PORTOCARRERO, by Ramon Vazquez and the Cuban Art Foundation
by Ramon Vazquez and the Cuban Art Foundation
Last October, the Cuban Art Foundation presented the book Portocarrero, by historian Ramon Vazquez Diaz, to the public of the island. Its author, an art history graduate from the University of Havana, worked for over forty years at the National Museum of Fine Arts and is the most knowledgeable connoisseur of this institution's collection of Cuban artists from the decades of the 1930s and 1940s.
There he grew professionally and saw how the collections increased, handling the inventories, a process which allowed him to discover the magic of the warehouses, while he took care of the necessary details for the writing of the technical specifications sheet. His visits to the collectors of the art of those decades who were still in the city date back to that same period. In this way, he managed to gain out of the ordinary knowledge about the works, individually and as a whole, of each of the members of that extraordinary generation. Therefore, his authorship gives this book an unparalleled value.
On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that the Cuban Art Foundation, created in the wake of the death of painter Mariano Rodriguez by his son Alejandro, has been undertaking invaluable efforts, encouraging the work and the publishing of studies and research about the art of that period, thus contributing to a greater visibility and better understanding of it, through the spreading of the work of its leading exponents. As a result, it has become the main publisher on Cuban art history for the salvaging and analysis of the Cuban arts scene of the first half of the 20th century.
Previously, there had been some publishing efforts on the island that were just modest contributions, aloof from the real knowledge accumulated by many colleagues, whose research was famous for spending years in their desk drawers and more recently in folders on their computers. Hence we should start by thanking and congratulating Alejandro Rodriguez for his wonderful work and warmly remembering his father, whom many of those present had as a friend, for his indisputable contributions to Cuban and Latin American art.
The volume that is presented to the public today is the third of a series that started in 2012 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Rene Portocarrero. The first book featured the oil paintings and drawings the painter made in the prolific years of 1962 and 1963, followed by the second, which compiles the reviews published on the artist throughout his long and fruitful career.
However, this volume is, beyond its striking appearance, an example of artistic and cultural knowledge. It is a luxury edition, not only for its beautiful design and editorial care, which are undoubtedly remarkable; it is most of all the kind of book that should have an indispensable presence in public libraries, but at the same time, will have a privileged place on the bookcases of Cuban and Latin American art collectors, on scholars' desks and in the living rooms of every art enthusiast that enjoys Cuban art.
Besides the exceptional work of Ramon Vazquez, we have to mention the thorough information offered in the chronology. Young researcher Axel Li greatly contributed to this aspect; his works about this topic have earned him deserving respect. Without a doubt, the documented chronology, authored together with Ramon, makes this book even more interesting, by looking deeply into aspects somehow noted in the corresponding chapters and that are completed with the facts offered.
The book has an impeccable structure. It is organized and written thinking of a broad spectrum of readers, those for whom it is fundamental to find specific facts about the works and information about the life of the artist, essential to imagine how one and another interweave throughout his career path. It is also a book for those who want to enjoy the images, some of them unpublished until now (provided by collectors from all over the world), which make this book an indispensable source for the study and better understanding of the work of the Cuban master.
The book is curiously structured. While it follows a chronological order, it emphasizes the thematic and creative contributions to the moment in which they originated. It has 17 chapters, each approaching a milestone in Portocarrero's career and with which, Ramon is able to establish the imperative relationship between the creative process, the life and the surroundings of the artist.
In this sense, the first chapter about the physical and human context in which the painter's childhood developed stands out. A beautiful introduction to the master's origins, in which Vazquez makes a show of his knowledge and offers an appropriate analysis of the painter's material and human environment from which many of his aesthetic principles would derive, as well as his sensibility and fondness for Havana which was a constant throughout his entire life.
Because, in addition to being Cuban, Portocarrero was a Habanero; and one that knew how to drink from a city rich in colors, shapes, smells and flavors and give it back to us through his loving gaze. Not even in the worst moments mentioned in these writings do we see a restrained or austere Portocarrero; sad on occasions, but not less grand in his creativity.
Ramon, with much care, has invited us to participate in the human and aesthetic depths of Portocarrero, describing and analyzing the contributions that through the years shaped the impressive visual collection the designer of the book very smartly presents us with, whether in the totality of the composition or in its details.
Thanks to this book, his landscapes, his angels, and his visions of Havana's daily life are mysteries no more; as well as his duties and influences. Its pages allow you to enjoy the qualities of this painter who made color and impasting one of his main contributions. But it also shows the exceptional drawer he was from the beginning of his career until other great projects absorbed his time or interest.
We should consider as a true gift the inclusion of his first drawings, which, regardless of their limitations, had the strength of the imagination and the impeccable craft of the artist to come. We should be grateful for the presence of those pieces of paper that allow us to go beyond the obsession of seeing in Portocarrero the painter of Floras, Little Devils, Cathedrals and Cities. It is true that he was the creator of these themes in Cuban art, but his imagination and craft were also surprising in formats and media considered less substantial, which were evidence not only of his ability with oil and canvas, but also of his vocation as a poet, able to move with paper and pencil with total mastery.
With this book we are in the presence of an indisputable contribution to Cuban art history, a volume that enriches us and makes us proud of our art and our culture.
… it is most of all the kind of book that should have an indispensable presence in public libraries, but at the same time… on the bookcases of Cuban and Latin American art collectors, on scholars' desks and in the living rooms of every art enthusiast that enjoys Cuban art.