­for­ma­tion, es­tab­lish­ing a new view in the Cuban con­text. The com­mon man vi­su­al­ized the mod­ern age by ac­cess­ing these pub­li­ca­tions. On the other hand, with no inhibitions, draw­ing tack­led the rup­ture with aca­demic con­ven­tions, in­tro­duc­ing un­ex­plored top­ics or su­per­fi­cially con­sid­ered ones, such as the Afro–Cuban and peas­ants, or the cur­rent so­cial con­tra­dic­tions, with a new lan­guage.

A crit­i­cal view is in­tro­duced in plas­tic arts by Rafael Blanco, a view filled with deep bit­ter­ness and sharp irony. Ad­vanced in car­i­ca­ture cre­ation, his wash draw­ings best de­fine his artis­tic pro­duc­tion, as an ex­pres­sion­ist with al­most grotesque di­men­sions, as grotesque as the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere of his day.

In 1929, Ed­uardo Abela re­turned tri­umphant from Paris. He dis­tanced him­self from his praised Afro-Cuban paint­ing, and with revo­lu­tion­ary pas­sion re­turned to el Bobo (the Fool), a pop­u­lar char­ac­ter cre­ated in 1926, rep­re­sent­ing one of the es­sen­tial sym­bols in the strug­gle against the Machado dic­ta­tor­ship.

In the tur­moil of anti-Machado strug­gle, the Cuban plas­tic arts move­ment per­ma­nently sup­ported the peo­ple’s de­mands. All artists were one way or an­other af­fected by that ur­gent sit­u­a­tion. For in­stance, Arístides Fernán­dez de­picted the street man­i­fes­ta­tions as a tes­ti­mony of that pe­cu­liar pe­riod, drawn with lively and con­cise strokes to cap­ture the com­mo­tion. Car­los En­riquez’s heartrend­ing draw­ings for the book El Ter­ror en Cuba (pub­lished in Paris in 1933), are also in the same line, a naked de­nun­ci­a­tion of the atroc­i­ties and abuses that oc­curred dur­ing Machado’s tyranny. Un­doubt­edly, Marcelo Po­golotti de­vel­oped the work with the most lu­cid sense of so­cial com­mit­ment. Po­golotti pro­duced a num­ber of draw­ings: Nue­stro tiempo (1930–1931), ex­pos­ing the fun­da­men­tal con­tra­dic­tions of the era, whose key point was the con­flict be­tween the work­ing class and cap­i­tal. No other artist went fur­ther in the avant–garde move­ment in the at­tempt to at­tain a syn­the­sis of a pure and wholly mod­ern tech­nique with a deep so­cial con­tent mes­sage.

A highly im­por­tant el­e­ment of the plas­tic arts of the time is the search for the na­tional or criollo, look­ing for a con­ti­nen­tal scope. In Cuba, the ex­plo­ration of the pop­u­lar mainly led to the ex­pres­sion of tra­di­tions and le­gends from the coun­try­side, ru­ral land­scapes, and the gua­jiros (peas­ants) as main char­ac­ters. This vi­sion crys­tal­izes in a na­tional or criolla per­spec­tive that goes be­yond lo­cal cus­toms, to present a de­nun­ci­a­tion of the hope­less and mis­er­able life of Cuban peas­ants. The va­ri­ety of ap­proaches to criol­lismo ranges from Gat­torno’s im­pas­sive peas­ants, to Car­los En­ríquez’s mis­er­able look­ing peas­ants. It is pre­cisely in Car­los En­ríquez’s work where we find the main nu­ances of criol­lismo, in­spired by what the artist called “el ro­mancero gua­jiro” (the peas­ant bal­lad), which served as a the­o­ret­i­cal syn­the­sis of his paint­ings. No other artist was able to in­ves­ti­gate the oral tra­di­tions of the coun­try­side and take them first to draw­ings and later to the can­vas in works that are still valid, con­sid­ered a par­a­digm of criol­lismo on the is­land.

Af­ter seven years study­ing in Europe, Amelia Peláez re­turned to Cuba in 1934. The artist de­cided not to ex­hibit the art brought from Paris to Ha­vana, nei­ther in 1934 nor in 1935, in­stead, she de­vel­oped an as­tound­ing col­lec­tion of draw­ings, tak­ing women as the ob­ject of visual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. There are sub­stan­tial changes in her con­cept of rep­re­sen­ta­tion with re­spect to the aes­thetic of the first repub­li­can gen­er­a­tion.

