“… I see the world, but what I see is nothing
my experience begins precisely when the memory
interprets, so to say, links the image from the outside
to its space. We recognize, and thus we start to feel.”
The fact that he was born in the city of Camagüey might have been an irrelevant event to Agustín Bejarano; this, however, is an unavoidable fact not only in his life, but also in his performance as an artist. The land and plains of Camagüey, which filled a good part of his existence, peaceful in their pristine presence and rich in landscapes and horizons, were from the beginning an important theme in his creation. An always surpassed theme, however, in the midst of the reign of abstraction and detachment from formal attitudes, in the convulsion and rampage of material phenomena such as cyclones, which with their violence often abruptly change the landscape of the islands or the individual and group memory sorted out in his poetics. It is as if he moulded his work in anticipation with a clear conscience that “memory is obviously referential. But the load of its contents, the landscape that is opened to us by each association, responds to unrecognizable and perhaps non-determinant causes of the events in themselves.”1
Similar to a blast of hurricane wind was Bejarano’s entrance to the world of Cuban art. In 1987 he obtained with the calcography Kate2 the First Prize at the National Meeting on Engraving, a sample exhibited at the National Fine Arts Museum of Cuba in an event that –like many others in the decade of the 1980’s– had an important echo in the art world as the scene where multiple frontiers were demolished and constant ruptures occurred in relation with the stereotypes and vices of a tradition that began to be questioned and reanimated.3
Bejarano, who in those days drew, painted and printed with both a force and a passion that he still retains, was one of the first artists in Cuba to turn engraving into an installation and a three-dimensional action4 –an action recorded with his series Huracanes presented at Castillo de la Real Fuerza in 1989.5 Those hurricanes,6 very much in spite of what the artist then thought, were an initial meditation on identity, a relaxed identity with a universe of belongings that would later extend to his whole work.
In the center of his attention was the man-nature relation –and vice versa– as well as the latter’s conversion into an art object, concretely with its least tangible element: energy. At first, his meditation insisted on the excess of both, with a language of cardinal freedom, at times lyric and sensual. His essence of humanist content was not only in the adopted forms but also in the very fact of naming the works after they had been completed, beyond the oneness of senses that they might embody. More than an atmospheric phenomenon, the hurricane became a symbolic expression in tune with the acceleration of contemporary life and its violence. It was man’s vital force in the face of his own struggles, an image of the man who becomes a giant in the face of life’s shocking realism.
Those hurricanes of his presented the fury, the violence, the force of the whirlwinds that the Caribbean as geographical zone often tastes amidst the aggressiveness of the wind in its blizzards, the ferocity of the always threatening lightning, the rudeness or brutality that hangs over the vegetation and the incontrollable devastating aggression to which man can put no limits and which Bejarano pictured in the abruptness of its mobility with a stroke at times bordering the liberty of informality. After this, beauty gradually imposed itself, with the insinuation of less disturbing movements that contributed to suggest particularly the sensuality of an eroticism that was not in the least exhibitionist and obvious.
Although one could certainly perceive the adequateness of abstraction to represent the hurricanes, this form began to be submitted to new modulations by the artist. Thus, without disappearing, abstraction slowly began to grant an important space to a tiny drawing, to concretize very suggestive and more precise images.7 This series was a compilation of praises to encounter, to germination. Forms that insinuated phallic tongues, the feminine pubis, vulvas, crotches, copulation that took place during the games and in the encounters of the forms –predominantly vegetal forms that nevertheless resembled pubic hair, anatomies melting in indescribable ways, volumes that were definitely fleshy and exuberant in mixtures of openings and fusions that exhibited the pleasure of matter.
Meanwhile, Bejarano –since 1989– was going from the use of canvases of mixed technique to monochromatic silkscreen printings and collographies. In the latter there was a revival in the use of color during 1991, but with an intentional chromatic austerity in the combination of ochre, sepias, olive green, pastel violets and blues, together with silver grays and other raising or lowering of warmer shades, never reaching stridency, in communion with other values related with the suggestive textures that resulted from the overprinting and the combination of different substances and materials in the process of making the collographies –or collagegraphies– as the artist prefers to call the works of that period because of the preponderant presence of collage in them. In spite of their unquestionable autonomy, the pieces obtained after an intense experimentation in this field were linked by the urge to find new procedures and insinuate related forms. These works became part of the exhibition Corte final presented at the Provincial Center of Fine Arts and Design in May 1993, which openly put an end to a part of his work that he had concluded already a long time before.
