critical texts


Lázaro Saavedra. The only animal that laughs
Corina Matamoros
“Popular, conceptual, but perhaps a little bit acelerao (nervous)”.
By: Corina Matamoros

Saavedra is, in principle, a conceptual artist. The judgments of the work of art understood as an analytical proposition, and that of the “artistic condition” of art is but a conceptual condition, so defined by Joseph Kosuth, can apply to the work of this Cuban. But, in the first place, the Cuban conceptualism, inheritor of the one that in Latin America gave a sudden upturn —more like a knock down— to the original tendency, achieving to get on going some kind of expansive wave that revealed itself crucial for the art of the region. Because in our countries, conceptualism went out to the streets, it detached itself from the self referential topics and applied all that analytic artillery to the ideology area, from the socio-politic structures, from the hands of power, and of art as an institution, thus contaminating it with the particular circumstances of a continent with great pending issues in its social development. For instance the conceptualistic movement of Rio de Janeiro in the 60’s, with the artist Helio Oiticica, or the Tucumán Arde group, from Argentina, as well as outstanding figures like Leon Ferrari, Arthur Barrio, Cildo Meireles, Roberto Jacoby, Waldemar Cordeiro and Luis Camnitzer, amongst others. Saavedra is, whether aware or not, beneficiary of the Latin-American reinvention of Conceptualism, of whom works like “Inserción en los circuitos ideológicos / Proyecto Coca-Cola” (Ideological circuit insertion / Coca-Cola project) by Cildo Meireles, are some of the best illustrations.

While this art was developed in some Latin-American capitals, Lázaro was, in the late 60’s, a kid that used to draw with frenzy in the Havana neighborhood of Marianao. His mother had several occupations and his father was a percussionist in a cabaret in town.

Perhaps no one at home encouraged him to devote himself to art, but his neighbor Victorino, the neighborhood barber and an honest mason, unraveled in his pleasant chatter a totally different world. It was him who explained such unusual things like an author must sign his paintings, or that men today are the result of what other men did in the past, which is why they must leave a legacy for those who come afterwards. Victorino used to talk about these things.

When he entered the Art Elementary School in 23rd and C in 1976, as a teenager, was strongly attached to Adriano Buergo and Ciro Quintana, and later on to Ana Albertina Delgado and Ermy Taño. It was a humble originated group of kids, with no previous contact with painting, that were beginners of the art world and history from their belonging of the popular culture. Lázaro laughs with the memories of his fourteen-year-old self knowledge of the Pop art, and his believing that Picasso invented the abstraction (though he remembered Victorino telling him it had been a Russian.

His stay at San Alejandro between 1979 and 1983 doesn’t seem to be of any importance to him, but a cloudy and messy period. When he entered the ISA (superior institute of art), in 1983, it took place a great crisis between what he was and what the Institute training induced him to be. His still poor artistic culture, his “chealdad” (Cuban slang for lack of good taste) —as he calls it—, and his way of painting when he entered, bumped against every unknown that came his way. Thus, he meets Conceptualism, one of the most prominent trends in the Cuban art as a whole, and especially for himself. From Flavio Garciandía, the professor who had the greatest influence on him with his culture and pedagogy, he obtains a great deal of information about the world standing art by then, especially from the visual point of view. Flavio, who was then producing key works that introduced themselves in the world of “kitsch” (for instance “El Lago de los Cisnes” of 1982 and the “Refranes” collection, from 1984), was really important for Lázaro, and also was a modeler of his sensitivity. Another great influence in the ISA was the Consuelo Castañeda’s magistracy, who spread his fondness to the conceptual art among many other students, to become later the makers of powerful results in this tendency.

A new consequence of the Institute was his encounter with theoretic knowledge. Such an analytic mind as Lázaro’s was attracted by the possibilities of meditation springing from society, philosophy, and art studies. Proof of that were many pieces in his student period, closely related with those readings. For instance, his “Problemas formales” (formal problems) drawing, comes from reading a text from Francastel in 1988, which refers to some constitutive elements of the traditional painting. A similar piece consists of a impudent red stain on a dark bottom entitled Soy el color brillante (I’m the bright color). Another drawing is “The graphic treatment and the tasty brushstroke”, where the so-called brushstrokes are the remarked by the famous characters of Saavedra, with speeches contained in little balloons. Also in those student years he read biographies and works of Marx, Che, Martí and other personalities, getting in touch with a tradition of thought that was —and remains to be— a very important part of the Cuban education. It’s significant his drawing of 1987, where Marx appears, made in the way of a realistic portrait, where a little man makes him lift the skin around the eye, and exclaim in amazement when seeing muscles and tendons, that Marx was a real man. A way of dismantling the retrograde and abstract ways of understanding an important figure of the modern world.

