critical texts


Trillo renovated
José Veigas
A few weeks ago, while preparing the catalogue for painter Jorge Luis Santos’s most recent exhibition, I referred to the work of Carlos Trillo as a predecessor of matter art in Cuba. Perhaps other artists have used different vehicles to obtain textures, but Carlos Trillo has been unquestionably the most faithful practitioner of the ritual of turning matter into art.

The topic could suggest and lead to intriguing discussions, as well as prompt questions such as “What is matter painting?” and “Where do its boundaries begin and end?” Personally, I am not interested in defining, delimiting, let alone establishing rules and classifications, but it is curious how a painter like René Portocarrero―if we stick to the visual results and to the feel of many of his paintings―could be included in the list of matter painters. The issue, of course, is not to be treated superficially: working with great quantities of pigments, as was customary in Portocorrero, and making matter painting are not one and the same thing.

In Trillo’s case, one might think that the New York scene was the starting point for his artistic work; the story, however, is another. For the young immigrant, New York was a step on the way; it was not the place where he would begin to make art. The moment of truth was in Havana upon his return in August 1961, when in the Cuban artistic world very different opinions on the role of art in the new social conditions met and clashed. In those days, the issues of the moment included mural painting, socialist realism, abstract expressionism, discussions on the validity of the music genre filin and Khrushchev’s speeches, even if we should see Fellini’s Dolce Vita or listen to The Beatles. Not even among abstract artists was there a unity of criteria. Some were committed to art informel while others to concrete art. Such was the contradictory Cuban cultural panorama in those days.

The year 1965 sees the emergence of a new young artist, whose first personal exhibition was held in 1967 at the famous Lyceum & Lawn Tennis Club. On that occasion, the late Cuban critic Loló de la Torriente wrote a highly favorable review in the El Mundo newspaper. Both Tàpies and Kafka, each in their own way, seem to have inspired the young artist. Black surfaces, wooden textures, a sort of “black on black” were some of the characteristics that marked Trillo’s first works. Color would come later.

Although we mentioned earlier that New York had not been the painter’s starting point, for the last ten years the city of skyscrapers has occupied the place that it had not claimed before―during the years he lived there or subsequent to that. Although stubbornly abstract, the city suddenly emerged covered in impasto, textures and dark colors in the Manhattan 97 series, which was exhibited at the same venue where he had made his debut as a painter three decades before.

Towers, walls, grime, and light are all mixed together in these paintings. While they may well express an assortment of referential alternatives―Shanghai, Los Angeles, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, or Sao Paulo―consciously or unconsciously, Trillo was giving back his own personal experience, now enriched by the movies and the literature he had “digested” throughout all those years. Nothing in this work refers to the true profile of the highly publicized city. The viewer has to look very closely to get it right…to discover how the painter plays with the verticality of his compositions, with the overwhelming harshness of the materials he used, subsequently attenuated by color.

In Trillo’s most recent work―from 2003 to 2005―the format has changed. Everything seems to have expanded. The Big City is no longer enclosed in such narrow limits. Shapes are more refined, freer and less restrained, and, in some instances, the paintings have an active quality to them.

The “architectural” diversity takes different courses, as if the painter wanted to strike up a dialogue with styles, or classify shapes; never before has such freedom of expression been revealed in his work. His four decades of experience seem to have converged in a single paining. The distinctiveness that has characterized him since the 1960s has grown stronger instead of diminishing. Thus, we can now expect a renovated artist when others are retiring.

José Veigas Zamora
La Gaceta de Cuba, september 2005.