Corte final concentrated part of the group of works which the artist had denominated Nidando cerca del jardín de miel, made up by collographies made in 1991, generally of a huge format, with frequent use of relief and texture effects. A universe of mixtures and conjunctions was shown with outstanding zones of very fine strokes8 that combined or fused with the textures. The pretext of the representation lay in the vegetal, animal and human life, a space in which eroticism gained even greater force expressed in the very enjoyment of matter, in the plenitude of instinct without turning natural into exotic. Forms that penetrated other forms, crossing or joining their destinies, expanding into intense embraces and rebirths. A contribution to it was made by the precise drawing, the act of kneading the textures and turning them into indecipherable forms, added to the austerity of color in works made to please the eye such as La fuente blanca and Universos paralelos.9
Following the exhibition, this Corte… represented a critical distancing in the face of the public with regard to Bejarano’s previous work, particularly in engraving. But the rupture was already hanging about the artist’s actions long before the exhibition took place. Nidando cerca del jardín de miel had begun as a series in 1989 and remained in force with regard to its original concept until 1991, with examples in serigraphy, collography and mixed technique on canvas.10 However, a considerable group of paintings were made with different techniques and on different mediums, which even though included under the same general title received other names. The result of these explorations traced some of the many roads followed by Agustín Bejarano’s work later on. They were paintings of a new-expressionistic style, at times grotesque and also related to what had been named new figuration in the 1960’s. Some were sketches of the artist’s personal life in which he portrayed himself beside his life partner and hyperbolized ironically the volumes of their bodies and those of others, or simply turned them into objects for caricature in the same way he did with his closest friends.
In the midst of the stirring of ideas that occurred in that period, it is not surprising to find that rara avis El Profeta (The prophet) incarnating José Martí in a representation indebted with the masterly transparencies bequeathed to Cuban art by Carlos Enríquez, emerging above characters somewhat similar to those that came out of the hands of the Briton Francis Bacon, like a bloody battle between the most luminous poetry of the spiritual and the crude realism of human decadence. All these details confirmed Bejarano’s gradual turn toward figuration, an aspect that had been occurring before a totally completed series was publicly presented, as happened with Nidando cerca del jardín de miel in Corte final.
Taking these elements into consideration we may understand, on one hand, Corte final as the conclusive result of the earliest stage in his artistic performance, and the sample that pondered it as mediation, point of rupture and at the same time of transit of his poetics toward the recovery of a fundamental place for a drawing of greater technical value and a meaning of figuration to serve the new conceptual grounds, a substrate whose modulation would be the substance of what we would later find in unquestionable articulation in Brisas del alma.11
During all that period it should unavoidably be pointed out with regard to engraving and its history in Cuba that for the first time an artist created works that exceeded 10 linear meters as did Agustín Bejarano. In like manner, numberless materials were used that were really more proper of a mason’s work than of an engraver’s, such is the case of siliceous sand, stones, carborundum, sandpaper, powder from different ground stone and plastic melted with turpentine, many of them transported on wheel carts at the moment of making the works and poured in with shovels and metal buckets over the matrixes of what in many cases became unique pieces, fluid and dynamic, not conceived to be printed given the degree of “technical utopia” that the artist put in practice in their execution and their questionable durability. Seen now, fully preserved, the unknown element of what was once plain fantasy is clarified.
Bejarano, who was already creating an essential fragment of the visual nature of Cuban art and particularly in the world of engraving, without giving up those assets irrupted with a new theme developed between 1993 and 1995 in Brisas del alma. He insisted on drawing the best possible advantages of engraving on plastic, on which the crevices made with a sewing needle paved him the way to the detail –a development that had already been taking place since the series Huracanes and now reached full autonomy by achieving greater sharpness and derived from it, a unique preciousness in the drawing. The formats of his pieces started to be moderate. The scale decreased to express in a more related way a new group of ideas, and also to enable the creation of a morphology that allowed him to plunge coherently into the critical apprehension of his private and domestic space in an evaluation of life in couples and of the family in the midst of the disturbances caused by a time in the life of Cubans called “special period”, characterized by the economic crisis and its unquestionable effects upon ethics and moral both in private and in public aspects. The figuration of the series, without leaving aside the gestures, penetrated a space characterized by a virtuous drawing of neo-expressionist elements, particularly at its start, a trend that is clearly noticeable in Corazón diabólico, Vidas confortables and Voluntad de silencio – quite sharp pieces printed in 1993. Later, the drawing was to become more limpid and splendid as the series developed, when he granted the human figure that somewhat unexpected leading role if compared to his previous works. These engravings were a feast of absurdity, full of sarcasm in fields penetrated by irony, as an antidote to the uncertainty and de-stabilizing lack of precision to be expected from the future. Outstanding examples of this period are La dulce idea de existir, Torre de merengue tropical, Lección de cultura doméstica from 1993, as well as Yo, el gran utopista, Danza loca and Adorable retozo from1994.
