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Plastic arts in Cuba inherited from African black slaves.
The plastic arts in Cuba are the expression of man-made imagery, painting, sculpture, ceramics, engraving, photography, architecture and graphic design.
In Cuba in a particular way, they are an expression of all the aesthetic conceptions brought to the Island especially by the Spanish colonizers and by the black slaves from Africa.
Today they are a very consolidated expression, but it took centuries for artists to appear at different times, to be influenced by international movements and by their own talent, so that they had the reach of today.
After 1959 the new government promoted a cultural policy that promoted the development of all manifestations of art and where painting was no exception.
The creators expressed their concerns and influences in all ages until today. To better understand what has happened in Cuba to this day, it is prudent to see it through its various stages.
First manifestations of the Plastic Arts in Cuba.
The aborigines, the first inhabitants of the island, were the authors of the first manifestations of the Cuban plastic arts.
In the archaeological sites discovered where their villages were located, clay pots, petaloid axes of symmetrical and polished stones have been found.
Objects of ceremonial or religious use such as cemíes, idols or images carved in stone, mud or wood, shell or madrapora and the dujos are added, hard wood seats as if it were a four-legged bench, the back of which ended many times in a continuous curve with symbolic moldings that are highly valued for their delicacy and care for the size.
After the foundation of the villas everything changed. In Havana, for example, the city’s shield was designed with the representation of the key that indicates Cuba’s strategic position in the Gulf and the three towers of its large military constructions for the defense of the fleet.
The bronze statue of La Bella Habana, later known as La Giraldilla, today the symbol of the city, was placed on the La Fuerza shield.
The first streets were laid out and the first churches were built, the painter Juan Camargo was the first artist to make the altarpiece of the Greater Parish in 1584. Carved images, chandeliers, tabernacles and missals were placed inside the churches.
The buildings were also a demonstration of creativity. The Moorish influence, with balconies and covered galleries on the upper floor, with decorated ceilings and saddlebags and the materialization of the Baroque style in 18th century architecture.
All this contributed to the appearance of artists who worked mainly on painting.
The first Cuban artists
José Nicolás de Escalera was the first Cuban painter known in Cuba. He was the author of the scenes that appear in the parish church of Santa María del Rosario built between 1760 and 1766 by José Perera and founded by the First Count of Bayona. It was called the Cathedral of the Fields of Cuba and inside are the mural paintings that he executed.
In a picture of the Casa Bayona family legend, a black slave appears for the first time, who is said to have indicated to his master the properties of the mineral water in the surroundings. But as such, Cuban painting appeared in the late eighteenth century, when it was still considered a trade.
Portraits were the most frequent commissions and with which they earned their livelihood. Nicolás de Escalera stood out as a self-taught artist, he painted by copying, dedicated almost exclusively to the religious theme.
He is the author of the shells of the church of Santa María del Rosario, the only example of 19th century customs scenes. Francisco Javier Báez also developed a work with lay portraits, religious prints and cigar marks, which would later attain great importance.
The Plastic Arts in the XIX century.
In the 19th century, the baroque style gave way to the neoclassical one, wood and stonework were replaced by iron and marble. Several squares in Havana used wide portals supported by columns.
El Templete, a small neoclassical monument where the Villa’s First Mass was celebrated, was decorated inside with three murals, the work of the French painter Vermay.
In the Cerro and the Vedado, sometime later, beautiful residences were built with shaded portals, iron bars and gates and colored glass half points.
In the novel Cecilia Valdés mention is made of the portraits of the owners of the Casa Gamboa, made by Vicente Escobar, a descendant of free black man who traveled abroad and studied in Madrid where he was appointed House Painter of the Spanish Court.
His portraits are characterized by their softness and naive expression, he was the best portraitist capable of capturing the personality of his portraits.
With the development of the tobacco industry, the need arose to improve the presentation and packaging of Cuban cigars. The ring and the sheets of paper that wrapped it were adorned with elegant, colorful and colorful engravings.
This attracted several foreign and Cuban artists such as Barrera and Barañano, cartoonists who represented the flora and fruits, wits and scenes of walks and roads, an art that extended to cigarette packs.
Víctor Patricio de Landaluce, Basque of origin, lived and also died in Cuba and was the author of cartoons where he practiced criticism.
Thus appeared El Liborio, a guajiro from guayabera and jipi who loved rooster fighting, and the elegant slave who celebrated the coquetry of mulattoes. His work manifested true pictorial values.
It was in 1818 when Juan Bautista Vermay, French painter and author of the Templete murals, founded the School of San Alejandro that still today continues to train new generations of artists.
But at first, the romantic forms were followed by approaching nature in a sentimental and idealized way without taking into account Creole painters or engravers whose works were not really very academic, but managed to catch the Cuban.
José Joaquín Tejada stood out and portrayed the island’s landscape with complete mastery of technique. An example of this was his work “The Lottery List” that is exhibited today in the Bacardi Museum in Santiago de Cuba.
In general, all the painting created at this stage used to accurately represent reality, with its sizes, lights and shadows, but without wasting colors.
