From March 23rd to April 20th, Fredric Snitzer Gallery, lo­cated in Down­town Mi­ami, pre­sented the im­pos­ing ex­hibit Mi­ami Flow by the Cuban Amer­i­can artist To­mas Esson, who is set­tled in Mi­ami. Com­posed of six paint­ings and a se­ries of draw­ings be­long­ing to the Wet Paint­ing se­ries, Mi­ami Flow not only cap­ti­vates for the un­de­ni­able mastery of the tech­nique that char­ac­ter­izes the work of this artist, but also for its sen­su­al­ity and con­cep­tual so­lid­ity.

To­mas Esson Reid (La Ha­bana, 1963) is with­out doubt one of the most force­ful painters that con­tem­po­rary Cuban art has gen­er­ated. Esson’s ex­cel­lent tech­nique al­ways turns into de­light the ob­ser­va­tion of his work. Para­dox­i­cally, the pic­to­rial ec­stasy gen­er­ated by his savoir-faire is al­ways shaken by the sub­jects he ap­proaches, in which kitsch, es­cha­tol­ogy and vi­o­lence ma­te­ri­al­ize as leit­mo­tiv. To­mas Esson’s pic­to­rial en­ti­ties are an in­stinc­tive por­trait of that caged an­guish which is the hu­man ex­is­tence it­self: vul­vas, penises, horns, ejac­u­la­tions, gobs of spit, pu­bic hair, in­de­scrib­able be­ings that share the tor­mented con­di­tion of beast and demigod, that are an­i­mals ut­ter­ing a mat­ing call and spir­i­tual en­ti­ties at the same time.

Esson ma­jored from the In­sti­tuto Su­pe­rior de Arte (Higher In­sti­tute of Arts, Ha­vana) in 1987 and he is one of the key fig­ures of the sec­ond wave of what is known as the New Cuban Art Move­ment or the Cuban Re­nais­sance (terms coined by Ger­ardo Mos­quera and Luis Cam­nitzer re­spec­tively). Esson’s “ex­as­per­at­ing” pro­posal, rooted in the cen­ten­nial tra­di­tion of the grotesque, sets sex up as the per­fect ex­po­nent of an iden­tity—a so­cial and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal one—which is based on au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and ob­scen­ity. His solo show A tarro par­tido II (Galería 23 y 12, Ha­vana, 1988) that also tran­scended as ESSONSISEHACE,1 shook the per­mis­sive lim­its of pu­ri­tanism and the po­lit­i­cal power in Cuba and clearly pointed out the course of the at that time young painter: harsh­ness of signs hav­ing po­lit­i­cal and sex­ual al­lu­sions that are in­ter­wo­ven in a lewd and per­sonal hermeneu­tics in­car­nated in the tal­is­man, that unique archetype re­sumed in flesh and teeth that as fate will al­ways go to­gether with the artist’s work.

Mi­ami Flow, as its ti­tle well sug­gests, is a con­stant pour­ing, idea that is stressed by the in­trin­sic na­ture of the pieces in­cluded in this ex­hibit and par­tic­u­larly by the se­ries Wet Paint­ing, whose draw­ings ex­pand be­yond the phys­i­cal limit of the frame to be­come an im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tion that floods ev­ery­thing sur­round­ing it. Mi­ami Flow al­ludes to that sen­sual trend that as icon, char­ac­ter­izes—and at the same time stig­ma­tizes—Mi­ami city, and on a quite per­sonal level it in­tro­duces a third sense or mean­ing, closely linked to To­mas Esson’s pro­posal. In slang, Flow, refers to hair, the kind that is coarse and curly and livens up with the wind. This mean­ing that comes from hockey is now given an­other con­no­ta­tion: that of pu­bic hair, so dear to all the artist’s tra­jec­tory.

Al­though Mi­ami Flow is fo­cused on Esson’s most re­cent se­ries, which gives ti­tle to the ex­hibit, it also in­cludes a nec­es­sary flash­ing glance to pre­vi­ous se­ries that func­tion as an es­sen­tial com­ple­ment for the com­pre­hen­sion of this artist’s com­plex uni­verse.

Through­out many years Esson’s fer­tile pro­posal has been in­te­grated by a tan­gle of all kinds of par­al­lel se­ries that like com­mu­ni­cat­ing ves­sels are in­ter­wo­ven and feed one an­other. For ex­am­ple, Re­trato No. 6 (Por­trait Num. 6, 1995), in­cluded in Mi­ami Flow, per­mits us to en­ter into that very par­tic­u­lar bes­tiary: the por­traits of Esson’s crea­tures. Since he was very young, Esson has been ex­plor­ing the por­trait genre, which en­ables him to re­search on the psy­cho­log­i­cal fea­tures of the in­su­lar idio­syn­crasy at that time. Dur­ing the late 1980s the por­trait theme en­ables the artist to plunge into this new en­tity that ob­sesses him: that crea­ture of mytho­log­i­cal na­ture—be­cause of his half­way con­di­tion be­tween hu­man and an­i­mal—but whose de­signs are not em­pir­i­cal but rather earthy. Its fig­ures, al­ways pure, grow more styl­ized. Many times the low-an­gle per­spec­tive pre­vails, which en­no­bles the por­trayed crea­ture at the same time that em­pha­sizes its belly and sex, and its tiny head crowned by horns seems rel­e­gated. In these por­traits made by Esson in which rea­son­ing yields to in­stinct, the treat­ment of flesh is wor­thy of Rubens’ paint­ing, and it en­hances the eroge­nous com­po­nent so dear to these be­ings.

