Art On Cuba - - Index -

Dur­ing the spring of 2017, France paid homage to Joaquín Fer­rer (Man­zanillo, Cuba, 1928) with two ex­hibits, a retrospective at the Mai­son de l'Amérique La­tine in Paris and another one at the Wag­ner Gallery in Le Tou­quet. At the age of 90, the Cuban painter has lived and worked in Paris since 1959. This out­stand­ing retrospective was con­ceived by cu­ra­tor Serge Fauchereau bring­ing to­gether around 110 works cre­ated be­tween 1948 and 2017.

One of Fer­rer's first paint­ings is part of the ex­hi­bi­tion, Ma­rina, Man­zanillo, 1948, which rep­re­sents his home town. “Fer­rer ex­plains that it was his un­cle who en­cour­aged him to travel to Ha­vana to study art”. He en­rolled at San Ale­jan­dro in 1952, where he stud­ied for two years. Around that pe­riod he would visit artists like J. Ca­ma­cho, A. Car­de­nas and W. Lam and would ex­hibit in dif­fer­ent in­sti­tu­tions: the Mu­seum of Modern Art (1954), Rampa Gallery (1955), Lyceum Gallery (1955) and Color Luz Gallery (1957).

Through­out his work one can no­tice the in­flu­ences he later freed him­self of. Orig­i­nally fig­u­ra­tive, his rep­re­sen­ta­tions evolve given his in­ter­est in the sur­re­al­ism of Y. Tan­guy and J. Miró, and in the ab­strac­tion of V. Kandin­sky and P. Mon­drian from whom he takes for­mal sub­jec­tiv­ity and color. In the 1960s, Fer­rer re­duces color to a min­i­mal pal­ette and sim­pli­fies shapes. The work of P. Klee in­spires him to re­duce to the es­sen­tial and to more spir­i­tual ref­er­ences. He al­ways main­tained a dis­tance from all move­ments, search­ing for his own way of paint­ing. In 1967, Fer­rer met Max Ernest and Jean Hugues, sign­ing a con­tract with Point Car­di­nal Gallery and ex­hibit­ing in many places in Europe and Latin Amer­ica.

As well de­scribed by Max Ernest in 1968 in the pref­ace of the ex­hibit at Point Car­di­nal, “Fer­rer is sort of my dis­cov­ery, far from Pop, from Mec Art and its sub­sti­tutes, I think he is pro­foundly au­then­tic…”

In this retrospective we are pre­sented with the small for­mat pieces from the be­gin­ning of his ca­reer; then from the 60s we no­tice big­ger di­men­sions with de­tailed shapes that are de­rived from a lin­eal and magic re­al­ism. Curved and geo­met­ric shapes and sim­ple con­struc­tions fill the space lit­tle by lit­tle. The fi­nal sec­tion of the show ra­di­ates com­po­si­tional di­ver­sity and strength with an of­ten sober, docile and very del­i­cate color pal­ette, but also bolder col­ors like very tense reds or blacks, in­sep­a­ra­ble from the shapes.

How did you get to Paris? Can you tell us about this pe­riod?

When the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies were in the Sierra Maes­tra Moun­tains, I was work­ing at the Cuban Art Cen­ter and knew many stu­dents. Eighty per­cent of the peo­ple were in fa­vor of the Rev­o­lu­tion, Batista was a ter­ri­ble dic­ta­tor. When the Rev­o­lu­tion tri­umphed, a group of artists and I took care of the Fine Arts Palace, we worked very hard and I was happy. In­ter­est­ingly, even in 1959, while the gov­ern­ment was be­ing con­sti­tuted, the pre­vi­ous sta­tuses were kept. So to en­cour­age me, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion of­fered me a schol­ar­ship to study art in Paris. Many other artists were re­cip­i­ents of the schol­ar­ship. It was won­der­ful to have this kind of help, be­cause liv­ing in Paris was tough and luck­ily Cuba had the Casa de Cuba (Cuba House) in the Univer­sity City. But the one hun­dred dol­lars they gave us started to ar­rive late and un­for­tu­nately the Na­tional Bank elim­i­nated the schol­ar­ships to pri­or­i­tize other sec­tors. They sent us a let­ter telling us we had to come back, if we didn't, Cuba was not re­spon­si­ble for us. Some peo­ple came back, but Ca­ma­cho, Cár­de­nas and I stayed be­cause Cuba did not have much to con­trib­ute to our art any­more. R. Matta told me that by stay­ing here and work­ing as a Cuban artist in Paris I would do more good for Cuba than go­ing by back. Maybe Cuba did not ap­pre­ci­ate it, but I tell this story be­cause de­spite my de­ci­sion I never had a sin­gle ges­ture against the Rev­o­lu­tion.

