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The way of González Puig
Alejandro Alonso
 
the encounter of reason and feelings ― intellect and passion―, man and cosmos. All in lower-case, very clear letters, so as not to forget them, the man wrote this many, many years ago, in one of the million drafts he keeps in his house in the Kohly neighborhood, in the city of Havana.

And, if I ever had to chose some quote, some testimony to summarize almost sixty years of creative work, I would chose it without hesitation, sure as I am that this is a fundamental key in the detailed, intelligent work, carried out with his painting hand, built on the experiences of that sensitive human being that is Ernesto González Puig. The enunciated combination of polar terms supports the contribution gathered as much as possible without trying the risky retrospective to put an end to something that is so organic for him as breathing or moving…. Ad much beyond, in the thousand things that took different courses and now are in Cuban embassies, private collections, or places with an extensive social significance...

In order to save some gaps, this exhibition is just a first, still incomplete signal. I try to fill these gaps with an interview during a visit that allows me to see him work on a big canvas, ―one of the two to be send to the resting and spa resort in Topes de Collantes, where the extensive plan carried out to give the place some atmosphere implies a varied catalog of paintings from contemporary authors―, and with his painting dossier which keep a complete summary of his experiences. There are drawings from his exhibition in 1934 at the Lyceum; memories of the solitude and encounter with himself the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 meant; abstractions never exhibited; figments of his imagination that went from one phase to another to assert the sense of chosen fact his work as a whole is.

Today’s

In the living room of his house, the 180 x 180 cm oil conceived top be displayed at the health resort in the mountains of the center of the country is already finished. Its title is Cinco palmas, precisely the place in which Fidel and Raúl Castro met after the Granma landing. On the surface, cleanly extended colors, a solid structure of diagonal lines on which nature overflows, albeit subject to a criterion of tidy exuberance: trees laden with fruits; impossible flowers; five palm trees in an obvious symbolic reference, plus a little one, planted by Fidel, in which the work of the Revolution grows. These are things the artist explains with enthusiasm, for the possibility to give an answer in keeping with his place in the context and time he lives in. The sky is filled of heavenly bodies: “Two suns (Fidel and Che); three stars (Raúl, Camilo, and Almeida)”. This is the very interpretation of the creator, because “this revolution produces stars”. The work corresponds to his current mode, defined by him as a moment of synthesis, after going through stages marked by Islands, Trees, Suns, and Signs in the landscape... (...)

“Everything has come to me very naturally, almost effortlessly”, reflects González Puig as if he was talking to himself. “I suspect something weird is going to happen there, from this new element I have used in the two paintings for the resort in Topes: to start from the structure of the painting, not from what is already painted; an almost architectural or geometrical structure; and in spite of that, using natural forms...” (...)

Linked to the plastic renewal movement of the ‘30s in Cuba, González Puig’s presence ha been relatively dull, displaced from the placed he must occupy for the obvious of his artistic work.

“Forty years in the province!” (the exclamation-answer is his). Having two jobs and the need of economical survival are also strong arguments; just as his inborn modesty, and the simple way of doing things of a person who, born in Cabañas (1913) and registered in the former Santa Clara province a year later so that he could take a collage course, he can now seat ―literally, he does not do it for temperament ―, to look contentedly his accomplishments.
(...)

From solitude

Like the man in one of his old drawings, El músico va a cantar (1935), was the artist: naked, alone, leaning on the cold cube, silhouetted against the empty landscape.

His parents were understanding, but had few resources. His family had a teaching tradition that gave him a solid educative knowledge; many kids to share the modest salary... what we very well know: all sorts of limitations, among which the crushing cultural atmosphere was not the least of them. However, he developed his vocation from childhood, then notebooks of people beside cars and the train, a ghost from the sugar mill, elements that filled him with fear. The little child used to schematize using signs ―a small ball represented a car. He was afraid and used painting as a means to fight that fear with his artistic creation, a resource his interest in psychology helped him to explain later...

First achievements

Then one wonders how that boy could set himself to face the lack of understanding of the media? How did he set out his ideas in a way that surprised the poet Emilio Ballagas and painter Domingo Ravenet, who had just arrived from Paris? How this young man from Santa Clara joins a project to provide the Teacher Training School of that city Clara with murals, along with painters like Amelia Peláez, Mariano Rodríguez, Eduardo Abela, Jorge Arche, Ravenet himself..., who had better contacts, a more solid work, etc.? The proximity of the place, the knowledge ―through his father― of the promoters, his individual effort, and his thirst for information, which led him to devour Spanish magazines like Blanco y Negro and La Gaceta Literaria de Madrid, with articles by Eugenio D´Ors and Mariano Brull, the references about Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí’s works and Federico García Lorca’s literature, his knowledge of the European and American contemporary novels, his familiarity with Cuban art and literature, in such a rush he was permanently updated while he kept looking for new elements for his own self-assertion.

