Agustín Bejarano has followed an unusual path in Cuban art, as I’ve noted in other writings and circumstances. He experienced its changes and transitions not as recurring events, but as veritable obsessions, while the context seemed to be more interested in the knowledge of certain procedures and approaches, more concentrated on visual classifications that responded specifically to the promotional circuit and its legitimizing authorities. That atypical positioning, which equally involved engraving and painting, has led me to hold to the idea that his name could be included on that short list of artists whose careers can be documented and evaluated outside of periodic determinants or trends, valuing only the correspondence between the author’s existential, sentient fluctuations and the contingencies that induce their representational devices. Bejarano has been the type of artist who, try as he might to display his points of generational interconnection, always permits a glimpse in his work of a tendency to spiritual introspection, soliloquy.
Curiously, almost all of his iconographic variables have surpassed initial moments of suspicion and doubt, and have reconquered on their own, without the influence of any other non-artistic aspect, the public attention of critics and the promotional and speculative circuit. Few artists have exhibited in their work such a diversified range of visual designs, almost all of them defined by their cultural medium –designs that have gone from the implementation of a figurative, meticulous drawing to the use of a composition of abstract, expressionists strokes and brushstrokes. This does not mean that we cannot recognize comparable forms or processes among his work as a whole, but from a thematic, structural standpoint, those works exhibit a level of distinction and contrast that make them seem different from each other. Anyone who doesn’t know Bejarano might think that some groups of works conceived by him throughout his career, such as Huracanes (Hurricanes), Brisas del alma (Breezes of the soul), Paisaje y naturaleza muerta (Landscape and still life) and Tierra Húmeda (Humid earth), were made by different artists. Some might even think that the guarantee of that public recognition has depended solely on his technical abilities and the celerity and profusion of his creative methods, but I would say that it is a direct consequence of his sense of boldness, the state of unrestraint and risk with which he has embraced creative processes and interaction with potential recipients.
I once tried to quantify the number of series that he is capable of producing in a given period of time. As a reference, I used the work that he produced between 1998 and 2002, and my analysis found a balance of two series per year, sometimes more. The only series where he consumed more time than usual was Los ritos del silencio (The rites of silence, which he worked on intermittently for almost ten years). As I see it, it was a delay or creative postponement that had several causes, but the most significant, I believe, was existential. This is an appreciation that I have been able to corroborate, even in conversations with Bejarano, and I would assert that it is a series that he might recall with a certain amount of grief. At one point I affirmed that in Los ritos del silencio, he was already feeling the excessive weight of chaos and desolation.
In coldly analyzing Los ritos…, especially works from the last few years, I would be so bold as to speculate that behind it, all of the artist’s sensations of indifference and existential ambiguity were accumulating, even if everything was dissembled by a metaphor of a social and philosophical nature. In the series, the removal of certain motivational pillars was being discovered; the congestion was being verified of a group of dilemmas that the artist did not seem to be able to face and dissolve expeditiously as he usually did, judging by the visual allegories from other eras, and their degree of presumptuousness and emphasis. Perhaps he did not have the sagacity to detect the precise amount of time in which he should have faced and resolved these dilemmas (possibly associated, in fact, with his consummate phase of glory and benefit). Or perhaps he decided to resign himself, to trust that life would indicate it to him providentially. In any case, it must be said that that impression of dislocation and anxiety could be felt very strongly in the works from that series, the impact of the tragic situations that they drew on, and in fact we commented on that among various colleagues. I barely had the opportunity to express it to Bejarano. When I tried to do so subtly, almost between the lines, in that catalogue for his exhibition at Galería Habana in 2010, it was too late, or at least that is what I understood afterward.
Another experience of shock, of heartbreak, was required; a voice or an unexpected figure of contrast, so that Bejarano could go beyond the states of mind and rhetorical arguments of this series. But nobody could imagine –not even those of us who were close to his work– that the process would be forcibly postponed for another three years, and that the artist would be on the verge of going through an adverse, lamentable situation. Of course, I am not attempting to insinuate that the perceptions received from the series Los ritos del silencio could be taken as signs of the level of the event’s complexity, but I also do not believe that we should stop speculating about the relationship of causality that might have existed to a certain extent between these two circumstances.
The curious and unexpected thing is that there, in that dramatic situation where any other artist would have stopped completely and forever, Bejarano found pretexts for his work. Sketches and drawings were ideal points of contact while he was detained outside of Cuba, vehicles of intermediation with those interests and affections that supposedly continued waiting for him on the Island, urgent signs, messages addressed to a group of uncertain addressees, apparently more vital in his mind than in reality. No wonder almost of the work he produced between 2011 and 2013 possesses that nuance of nostalgic testimony, introspective chronicle, or at least a good part of it that I confirmed through email.
Like one who is now trying to register the significance, the magnitude, of the everyday and the apparently insignificant; like one who is trying to make an active description of everything that he was about to mislay or lose, Bejarano has plunged into a new group of works, Viaje al paraíso (Journey to paradise). The particularity of this pictorial series, which the artist urgently needs to bring into confrontation, is established through two essential tendencies. The first is that which precipitates exchange, a mixture of almost all of the technical procedures and iconographic alternatives conceived throughout his career, including the moderating action of graphic devices. More than an exercise in exploration or experimentation, like what we had previously seen in his work, we detect an interest in evaluative stocktaking and resituating.
The second defining tendency of the series is the one that makes viable the convergence between mystic trance and the erotic, a relationship that, while addressed extensively in previous moments, was nevertheless represented in a more dissimulated, relaxed way. We can feel much more emphatically now the symbolic beatification of the erotic event and its alternatives of incitement, an intention that meddles like never before the artist’s reverential relationship with the feminine figure. In some works women, turned into angels, exaggerate the gestures and physical traits of their sensuality almost to the point of the grotesque, disrupting the foundations of their conditionality (I’m referring to Yerbas en el camino and Desangelización), and in others, feminine characters show their attractive qualities, the wiles of their temptations, in an obvious, eloquent way (Paisaje con ríos, Remeras). We could think that in some paintings, models close to or known by the artist are being reproduced or recreated.
The perception of the paradisiacal is adopted, then, from a less idyllic, more earthly perspective. It is represented as a permanent state of seduction and pleasure, imagined like a private space for veneration and refuge. It would not be illogical to imagine –and this is something about which Bejarano should be fully aware– that this type of paradoxical approach, a bit seditious, of the notion of paradise, even when responding to a strictly personal interpretation, could come up against a certain amount of resistance among some spectators, even among those who once demonstrated their unconditionalality. That is one of the principal dilemmas that he should be ready to face in being explicit today about his allegories.
The phrase from which these pieces take their title, and which implies a journey or trip to an idyllic state of well-being, assumes in and of itself a reinvented conception of opportunity, of reinsertion into a context, one that is less distressing or dramatic than what some expected after the incident experienced by the artist. I am certain that Bejarano is arrogantly experiencing the plenitude of a right, a power of creation, in which he knows very well not everyone would be willing to be complicit. Sometimes I wonder whether that persistence, that arrogance, would be impelled from the artistic, intellectual subject, or from the very spirit of the creative practice, its incontestable inertia, and whether we could define exactly what quota of reproach and commiseration we would attribute to them.