Wet Paint­ing # 54 (1998) and the in­stal­la­tion Wet Drawing Se­ries (2017), also in­cluded in the ex­hibit, per­mit us to gain ac­cess to these two vi­tal se­ries which Esson has been de­vel­op­ing since the 1990s: Wet Drawing and Wet Paint­ing. In them, the tal­is­man, which is still present, splits into what for Esson are the five fun­da­men­tal el­e­ments of hu­man ex­is­tence: vagina, breasts, mouth, anus and pe­nis. The hu­mid­ity qual­ity is a sine qua non con­di­tion of this sort of eroge­nous pen­ta­gram that loses ev­ery grav­i­ta­tional cen­ter and like ivy is re­pro­duced un­con­trol­lably as it springs from the paint­ing frame and seizes the gallery walls in a kind of un­con­trol­lable orgy. In these se­ries the pres­ence of Pop Art and specif­i­cally the im­pact of Um­berto Peña, an­other great Cuban artist, are fun­da­men­tal.

Beach (2016), Cachum­bambé (See­saw, 2016-2017) and Oráculo (Or­a­cle, 2017) that fea­ture at the cen­tral gallery, are ex­po­nents of the artist’s most re­cent se­ries: Mi­ami Flow. Full of the en­ti­ties that have char­ac­ter­ized all Esson’s tra­jec­tory, in this se­ries the hu­man fig­ure looks as though it has trans­formed into a veg­e­tal el­e­ment. We can see ex­u­ber­ant biomor­phic land­scapes the “allover”, so dear to Amer­i­can ex­pres­sion­ism, pre­vails. The col­ors are defini­tively torn off pre­vi­ous se­ries like Wet Paint­ing, in which the palette was de­ter­mined by what Esson calls “fleshy col­ors” and that are limited to col­ors di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with what is hu­man and to the five el­e­ments that com­pose Esson’s eroge­nous pen­ta­gram. Now, how­ever, the palette is il­lu­mi­nated, and “The South Beach Palette”, cre­ated by Leonard Horowitz, pre­vails.

The se­ri­al­ized el­e­ment is im­posed and it ban­ishes the cen­tral point of in­ter­est, as it makes the eye jump from one part of the paint­ing to an­other, like a feast of never end­ing forms. The no­tion of fluid as­so­ci­ated to this se­ries has a lot to do with sen­su­al­ity and in­sta­bil­ity. The flower (vulva) is erected as the cen­tral el­e­ment, while the lianas, stalks and pis­tils (the hair) sup­port it.

Oráculo is a colos­sal piece that in­vari­ably re­calls two master­pieces in the his­tory of art: one of them is Claude Monet’s se­ries

The Wa­ter Lilies and the other one is Wifredo Lam’s The Jun­gle.

The burst­ing land­scape we ob­serve is com­posed of a thought­fully cho­sen palette that em­pha­sizes the chro­matic vi­bra­tion re­sult­ing from the prox­im­ity of col­ors. The Mi­ami Flow se­ries also draws on go­ing back to the same sub­ject, over and over again, which per­mits Esson, the same way it did Monet, to con­vey ec­stasy through the chro­matic qual­ity of the land­scape. How­ever, in Oráculo the ap­par­ent clam soon gives way to vo­rac­ity and ex­u­ber­ance that, like in the case of The Jun­gle turns into a psy­chic state. Sen­su­al­ity and eroti­cism turned into sur­vival and de­bauch­ery at the same time. Al­though Beach and Cachum­bambé were made us­ing in­dus­trial paint, in the case of Oráculo Esson uses oils again to fo­cus on the chro­matic and bright­ness qual­ity of the piece.

Mi­ami Flow is an ex­cel­lent ex­hibit that per­mits us to go into the very per­sonal uni­verse of To­mas Esson and the same time it is a sub­lime por­trait of the con­stant flow which Mi­ami city is. ƒ

Oráculo, 2017

Oil on can­vas

120 x 228 inches

Cour­tesy Fredric Snitzer Gallery

Cour­tesy Fredric Snitzer Gallery

Re­trato No. 6, 1995 Oil on linen

68 x 68 inches

Wet Drawing Se­ries, 2017 In­stal­la­tion

Draw­ings / Char­coal on pa­per 11 x 8½ inches each

Wet Paint­ing #54, 1998 Oil on linen

67 x 49 inches

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