He came to Havana, exhibited his paintings and was well received by critics. “When I closed my exhibition at the Lyceum, was opened another one by Portocarrero, with circus characters and portraits of adolescents; then we exchanged works: I gave him something about underwater, he gave me a crayon”. But his situation, the atmosphere of ruthless fight for survival, made him return to his province. Painting; painting all day long. The exhibition opened for him a universe of relations he could not take advantage of... That experience earned him the possibility to make incursions into mural painting; he worked around the door of the Teacher Training School, and he still keeps one of the chalcographies: a head that probably belongs to his oneiric period; though he confesses he has never considered himself a muralist... He never again had to do with the work on walls.

While the abovementioned exhibition in 1934 showed paintings purist slant, along with more naive works (disappeared), soon he took another way. He feels Picasso, Dalí; De Chirico fascinated him with his perception of the space. The man’s solitude overwhelms the artist’s world through oneiric images where, rather often, introspection is replaced by the data that links him to the environment (semicircular stained-glass windows, Iglesia del Carmen, elements that can be recognized at art’s distance) as well as immediately. The premonition a naked figure holding a rifle in its hand means, arises (...)

the Dawning

“Until the triumph of the Revolution, I used to apply gray and neutral colors mostly, although I used some other colors too. After it, I began to use very strong, contrasting shades, like a fauve! Right? Exaltation, joy and optimism appear with the Revolution; because before it, the only future for one’s children was crimes, prostitution, and banditry. The world’s doors were closed for most people. The year of 1959 was like going from hell to heaven; that’s exactly how I lived it. Then I get this feeling to exalt all what is Cuban and doing my work as Cuban as I could”.

Official of the Ministry of Education at the provincial level, he used to take advantage of the few moments of spare time during those intense years. He never stopped painting! He came to Havana in 1962; I remembered Islas [Islands], the magazine published by the University of Santa Clara, and the title suggested by it, starting from the concept that Cuba is an archipelago. “Islands, islands, islands is what we have; living on an island has an influence in us; we can walk for a while until you find the sea. There is no other place to go to”. The people must look around and inside them in order to find their own realization in keeping with the geographic boundaries and the recently worn new opening.
From that sort of original crowd that is En la Isla, from the wounded, hurt, attacked, surface later encourage by the addition of color, he shifts to the solar tones ―so to speak―, an image with a ship, a moon and a dove he left untitled, but the date gives us a clue (5-XI-61) when he places it on the dining room table at home. I still see some need to attack the stand, an intention to range from yellow to orange, where a hypothetical boat sails, taken from Salgari or who knows what tale about seas and pirates. Isla 7 (1962) an oil on canvas, makes sound the harmony of ocher colors; it is a growing cell; a protoplasm that feeds from genetic signs and indications, there are heavenly bodies and fishes in the middle; there is a range of development that goes from origins of life to set to conquer the future. Reason governs the sensual explosion of green en la tempera Islas (1967); one can see a deliberate organization of the information taken from reality that is going to be used in the design of Islas bravas or Islas espíneas, from the same year, two master pieces in which the demarcation of zones, the introduced discipline, does not replaces the empire of fantasy; but guides it.

“Islands are gradually filled with people, people who become milicianos [militiaman]–they are carrying arms― and then they become angels, but still bearing their rifle (they are guerrilleros [guerrilla]). One day, I got tired of the islands”. Then came the tree, he felt the call of the suns, a dozen islands enjoying green, red, orange and yellow on a violet field; it is a small painting he exhibits in his living room. The date? Puig has doubts, 1968, 1969?; “I did many; they were humanized suns”, the key to which was given to him by his little son Ernestico, when at the age of five told him: “they are good suns; Dad suns”; and the artist, the man of science, was astonished in view of this verification of the Freudian symbol (the Sun is the father)...

He does not deny any of his previous periods; but “what I do now is in keeping with my mood, my age and my duty; with what I owe to society and what has made me live; it is synthesis; it is maturity”. It is also preoccupation, the perpetual movement of a person who knows definitiveness is a gas that paralyzes creation, of an artist who sees creative work as the encounter of reason and feelings ― intellect and passion―, man and cosmos .


Alejandro Alonso. El camino de González Puig. Revolución y Cultura, 1987.