Antonia EirizUntitled, 1964
Combine-Painting, Mixed media on wood, 125 x 125 cm.
Antonia Eiriz, Praised Be the Junk or the Crown Jewel of Cuban Art
In 1964, Antonia Eiriz convulsed the scene of the Cuban plastic arts with her first solo exhibition entitled Pinturas y Ensamblajes (Paintings and Assemblages) at Galería de La Habana. While this exhibition, the then young artist went from the abstract expressionism she embraced as a student to a mighty figurative art with an expressionist temperament. However, she had gone early, so to speak, beyond painting itself, the mere framed surface, to open up to the corporeal world. That is why, the assemblages or “cachivaches” (as she used to call her pieces of junk) are included in this exhibition. In tune with the most advanced aesthetic sensibility of that time (with a neodadaist temperament), Antonia introduced a broad range of ordinary items onto the realm of the Cuban art, such as junk of all kinds (newspaper, rusty metallic pieces, cardboard, old and useless objects, etc.); and made singular artifacts out of these bits of material; henceforth it would be known as “arte povera.”
She also, contemporaneously with Rauschenberg, brought the potential aesthetic essence of the many diverse matter into painting, and mixed the purely visual resources with the appearance of corporeal objects. In this respect, this work ‒carried out in 1964 with a mixed media on wood and presumably in order to be presented on the artist’s first solo exhibition‒ turned out to be of great significance. This work would be on show again in 1991 at Galería Galiano (Havana), while the retrospective exhibition held in her honor, after an absence of many years from the national exhibition circuit.
Antonia models, with sheets of rusty iron, the face of a sort of monster in the center of this impressive work. It turns out too schematic, but grotesque, hypertrophied, and horrific. There are two main sculptural elements that turn this studded-on-wood scrap, like the crowned face, into a purely imaginary refined being: two bottle tops, creating an illusion of two eyes, and a slit, simulating the fauces of a big beast, in the very center of the painting. In addition, the artist has stuck pieces of cardboard, or charred sailcloth, superimposed on fragments of paper with texts printed in English. The entire range is sober: chestnut predominates, sometimes lighter, sometimes cinnamon-colored, but always dull, earthy; there are also greenish and bluish sheens that create points of suction of the look toward both extremes. It all creates a bleak, apocalyptic outlook, and that imposing monster is ruling over the center of the universe of the plastic composition. One may conjecture that it is about a post human period, in which the only trace of our intelligence buried in that charred matter, are those English texts fragments, which the spectator should find like looking for a needle in a haystack or a hidden treasure in the basement of certain zones of the picture.
Then we wonder: Why does Antonia, being protagonist of one of the moments of greatest social and political volatility, limit herself to do a work like this? Is it that there are spirits sensing the end of utopia, cities, economy, democracy (in the very same country?) long time before any other human being is able of even imagining it?
–Dr. Hamlet Fernández