JORGE RIGOL, AVANT GARDE AND TRA­DI­TION

Art On Cuba - - Index - Roberto Cobas Amate

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. ƒ

Work­ing Fam­ily (Fa­milia obr­era) Wa­ter­color on pa­per 11½ x 9¼ in Pri­vate Col­lec­tion 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,...

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