critical texts


Cuban painters of the vanguard (fragment)
Ramón Vázquez

Raising of Modern or Avant-garde Art in Cuba. 1927- 1938.

1. Breakings and Baby Steps. 1925 – 1927. This period closes with the 1927 New Art Exhibition (Exposición de Arte Nuevo de 1927), inventory of expectations, findings and lacks, only reached maturely hy three advanced: Víctor Manuel García, Antonio Gattorno and Juan José Sicre, who had already have their European experience.

2. Set Back and Exodus. 1927 – 1933. Those who would be definied as the leading artists, among the pathfinders, travel to Europe. Amelia Peláez and Eduardo Abela in 1927; Marcelo Pogolotti in 1928; Carlos Enríquez in 1930. This is the way how the earliest direct clashes , not only with the latest trends, but with all western painting tradition took place. Apropriation dialectics -transformation – integration – synthesis resulting in the creation of the earliest classics of Cuban modernism begins, curiously this happens within the old continent

3. Reintegration within the Island: consolidation: 1934 – 1939. As a result of having returned to Cuba an important group of artists, by different reasons – including the not less important historical opening after Gerardo Machado´s dictatorship overthrown-, the movement vacilantly born a decade before, becomes coherent and mature. Those who have come across European experiences. more or less wide began interacting among themselves, transmitting their lessons to the younger ready to appear on stage, to exert their influence upon cultural environment but, mainly, to be themselves, influences by the environment they rediscover with their trained eyes. This is the moment of the “criollización” (creation of a purely Cuban style) by Amelia Pelaez´painting, or the making of the “romancero guajiro” (referring to Cuban peasantry stories) by Carlos Enriquez. In 1939 Marcelo Pogolotti return completes the stage, by setting an interesting counterpoint, making use of its plastic severeness and its rigor of thought..
Without many doctrinary documents or manifestos, the “new art” points to three main trends: se the “criollismo”, the “afrocubanismo” and the social concern painting.
Naturally, these definitions do not really present neatly. Many times the Cuban cross-breeding dilutes the limits between criollismo and afrocubanismo, in the same way that poetic intuition of some artists – Víctor Manuel, for instance- goes beyond and devours those guidelines, which seem to be their starting point. On the other hand, the extreme politization of the period – stressed by the the so-called “1930 Revolution”, paved the way to the mixing up and blending of the aforementioned trends: the criollismo and afrocubanismo sometimes get quite defined social connotations..

Other very important lonely personalities – like Amelia Peláez or Fidelio Ponce – however are out of these schemes and foretell other worries.

Consolidation stage: 1939 – 1951.

In the late 30´s, the so-called “School of Havana”, has consolidated. Then, this movement has defined original lines of development in its relations with European and Americna Art, it has created definite poetic trends, it has produced their ealiest classics and it has known its earliest splendor, But, together with the already become exrtremely important personalities, some other born between 1910 and 1915: Mariano, Portocarrero, Cundo Bermúdez, Carreño, Martínez Pedro, begin to exhibit. Differently from their elders , considered masters by them, they do not began to create on empty, because they have found a whole body of works and reflections as a starting point, although criticizing of fully rejecting it. They are children of another historical moment: the years of frustration and set back following the so-called “Revolution of 1930” and have other interests. Relations with their forefathers get that particular dialectics of agreement and rejection characteristic of each and every new-born generation, presenting more than a few skirmishes. However, what joins both promotions, circumstantial antagonisms, is its inclusion within the same evolutive trend, characterized by the quest of a Cuiban expression within Western artistic modernity.
When the II National Salon on Painting and Sculpture was held in 1938, gathering an impressive ensemble of Cuban art, some interesting features protruded: the appearing of new personalities, the weight of Mexican painting and the consolidation of “moderns”, masters of the scene facing the “academics”. In that moment, both promotions´ interests briefly coincide
for keeping apart later. The Mexican aesthetics has getting into a great part of Cuban art. Muralism is an ephimeral, although important, strength which briefly unifies the painting of the Island. Many young artists prefer to travel to Mexico, not to Europe, for their learning process. They have started looking for modernity –already different in them- in Mexican land. Notwithstanding, Muralism will be in Cuba the springboard from which the Cuban will jump up to the easel painting, not having completely adopted the epic impulse, the greatfulness of language and the political emphasis.
From this early coincidence, the 1940´s art will rapidly spread to different directions, taking aside with decision from 1930´s characteristic trends. Some of the easily observed ways dissapear, lacking of historical foundations, while others are substituted, sometimes through violent reaction attitudes, so transformed that they dilute the model up to become into another proposal. The political and social themes lost its vigour from previous years and practically dissapear: the criollismo interested on rural and peasantry themes leads to other more hidden or evocative dimensions, meanwhile avant-garde Afro Cubanism –vernacular scenes, social worries, themes dealing with music and dance – is swept by the appearence of Wifredo Lam and Roberto Diago. Young painters and sculptors willl soon offer their new interpretations of scarcely or non-depicted aspects of the Cubanship and will impulse the absolute consolidation of the island´s artistic modernity. Urban landscapes, now protruding over the rurals, many times are centered in Havana, becoming a mystic enviroment. There is a convolution towards the criollos (Cuban born) whites, overornamented; new iconogrphies are created, far from picturesque representations, when Cuban black people cultures are dealt. In the expansive and sensual colour beats both, Mexican lessons or European Fauvism as well as the data coming from Cuban environment. Ornament seems to be a unifiying element of the period and define a good part of the many artists´work, within an accumulative leaning called baroque by many. At the heat of new times, not few pathfinders experienced significative inflections or changes in their works. The union of both promotions within a same enterprise will become a true golden age of Cuban art.