In general, the main themes of the time were the rural landscape, customs, religion, history and portraits.
The main exponents of the rural landscape were Esteban Chartrand, Valentín Sanz Carta, Federico Américo, Miguel Arias, Federico Fernández Cavada, Gonzalo Escalante and Leopoldo Romañach.
Costumbrismo style was developed by Víctor Patricio Landaluce, of the religious José Nicolás de la Escalera and the main portraitists were Juan Bautista Vermay, Hércules Moreli, José Arburu Morell, Francisco Cisnero, Juan Jorge Peoli, Miguel Melero, Guillermo Collazo, Armando Menocal and Vicente Escobar.
Plastic arts in the Republic
During the Republic the painters who were trained in San Alejandro continue their work in an academic, very formal way and this also happens with the sculptors Ramos Blanco and Florencio Gelabert.
The Plastic Arts in Cuba were not only developed in Havana, academic painting was also cultivated in other regions of Cuba, highlighting the painters Mariano Tobeñas and Oscar Fernández Morera in the center of the island.
By 1925 some of the painters who studied in San Alejandro already expressed their disagreement and insufficiency with what they had learned and traveled to Europe, especially France, to absorb the approaches of contemporary art.
Víctor Manuel, author of the work Tropical Gypsy, among many others, stood out in this group, received with great disapproval and scandal, but at the same time admiring the beauty of his works.
In 1927 works of this new art were exhibited, the sculptor Juan José Sicre Víctor Manuel, Antonio Gattorno, Carlos Enríquez, Eduardo Abela and Fidelio Ponce de León.
Great for their time they suffered misunderstanding and little support for their work. However, they all tried to reflect the social situation of their time as a weapon of protest.
Other great painters of the Republic.
For 1937 Abela directs the Free Study of Painting and sculpture. There were teachers Mariano Rodríguez and René Portocarrero who returned to Creole through the use of half points, bars, roosters and vegetation.
There is a tendency to baroque in the paintings of Mariano, Portocarrero and Felipe Orlando. Amelia Peláez influenced by cubism uses Cuban themes, flowers, fruits with decorative intent.
Wifredo Lam returns to Cuba after the end of World War II, influenced by Picasso and black art, La Jungla appears, which is part of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Other important painters of the time are Luis Martínez Pedro, Ernesto González Puig, Rita Longa, Eugenia Rodríguez and Marta Arjona.
Guido Llinás, Raúl Martínez, Antonio Vidal, Salvador Corratgé, Hugo Consuegra, Fayad Jamís, Pedro de Orá, Tomás Oliva, José A. Díaz Peláez, Francisco Antigua and Agustín Cárdenas formed the so-called Group of Eleven.
Other plastic artists during the Republic.
In 1963 the abstract style of Antonia Eiríz appears, the photography of Mayito and the sculptures with iron and debris of Francisco Antigua, Agustín Cárdenas and Tomás Oliva.
Mural painting has exponents at the National School of Art, La Casa de Las Américas and the Habana Libre Hotel.
Blanco, Abela, Massaguer, J. David, Posada, Nuez, Chago and Guerrero represent the cartoon. The engraving on the other hand was the work of A. Eiríz, Peña, Gámez, Sosabravo, Lesbia Vent Boza, Canet and Zarza.
The posters and the lithography were represented by Raúl Martínez, Peña Tony Evora, Fremez, Roostgard and the photography was the work of Korda, Mayito, Ernesto Fernández, Salas, Nadal, among others. The architects Eugenio Batista, Porro, Garatti, Gottardy, Salinas Fernández and Montalbán also stood out.
The Plastic Arts from 1959.
The visual arts in Cuba, in the period of the Revolution were living testimonies of the changes that occurred on the island after 1959 and were sensitized from the beginning with the new cultural and artistic projection of the process.
The governmental and political change of 1959 made it possible for culture creation, dissemination and consumption to reach all places and spaces.
It also enabled the creation of institutions, the structuring of the artistic teaching system, the attention to workshops and academies of different levels of education, as well as the promotion of Cuban work in spaces and events.
Starting in 1959, different organizations began to appear to promote art and culture in general.
Some of them were the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), the gallery system and a whole series of exhibitions and the National School of Art (1962).
In the first decade, engraving and graphic design workshops were promoted, which led to the development of the poster and the fence, with a strong influence of pop-art and Polish poster art.
Raúl Martínez, Eduardo Muñoz, Umberto Peña, Alfredo Rostgaard were some of those who developed this modality.
During the sixties and part of the seventies, artists such as Martínez Pedro, Antonio Vidal and Sandú Darié continued to work on the abstract and the freedom of the procedures prevailed in other artists who went from abstraction itself and went through assembly and collage.
Antonia Eiriz, Raúl Martínez, Servando Cabrera Moreno and Ángel Acosta León stand out in painting and sculpture. Manuel Mendive, appears with the African deities and popular religiosity.
The Plastic Arts in the 70s of the last century.
In this decade there is a dependency on the culture of the Soviet Union.
It has been described as a dark decade or a gray decade because, under the slogan, art as the weapon of the Revolution, much of what was produced was more ideological propaganda than art.
