POR­TO­CAR­RERO, by Ra­mon Vazquez and the Cuban Art Foun­da­tion

by Ra­mon Vazquez and the Cuban Art Foun­da­tion

Art On Cuba - - Index - Llilian Llanes

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. ƒ

… 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.

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