…the immeasurable sadness of forever unreconciled contradiction…
There is no longer any talk about landscape in contemporary Cuban art, nor does it abound. For the strictly (neo) conceptual artist that overflows these days, there is no space for topics that have been widely used throughout the History of Art. Landscape, in particular, can be considered one of those practices demonized by the “contemporary artist.” One can even understand it: to contemplate a stream in calm does not entail any commitment, not with the art, nor with the circumstance. Today, when landscape persists, we watch it from an old-fashioned pictorialism that doesn’t stop recycling the tendencies and artistic movements from previous splendored stages of painting.
Yoan Capote brings to today’s Cuban art one of the exemplary artistic practices within the thematic revaluation of its tradition. The representation of marinas, inserted in the most glorious moments of the history of national and international painting, has a deep pictorial value, which the artist translates into historical-political value of his medium. For Yoan, the bucolic nature of a romanticist marina, as well as the chimerical aspect of a sea of our so-called “Turn of the Century” period, provides technical features that can work, undoubtedly, in favor of the aesthetic result of the piece. However, a son of his time –that is, as the excellent contemporary artist that he is– he assumes a material commitment to the work and thus permeates a vision that transgresses all preconceptions of the genre.
The hooks, elements that make up almost completely the visuality of the artist’s seas, come together in his works after a detailed and meticulous study of the composition. It would seem that such admiration for tradition doesn’t predominate in the marinas for which he advocates. However, Capote recreates, old-style, a whole skein of dark clearings and usages of this typical space of nineteenth-century taste. As we approach, there’s a whole universe of transgressions of the medium and the materials that he cunningly articulates in a landscape that violates any bordering space between the traditional and the contemporary.
The seas of Yoan have become a part of national and international art as a discourse that hides the problematic of Cuban insularity behind the visual eloquence of language. Monochromatic marine landscapes that find on the horizon, and only there, a barely rising sun. Such balance between aesthetic making, exploration of the medium (painting, sculpture, installation) and concept, has enabled this artist’s series to be placed in privileged exhibition circuits inside and outside the country.
Two perfect examples are the brilliant shows happening these days: On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban art (Miami, 2017), by the hand of the Perez Art Museum of Miami, and Diamante en bruto (Diamond in the rough, Havana, April 2018), by ARTE CONTINUA. In the first one, Capote exposes the work Isla (see-escape), of the year 2010, and with towering dimensions of 269 x 800 x 10 cm brings one of the most complex visions about the ideas of limit in the Cuban reality. Like other times, although rarely in such scale, the artist resorts to oil, nails and hooks on jute mounted on plywood, to conform what he presents as a proud entrenchment of human subjectivity to its environment.
Alternatively, ARTE CONTINUA highlights with its show Diamante en bruto Yoan’s work Sea Wall, of the year 2017, another of the seas that Yoan Capote adds to the series. From the very conception of the triptych, the artist arranges unseen seascapes, even within his production. On this occasion, he replaces the canvas on wood, frequent in his work, with a new material: concrete. Although until now Capote had manipulated oil to resolve visual details of the composition, he renounced any anchoring to artistic orthodoxy and introduced into the environment an experimental ecstasy of textures and forms. It is certainly a visual spectacle, which only announces its own harshness and roughness in the proximity of the most naive receiver. The skill of the artist spicing so harmoniously these materials and objects foreign to the artistic environment in such a spot on result, speak of the will of Yoan Capote to vindicate good art from the most enhanced creativity. The sharpness of the plastic solutions provided –take for instance, the plasticity of concrete– alerts of the artist’s continuous investigation in a vast range of environmental resources and their signifiers. Likewise, he proposes a new treatment of topics within Art History that regenerate as they nourish from the environment and its circumstances. Sea Wall condenses, with the greatest crudeness, the metaphor of the most frustrating insularity. The sea as a limit, ultimately as a wall, delimits unbreakable spaces of existence but also of discernment.
The phenomenon of the seas of Capote begins to take force in the panorama of contemporary visual arts in Cuba and oxygenates all the uneasiness that opportunism and easy-way-out solutions spread in the current art. This incisive look at what constitutes one of our fundamental problems, the insularity and its inherent consequences, confirms the judgment of Giorgo Agamben that “an artist is that who receives the dark side of his time in full face,” I would add: in full awareness that only in art the inseparable difficulty of living sublimates.
–Modesto D. Serpa