As well de­scribed by Max Ernest in 1968 in the pref­ace of the ex­hibit at Point Car­di­nal, “Fer­rer is sort of my dis­cov­ery, far from Pop, from Mec Art and its sub­sti­tutes, I think he is pro­foundly au­then­tic…”

How did you make your way into the Parisian art world?

There were many im­por­tant art crit­ics like Alain Bos­quet. He bought some of my pieces and he knew Max Ernest. One day Max told Bos­quet: “you have to in­tro­duce me to that painter”. So Bos­quet called me right away and we met the next day. Be­cause Max Ernest was com­ing, I hanged my sur­re­al­ist paint­ings, but I had al­ready started my white pe­riod, in which I was very in­vested, so I had al­ready started to move away from sur­re­al­ism. He came to my house and looked at my works, but walk­ing through the work­shop he no­ticed a paint­ing I was work­ing on and he gave me some ad­vice. Then he dis­cov­ered a white paint­ing I had in my bed­room and asked who the artist was. I told him the piece was mine, my vi­sion was chang­ing. He said it was ex­tra­or­di­nary and asked me to show him more. He was so ex­cited that he bought three pieces that day. He saved my life. Later his friends would go to his house and see my paint­ings hang­ing on his walls and they would call me to buy my work.

You stud­ied at San Ale­jan­dro Art School for two years. Why did you drop out of art school?

In Cuba, I was friends with Lam. One day I vis­ited him and he asked what I was do­ing. I an­swered that I was study­ing at San Ale­jan­dro, so he told me: “Why are you study­ing there? That school is to learn how to paint or to be­come a pro­fes­sor”. Lam ad­vised me to work alone and do my own paint­ing. He told me that day: “You have to do it on your own, paint and paint”.

What would you ad­vise young art stu­dents?

One thing, go to lots of mu­se­ums to see what has been done in paint­ing, see lots of paint­ings. They have to work hard, let other peo­ple in­flu­ence them but quickly eman­ci­pate them­selves from that to do their own work. They have to see the im­pres­sion­ists; there is a lot to learn from them, they brain­wash you, you have to take from them and do your own paint­ing.

Would you like to ex­hibit in Cuba?

Why not? It is my coun­try, they should get to know my work, but it would be dif­fi­cult. I never came back, but I have never been against the Rev­o­lu­tion. To­day I am 90 years old and I hope that, some­day, some­body in­formed in the arts in Cuba finds my work and wants to show it to the young gen­er­a­tions of painters. To show that even though I was in­flu­enced by Euro­pean paint­ing I kept a Cuban essence. I just Euro­peanized it and cre­ated a per­sonal paint­ing. I de­vel­oped it with a Cuban feel­ing. It would be a good op­por­tu­nity for Cuban painters to see my per­sonal pur­suits. I hope that is pos­si­ble one day. ƒ

Ma­rina, 1948

Crayon and wa­ter­color on pa­per 8¾ x 11 in

Diál­ogo con el in­sen­sato, 2004 Acrylic on can­vas

35 x 45½ in

Joaquín Fer­rer at his stu­dio in Paris, Septem­ber 2017 Photos: Suzanne Nagy

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