No other avant–garde artist was as bold as Amelia Peláez in her aes­thetic in­ves­ti­ga­tions on women. Her knowl­edge about cu­bism en­abled her to cre­ate re­mark­able paint­ings, break­ing with the tra­di­tions. This se­ries is ex­cep­tional among the avant–garde plas­tic arts, and mer­its a spe­cial at­ten­tion.

The erotic work of Car­los En­ríquez, be­yond the scan­dal it sparked and the hyp­o­crit­i­cal re­jec­tion of the con­ser­va­tive bour­geoisie, was sim­i­larly an ex­pres­sion of the na­tional en­tity, in­her­ent to the mix­ture of races that orig­i­nated the Cuban char­ac­ter, where erotic at­trac­tion and sex­u­al­ity are not ex­cluded from daily life, but are part of it. From the mod­ern stand­point, the view that mys­ti­fies Car­los En­ríquez as a sex­ual preda­tor re­flect­ing in his paint­ings and draw­ings the fan­tasies of a mor­bid mind is un­ac­cept­able. We should re­mem­ber we are talk­ing about the same artist who de­vel­oped so­cial con­tent art, an artist who not only painted but who was also ca­pa­ble of writ­ing, a fear­some polemist, a lu­cid in­tel­lec­tual, a sen­si­tive and hu­man­i­tar­ian man, sharp when openly crit­i­ciz­ing the evils of the Repub­lic, with to­tal moral and ide­o­log­i­cal in­tegrity. His erotic art­work re­pu­di­ates the de­ceit­ful­ness of the bour­geoisie’s “moral­ity” and de­fies the spirit of the artis­tic avant–garde. On the other hand, the il­lus­tra­tions ap­pear­ing in the pe­ri­od­i­cals in the early twen­ties, such as Bo­hemia, Carte­les and spe­cially So­cial mag­a­zine, an­tic­i­pated the pres­ence of a moder­nity that de­ci­sively in­flu­enced so­ci­ety. Ini­tially, Con­rado Mas­sa­guer was the em­blem­atic fig­ure in the con­cept of a new, el­e­gant and ef­fec­tive im­age that daz­zled So­cial read­ers. He started with an art nou­veau de­sign, and in the sec­ond lus­trum of the twen­ties he in­tro­duced a visual highly ef­fec­tive art deco line. By 1927, Re­vista Avance ap­peared with a new van­guard artis­tic and literary pro­posal. The duo formed by Con­rado Mas­sa­guer as di­rec­tor of So­cial, and Al­fredo Quílez as artis­tic di­rec­tor, brought about the col­lab­o­ra­tion of young tal­ented il­lus­tra­tors with new ideas, un­til then un­known in the de­sign of cov­ers. New sug­ges­tions and de­sign­ers emerged, start­ing with Luis López Mén­dez in March, 1927, and Lily del Bar­rio, Car­los Sánchez, Esper­anza Dur­ruthy, Aus­trian Harry Tauber and Mex­i­can Emilio Amero in 1929 . New graphic means were in­tro­duced by José Manuel Acosta, with the de­sign of mag­a­zine cov­ers con­tain­ing cu­bist el­e­ments. He is yet to be ac­knowl­edged as the in­tro­ducer of the most con­tem­po­rary arts of the modernist move­ment of the time.

The Un­prece­dented Stare ex­hi­bi­tion is an­other look at a fas­ci­nat­ing pe­riod of Cuban cul­ture, when the mod­ern plas­tic arts move­ment emerged. Through graphics and draw­ings, the spec­ta­tor of the day wit­nessed with as­ton­ished eyes a new man­ner to per­ceive re­al­ity with­out which an un­der­stand­ing of the evo­lu­tion of con­tem­po­rary arts on the is­land is im­pos­si­ble. ƒ

JORGE RIGOL

Ne­gra, 1934 Ink on pa­per 7 x 6½ inches CON­RADO MAS­SA­GUER So­cial mag­a­zine cover Jan­uary, 1930

MARCELO PO­GOLOTTI − Aquí se tra­baja para nada, 1931 AN­TO­NIO GAT­TORNO − Cam­pesinos descal­zos, 1935

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