critical texts


Our Cartoonists: Rafael Blanco
Bernardo Barros
Our Cartoonists: Rafael Blanco

By Bernardo G. Barros

Some years ago, the name of a young cartoonist who boasted about his independent style ―maybe not very comprehensible for the fans of Willette’s heroines―, was rumored on the circles of the atheneum and at the tables of the cafés. Our poor artistic representation received him with great hospitality. Drawings with his signature covered the pages of the newspapers, while the public contemplated the roughness of contrasts that simplified the physiognomic conception of the cartooned characters.
Some days later, I met him personally at the editorial department of the El Fígaro magazine.
He gave me a cordial handshake just to hide his insolent smile. We did not talk too much. His eyes looked everything closely. In his gestures, there was the natural self-confidence of a man convinced of his triumph. When we said goodbye to each other, he barely uttered:
–Rafael Blanco... a friend for the future...
And his lean, a bit at a loss figure, made me think he was a person of an exceptional temperament, capable of any rebellion and any sacrifices.
From that time on, what has been his work? What was the orientation that Forain and Caran d´Ache’s art pointed out among us?...
Here is the purpose of this article.
When in 1797 Don Francisco de Goya y Lucientes published ―under the title of “Los Caprichos”― his first collection of etchings, a whole society that seemed to dignify even the smallest amorality, felt the heat of all the challenging condensed in those works so much admired by their quality ―in which the masterly use of chiaroscuro was dominant―, and by the original conception of the satire. The artist who (as the Englishman Muther put it) scorned “the rules formulated by ancient art for the decoration of temples”, became more fearsome than when he portrayed Carlos IV’s spirit or the scandalous flirtatiousness of the queen María Luisa. Because, by removing the idiosyncrasy of his time, he was beginning a work of scourging he would renew later, on an antimilitarist meaning, with “Los desastres de la guerra”...
This gave grounds, long afterwards, for the creation of a school (a tendency, rather) which tried to impose within humor the technique of los Duendecitos, Linda maestra, and as many works of this kind as the author of La Maja Vestida carried out.
In Spain, many cartoonists and many fantaisistes joined the new tendency. But... maybe because the public did not like it, or perhaps because the disciples were not too brilliant, the truth is that they allowed other simpler-made tendencies, with better practical results, to have an influence on them. Nowadays, Sancha is good evidence that history repeats itself. And also that France has channeled the easygoing taste of all those who long to conquer, without effort, without a struggle, the powerful talisman of contemporary life into its present humoristic falsehood. And you know, dear reader, that business... is business.
Well now: if I tell you that Blanco is a sectarian in a Goyaesque way, you will understand how the opinion of the critics who praised his talent for making revolutionary humor was not wrong.
Blanco, necessarily, by unconscious deliberation, turned down the beaten paths the boulevard cartoonists showed to the young. He did not see what is beautiful, but what is human. He did not seek small things, what others seek with attention to detail. His imagination embraced the synthesis. If he were an artist, he would be called an Impressionist.
With these qualities strengthened by time, an unmistakable personality was formed. His works, if taken to any a European magazine, would inevitably stand out. He would be independent. Because his style is a particular conception through Goya’s teachings.
With the result that he is not a popular caricaturist.
Popularity implies understanding between the artist and his public. And Blanco, incisive, aggressive, can not be the enfant gáté of the crowds.
If we study his works, if we watch his physiognomic understanding of the caricatures, we will find the spirit that has been capable of making a portrait out of two blots and five main strokes. (A real effect he gets by scorning over-elaborate geometry). Always tenacious, implacable, he has presented the individual the way it is, without making it more attractive, but without avoiding the funny gesture.
In this dissection he has accomplished a very personal nose, or lips that smile with a stressed indulgence. And there is something primitive ―an complex, at the same time― in those faces that give emotions away, or in those bodies affected by the life that tosses and turns in front of the artist’s inquisitive eyes.
A great observer and a great understander, he lies in wait for the most crucial moment in which what is ridiculous defeats our aesthetics of everyday masks. He is a pessimistic. But not the kind of pessimistic guy that praises Schopenhauer’s disheveled bob. No. He is a pessimistic guy who, cruelly smiling, tells us:
– Men of letters, deep thinkers, hall mannered men... I have delved into your souls and studied your faces... And here I give you what I have seen; something you will recognize yourselves after self-examination in front of a mirror...
I said Blanco is the revolutionary of our humor.
As a matter of fact, he (and no other than he) broke away from conventionality. From routine uniformity; from the systematic procedure of accepting the line with a predetermined value; from the fearful observation that steals personality; from what is stable in this observation, sister of a single gesture a hundred times repeated; everything having to do with talent and abilities dependent on the bas taste of a few confused important figure, perished under the rough pencil ―full of energy― held by a real artist. Blanco adapted life to his technique and to his way of looking at things.
Only the hands ―eternal reef for drawers and artists― would resist his control. With the result that his characters do not have the right hands, which ―without reaching the characteristic precision of Luis Malteste― (a perfect drawer from a very different school) present a natural aspect as a whole.
As for the rest... he is the same disciple of Goya, trying to get a temporary impression.
Sometimes he finds it in a partner or a friend. Others, in full sunshine, on an avenue sow with trees the leaves of which, finished and thick, are like an evergreen strip...
And thus, that way, he has captured the scenes in which realism is covered with the deep yawn of everything that is vulgar.
A chubby nursemaid walking along with two potbellied boys, makes him think of an original study about contrast. The daytime procession of female donkeys guarded by a man fed up with light and noise, offer him ―while they slowly move away― an especial aspect, propitious to be treated with the simplicity of an enfantillistè master of drawing. And Blanco does it. But not like Rabier or Dépaquit, but following the very impulse that led him look for what could be called ―paradoxically speaking― the impressionism of the line...
For those praiseworthy displays, he has chosen ―of course― not only the field of caricature; his qualities include imagination, parody, and satire. He is a humorist that copes with all genres, albeit it is true that most of his works betray a certain tendency to show the tiredness, and the hidden pain of the crawling lives.
They make you laugh and think. Because they entail that philosophy, absolutely unconventional, limited by the sidewalks of a street or the partition of a filthy room.
This does not mean that Blanco scorns other issues.
I remember a drawing in which he brilliantly portrayed the deep thoughts of two bald, absorbed chess players who had airs of transcendental persons...
But he sets his eyes more often on the very natural, unexpected events that made Maupassant exclaim through his character, Mr. Mongilet:
–Oh!, the things you see from a coach. It is a theater; the true, genuine theater of nature seen at a trot of two horses.

July, 1911

(Published in El Fígaro magazine, No. 30, Year XXVII, Havana. July 23rd, 1911. Pages 455-456)