However, artists such as Flavio Garciandía, Rogelio López Marín, Tomás Sánchez, Roberto Fabelo, Zaida del Río, Manuel Mendive and Nelson Domínguez saved a bit of these times.
The work of Cuban artists trained in the United States appears, highlights Ana Mendieta, the first emigrated Cuban artist who manages to exhibit within the island.
Plastic Arts from 1980 until today.
From the eighties onwards, painting and sculpture, experimentations related to the conceptual gained strength and prominence. Installationism and avant-garde experimentation became fashionable.
Happening and performance become expressions of feeling and social transformation. At the beginning, the artists wanted to take their proposals to the streets, trying to bring art closer to people.
To achieve this, they created situations where the spectator participated in the work. In the end, the conceptual proposals return to the galleries and the exhibition halls. Thus, three main lines of work were developed:
– Those who considered that the work of art was an object that supported a spiritual dimension and that was capable of healing, its main exponents were Juan Francisco Elso Padilla and José Bedia.
– Those who focused their interest in valuing the contributions of popular culture, including Flavio Garciandía and Rubén Torres Llorca.
– Those who developed their art within social, cultural and political criticism such as Eduardo Ponjuan, René Francisco, Alejandro Aguilera, Lázaro Saavedra , José Ángel Toirac.
It was the rebirth of Cuban art after the so-called dark decade and sparked interest in the international market for art produced on the island in addition to forced censorship and cultural repression. In general, conceptual artists reflected on the meaning of art, its function and place in society.
In turn, this censorship caused, between the eighties and nineties, the second great exodus of intellectuals unprecedented in history and, to put it in some way, the diaspora of Cuban culture.
The exodus became a research topic, very important among the artists of the following decade. Alexis Leyva Kcho, Sandra Ramos, Tania Brugueras thought about the phenomenon.
The Cuban Plastic Arts in the nineties.
With everything inherited from the eighties, the individual genres concerned with the return to the profession on the part of the artist were revalued and the trends are directed towards cynicism, simulation and pose.
But the arrival of the so-called special period imposed problems on conditions and resources. Artists went from creating to trying to sell to survive.
The landscape, the typically Cuban objects, the streets and other aesthetically pleasing details, but without creative flight were imposed for survival.
The Plastic Arts in Cuba since 2000.
Art and society have been linked since its origin. That is why the 2000s received this duality, the social changes, the new technologies and the change of mentality of the Cuban have marked the plastic arts in Cuba.
There are new market openings, state support for the development of the visual arts continues, new forms of subsidy management have emerged, there have also been political tensions and confrontations due to misunderstanding and ignorance of those responsible for supervising the content of the artists exhibitions.
Self-employment and the possibility of opening private galleries and other alternative spaces have distanced art a little from official institutions, the best of art does not happen there.
More recently, with the resumption of bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States, many celebrities have passed through the island, tourism opened up and with it, attention to Cuban art has also increased.
El susurro de Tatlin by artist Tania Bruguera is remembered as one of the events with the most media impact at the end of 2014.
The following year the Galleria Continua creates a headquarters in Havana, and thus little by little their internationally renowned artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Anish Kapoor, Jannis Kounellis, Daniel Buren, among others, have made their works available to the public.
Most relevant artists today.
Although the great artists of the entire history of Plastic in Cuba are taken as references, a new generation prevails.
Among them the most important are Alejandro Campings, Yornel J. Elías, Michel Pérez (Pollo), Celia and Yunior, Reynier Leyva Novo.
Grethell Rasúa, Susana Pilar Delahante, Yaque, Fidel García, Javier Castro, Carlos Martiel, Mabel Poblet, Leandro Feal, Marcel Márquez, Adonis Ferro, Yonlay Cabrera, Néstor Siré and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara also join this group.
The main themes of the works revolve around society, politics, violence, exile, death, among others. In the same way, new critics and curators appeared and inserted into public and private circuits, both inside and outside the Island.
It is a new generation, with another form of expression and thought, which modify art and update it at the highest levels, without seeing less of what is being done in other parts of the world.
A key example is that of the curator, gallery owner and art critic Yuri González, a graduate of the Universidad de Oriente and based among the largest collectors in the city of Miami.
Another important modality is graphic art, in this case digital painting, as a result of the application of new technologies, and which recreate reality with fantasy in a virtual and attractive world according to the times we are living.
This event does not yet have many creators in its ranks due to the lack of access to the internet with sufficient quality.
Nor are there enough virtual galleries, nor is there the free possibility to print these works in affordable formats, due to lack of technology or money.
Attempts have been made to expose in a virtual way but it is still very limited and exclusive when choosing works, so it can be said that it is not massive.
The development of Cuban Plastic Arts have left a trail of names that have marked times and styles and are inserted among the best in the world.
It is undoubtedly a benchmark of culture. While in Cuba you can visit galleries and museums, both in Havana and in other places in Cuba where you can see reproductions and originals of many of the mentioned artists. We recommend the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana and the Bacardi in Santiago de Cuba.