In his third year at ISA, Lázaro, Adriano, Ana Albertina, Ciro and Ermy founded “Puré” in January, 1986. United years before, the young fortify themselves behind the group entrenchment to uphold a work mainly intended to enlarge the artistic, integrating the visualization and the symbols of Cuban domestic environments …

“The popular as poetics”

The main purpose of the poetic action of this artist resides in being emissary of the decantation produced in perception and popular application ambit, in a sensitivity permeated of the particular ways in which they represent, in today’s Cuba, the behavior codes, the life styles, the way of thought, the iconographic imaginary, the manners of communication, and above all, the cultural context of the art. His poetic speaks from that zone, like someone who inhabits it, and took their voice. The works of Saavedra are always placed upon that perspective where the urban popular begins, with their continuous incorporations, it’s mechanisms of adaptation and creativity…

Lázaro has kept with strength to that perspective of overlap with the native and with the development of his path points out that it has launched it to spaces never tried by other creators. His deepness has arrived, contradictorily, to provoke fright and even reject. More poetic than social readings has dominated in his work interpretation, stamping them with inclinations that aren’t always justified with the author intentions. They are revealing, more than the opinions of the creator, of the strong ideological flows that imbibe our life, conditioning our interpretations about art. Even more acerbic and worrying are works like the installation “The spectator and it’s work”, where knives and nails confront in a room, alluding to the white-hot problems of art perception, than the drawing where the virgin of the Caridad of Cobre appears on the fishermen’s boat, where she is most needed –according to himself- and that was interpreted as a migratory attempt of the virgin…

The great resource that supports the popular poetic in Saavedra is humor. And it is not because humor is exclusively popular, but because of the way he assumes it. Lázaro may perfectly be the “graffiti writer” of the family because he knows how to translate the messages, the stages of opinion, the particular ways of communication, the cleverness and expressive wit of the on foot Cuban…

The other important procedure consists in manifesting a multiplicity of voices, of opinion subject, as a part of his own works (…) we are robed by little men draw in ink that blend in every affair of the pieces. And they remark quietly in favor, against, mocking or abstaining, representing the neighbor’s optic, the passer-by’s, himself or his friend’s. The importance Saavedra gives to the confrontation of meaning inside his work is perhaps a unique feature of our environment.

Within this variety of subjects stands out a little man that undertakes a dialog with the author, maintained since 1986, to cheer or recriminate him as it suits. Through this character he expresses the authorial self-criticism: “el auto-chucho de su pincha” (slang for self-criticism of his work), as he wisely defines.

Perhaps the most concluding evidence of this poetic of the popular in Saavedra’s work is in the same way that he has assumed the multimedia and computer technologies. The unbiased way, without rhetoric, blunt, curious, without aura and instrumental in which he approached it distinguishes him from other Cuban creators (…)

Lázaro is a creator with a natural tendency towards the instinctive, towards the spontaneity, the immoderation of puree, the overflowing themes of quotidian references, the emotionality of his comments, the attachment to drawing as a fast note, his employment of humor, the anarchy of his recycled works.

But after this first inclination comes to happen an opposite sense flow, where manifests the powerful analytic ability of his thought. Submits to strict discipline his own instinct and as a counterpart deploys an enormous power of meditation, of discernment and conceptuality on every issue he laid hands on (…)

This double nature of his artistic quality is given as a unity, as a part of the creation process of a same work. And can be corroborated in many drawings and even in integral exhibition (…)

The distinguished intellectual Medardo Vitier expressed a very subtle comment about Samuel Feijóo that I found revealing to understand the true key to Saavedra:

…it’s decided by seeming to be arbitrary and rude. It’s a rudeness of pure candid blood. Sometimes, hearing him, I’ve thought that we all have moments of independence in which we would like to react like that, with inner nudity, with limpidness denouncer of the deepness, with disrespect to the petrified rule. (…) His exterior person gives an idea of the extrovert. However, in his words and acts mirrors an inner light that he keeps for the illumination of his loneliness. Let us not dazzle the observers with the noise. In the concealed sleep silences of delicate condition” (1)

Excerpts from a text by Corina Matamoros for the catalogue of the exhibition “Lázaro Saavedra. El único animal que ríe”, MNBA, 2003.

(1) Taken from: José Luis Rodríguez, “Descubriendo silencios de finísima condición”. Signos magazine no.36, July-December, Las Villas 1988.