While the decade of the ninetieth achieves what we could call its ripeness, and Cuban environment has almost lost its amazement before quotations, the thousand and one ways of appropriations and without doubt, the tropicalized pastiche, it is yet possible to get surprised with Reynerio Tamayo’s provocative exposition Mitos, genios y leyendas (Granma, 1968), presented at refurbished La Acacia Gallery, specially because of the magic that brings pleasure to the eyes, similarly to that enjoyable taste imprinted on the palate after the counterpointing between a “mojito’s” subtle delicacy (‘mojito’ is a world famous Cuban alcoholic beverage) and the expansive vigor of “saoco” (a quite different taste of Cuban beverage).
Consisting of 16 pieces (15 canvas and a minutely precise installation), in this solo exhibition Tamayo –for the first time– leaves behind his passion for water color, and without abandoning his skillful dexterity with the brush, eagerly embraces oil and forgets, from narrative art, those unique stories of his, and recovered from his vacuum phobia, restores the peaceful neutrality of backgrounds. Survives in him, nevertheless, his humor “mania” and his urge to articulate his discourse through Van Gogh’s, Leonardo’s, Picasso’s or Dalí’s images. He appropriates and manipulates Goya’s La maja and El fusilamiento; from Velásquez, he takes among others, La infanta Margarita, or quotes Malevich’s and Mondrian’s abstractions, sometimes as a morphological sustenance and other times fused into conceptuality. At the same time of doing new versions of his former works and adjoining in “airs” simulating 17th Century Spanish court, he exhibits a worthy technical mastering in the easiness with which he works creating effects, contrasts, textures, and processing color according theme’s requirements, in which he enlivens a universe of characters generally nearing caricatures.
If it is right to point out in some of his works some out-of-tune poetics, there are sufficient reasons for gathering these works in an expositive collection. In it excels, due to its intertextuality and the ingenious fusion of genres (still life and erotic painting) La reina de la papaya (Papaya’s queen), whose game, between candor and seduction, allows to be accompanied by the enigmatic spirit and the characters as well as by the naked Maja and her gluttonous conquerors. Beside her is La caída de Ícaro (Icarus falling) in whose lecture you can enjoy a very special revelation of power stratagem mixed with several languages and an atmosphere of permeated certainty. It is outstanding –for its uniqueness– the color sense and the symbolic character which collect common elements to still life, combined here –among other ones– with portraits and caricature, tuned in with the proper maneuvering strategy. Some other pieces are also solid, like El chupa chups de Salvador Dalí, and the ones inspired by paradigmatic Van Gogh like Fama (Fame), El campeón de la subasta (The auction champ) and A Van Gogh le duele su nueva oreja (The new ear is hurting Van Gogh) where the lyric vein is outstanding. On paroding –for three times– Francisco de Goya’s El fusilamiento del 3 de mayo de 1808 Tamayo states an evident recourse in a great part of his former work on disarticulating them by talented (let’s name it “humored”) strokes the sometimes pathetic sense of existence, and is able, through it, to carnavalize pain. This can be seen as a present expression of that cultural heritage which incorporates –in a certain way– as a substantial element, Cuban idiosyncrasy, what Jorge Mañach defined as “choteo” (mockery, jest), whose origin is localized in circumstances, and one of its congratulations lies in its “critical function.”1
If we explore Tamayo’s works we may find another keys, articulated with that sort of universal art “tropi-collage” which functions as a metaphor of cultural half-breed –extended as an accent in his discourse– on prioritizing in the whole the promiscuity evidences of the parts constituting contemporary plastic language. On the accent lies his fresh way of expressing nationality, as it is his first approach to deities from Yoruba pantheon in his installation El viaje de los dioses al infinito (The gods’ travel to infinity). Within it lies his disagreement with iconographic fetishism common to “orishas” (African gods) representations. Armed with his legends, with his surrealistic charm and his “Cubanity,” he represents them as space ships (made on papier maché), hybrids among “American” cars, airplanes and flying artifacts of the future. The important thing is the trip, the flight to infinity, farther from time, that sort of transcending every limit that so splendidly bring Malevich’s abstractions, the ones he really reached or the ones Tamayo has invented.
In spite that Mitos, genios y leyendas (Myths, geniuses and legends) shows a greater maturity, it is resented as an exposition due to some small blunders in curatory, and permits seeing that the artist still has some things to solve, like this trip through installationism, setting up alternatives somewhat erratic this time.
All this does not eclipse, nonetheless, the surprise before his fantasy, or his eagerness as miniaturist that in some moments he turns around his back to, as he is an illuminator of his contemporaneousness, sometimes flirting with the “heights” of an art he does not need to consent, thanks to that loneness (or singularity) whose license lets him free, without any need to prove us anything.
Tamayo –man of ideas, as he defines himself– with his feet and his brush on earth, the same as Van Gogh goes on obsessed with painting. It is painting the one that keeps him alive, feeds him and lifts him above any existential failure. Painting is, like universe, like knowledge, without beginning, without end, infinite in its possibilities. That is why we can feel how the artist attacks head on with that somewhat savage strength of the Cuban gods he set them flying. Afterwards I close my eyes for an instant and imagine –while I listen to Gerald Jay Markoe’s Music from the Pleiades, light from the stars between Taurus’ horns, which serve as guides to vessels after they had engaged in such a trip.
1. Jorge Mañach. “Indagación del choteo.” in Los mejores ensayistas cubanos (Editora Popular de Cuba y del Caribe, S. F.), 81.