JORGE RIGOL, AVANT GARDE AND TRADITION
From the publication of his first and relevant drawings in 1934, we can see in the young Jorge Rigol two main features that lasted throughout his career. Those features characterizing his artistic work are the updating of a visual style in harmony with the booming avant–garde movement in Cuba and the affinity with a type of art of national nature with deep social content. The combination of both elements made the artist one of the most lucid to emerge from the illustrious group of the 1930s.
His advanced ideas were soon seen in his graphic work. While exploring the innovative trends visualized in drawings like
Mujer desnuda, El bebedor and El payaso, the representation of workers and labor demands appeared in accordance with the revolutionary work developed by Marcelo Pogolotti in Europe and with the work of some Cuban artists like Arístides Fernández, Carlos Enríquez and Alberto Peña. Thus emerged Rigol's drawings of a deep social and vigorous aesthetic character, as in the illustration for the anti–Machado Masas magazine, as well as in Obrero, where he uses the black ink stain with expressionist tones, both in 1934; and in Trabajador, 1935, where he defines his strength with a refined synthesis in drawing, by using right angles.
Without abandoning the predominant social orientation in his work, one of his most relevant investigations from the 1930s was the image of the black man and his culture in the wide spectrum of expressions. Accordingly, he investigates the peculiar beauty of ethnic characteristics, as in the case of Negra, 1934, and Mujer, 1934–1935; and the musical contribution to creating a strong Afro–Cuban culture as we can see in Fiesta afrocubana, Tocador de guitarra and Tocador de tambor. The mentioned works must be analyzed in a context of searching that goes beyond the plastic arts and that reaches a peak with the publication of Motivos de son, by Nicolás Guillén, in 1930.
Without abandoning the predominant social orientation in his work, one of his most relevant investigations from the 1930 was the image of the black man and his culture in the wide spectrum of expressions.
The quality and intensity of his artistic work, placed him in one of the most outstanding exhibitions of the second lustrum of the 1930s: the First Modern Art Exhibition. Painting and Sculpture, hosted in the Halls of the Centro de Dependientes de La Habana, between March and April, 1937. Jorge Rigol exhibited ten pieces together with the most distinguished personalities of the painting avant–gard of the time such as Víctor Manuel, Amelia Peláez, Carlos Enríquez, Arístides Fernández, Antonio Gattorno, Eduardo Abela, among others.
Rigol's trip to Mexico in 1937 is a contradiction in his art.
On the one hand, it opened up new paths to make his art interests viable, since Rigol traveled, like other artists, with the purpose of developing his painting, encouraged by the muralist movement. Nonetheless, in his years in that country (1937–1945), he became passionate about engraving. There he met the prestigious creator Leopoldo Méndez and learned the skills of illustration in the Popular Graphic Arts Workshop. On the other hand, he became distanced from the fervent artistic movement taking place in Cuba, consolidated in the first five years of the 1940s in the so called Escuela de La Habana. Indeed, Jorge Rigol is part of that movement, but did not participate in the main exhibitions of those times like the 2nd Painting and Sculpture National Exhibition ( II Exposición Nacional de Pintura y Escultura), in 1938, Arts in Cuba (el Arte en Cuba), in 1940, 300 years of Art in Cuba, in 1940 (300 años de arte en Cuba), the Modern Painting and Sculpture Exhibition (Exposición de Pintura y Escultura Moderna, in 1941 and a remarkable moment: the historic exhibition Modern Cuban Painters, in the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1944.
In Mexico, Rigol learned the technique of illustration, developing some engraving, but the most outstanding of his works in those years were his excellent drawings, namely those he undertook in Toluca and its surroundings. This city in the center of the country, the capital city of Mexico State, fascinated the artist to the extent that he demonstrated in his work a sensitive approximation both to the urban architecture –Calle con iglesia, 1944– and to the massif. The city is located in the region of Sierras Templadas, having the highest altitude above sea level. Hence, Rigol's artistic interest was to learn about the beauty of the region, in a commendable synthesis we can appreciate in Nevado de Toluca, 1944.
In the first lustrum of the 1950s he was relevant as an engraver, linked to the Cuban Engravers Association (Asociación de Grabadores de Cuba), created in 1949. Linoleum is the technique he used the most, creating very outstanding illustrations.
With the mentioned technique, by giving the illusion of volume through the perspective, he masters drawing. His imagination enabled him to go beyond immediate reality, exploring several topics like the literary in La noche del poeta and Retrato imaginario de François Villon; the social theme in Pescador and Macheteros, customs in Mujer en la hamaca and biographical issues in El pintor y la modelo. Among the Cuban engravers of the time, Rigol has his own brightness, and shone as one of the most relevant personalities of that movement.
In present times, there is a need to get closer to Jorge Rigol's work, one of our indisputable classics, a master of drawings and engraving of 20th century Cuba.
At the same time, engraving marks Rigol as a painter.
In 1957, the artist created a surprising group of drawings.
From his works during the 1930s, where he used a line of exquisite synthesis, he progressed to a dense drawing, full of volumetric construction, close to sculpture. He used the felt pointed pen to achieve dramatic strokes. With realistic vision he depicted the rural context. Thus we can see the lyricism in Pareja campesina, affection in Niño campesino, healthiness in Recogedora de tomate. The works are a complex image, with lights and shadows in the Cuban countryside, in the years prior to the triumph of the revolution. Felix Pita Rodríguez says about this series: “His realism is still creative, free from all formal or academic obstacle, but his expressiveness is the clearest and most accurate revelation. Hence, his plastic strength, his deepest emotional power”.1
Some years elapsed and Rigol continued to work with drawings and illustrations, and exhibited his works in shows such as that in the National Museum of Fine Arts, in January, 1962. However, his last creative cycle was the series of 26 drawings about Vietnam. In these drawings Rigol goes back to a simplification of lines, the features of the characters appear in a masterful synthesis, creating a poetic universe, capturing the daily life of a brave people that in all serenity faces the vicissitudes of war.
In present times, there is a need to get closer to Jorge Rigol's work, one of our indisputable classics, a master of drawings and engraving of 20th century Cuba. This artist mastered drawing early on, and adapted that expression to a passionate and reflective sensitivity. With this unusual talent, his works show the imprint of his epoch, not only with deep sincerity, but also with emotional strength. In his art work human elements prevail over all eventuality, and precisely in that social projection we find the best lessons the artist leaves as a perennial legacy.
Working Family (Familia obrera) Watercolor on paper
11½ x 9¼ in
Machadato, ca. 1933 Ink on paper
14 x 11 in
Collection of MNBA 1. Felix Pita Rodríguez. “Jorge Rigol y el rostro de su pueblo”. Bohemia, La Habana, January 14, 1962, pp. 52–53.