Bejarano pictures himself in numerous occasions together with his wife, who assumed at the same time the roles of wife and mother. He had observed tradition and life through the lens of a microscope of anthropological glass, to distinguish the subterfuge of those multiple negotiations, collisions and conjunctions that occur at home and in the family as part of an analysis that evaluated a fragment of the individual according to the social whole without idyllic varnishes and with rudeness. Included were religion, misunderstandings, suffering, love, intolerance, desire and rooted machismo.
On the other hand, it should be admitted that in spite of the fact that a good part of Bejarano’s work is enriched with the influence of his own living experiences and on occasions underlines his own intimacy not exempt of drama, his vision did not remain hidden there, since it was always inserted in the collective approach, in spite of portraying in a peculiar way the common picture of a Cuban family. In these engravings there was a man cleaning himself, purifying himself from the anguish and suffocation caused by the convulsion of society. The home is the place to take refuge from a world haunted by doubt, which fills the individual with insecurity, an insecurity that leads man to question everything that surrounds him, including century-old things and everything that seemed immovable, definite. The artist deprives this fact of its drama through a parody of himself and of the existing situation; a current of distrustful irony traversed everything while he drew his own specific roads within the wide stream of his own creation.
Later, in Tierra fértil –1994– he was somewhat more profuse in this regard, but with a tone that marked uniquely his exercise in painting. At times he even bordered on the routes of illustration and caricature, but without remaining in them or restricting himself to them, building paradoxical allegories; –paintings that, in the end, were as rich and complex as the reality of those years in which they were born.
The inflexions concerning domestic aspects were not restricted to the private space of the home and the intrinsic world of his relations, since they included an approach to the context as wider domain of that very sense of home life in the midst of a new form of facing the insularity, of becoming absorbed in the essence of the nation, of sketching our identity. There also existed a sort of registry of popular wisdom and traditions, which were undoubtedly the starting point to promote an almost natural and sustained relationship to José Martí held since his childhood.
In some of the canvases of the exhibition Tierra fértil12 and in his engravings on plastic made in 1994, the Apostle’s figure appeared as a recurrent element.13 His presence was not a new subject in Bejarano’s work;14 however, that full-length Martí in the same size of the remaining characters, gremlin multiplied at times and also votive image, integrated as element of peculiar symbolism to the new zones toward which the artist directed his interests, concentrated in the avatars of coexistence and the common environment of a couple that had become a family. A Martí, like the man he was, with eyes well open to let the world enter through them. His head, crowned by a farmer’s hat, moving within the artist’s habitat –painted or drawn– oscillating toward a certain realism at times magic, while the nearness to forms proper of illustration and the slight but playful tone of the caricature predominated. A Martí that was the nation in painting, he himself soil, steersman (in El panal está servido) or Bejarano’s assistant in a purifying action that occurred in such an intimate space as bathing time, dressed in impeccable white, fixing and planting the world in the head of the artist (in Límite del tropicalismo abstracto). A Martí to save us from shipwreck, sculptor of what we may turn out to be, purest essence of our land, he himself all memory; memory inscribed in his small body, in his trembling flesh like a star light that guides the shipwrecked person. Zealous keeper of the treasures of the soul, eternally searching equilibrium (in Pétalo de luna), chalice in the road of our prudence and survival. In the meantime, in the engravings from that year, Martí sculptured vehemently the borders of our Island in the presence of the artist and his wife, and other times, together with them, full of vigor, he built, restored, transformed, cleaned.
Bejarano recovered the hero as a close, tangible being. He drew the token from his chest as haven to take refuge and abandon himself in the cleanliness, in the purity. But the artist also revived him to make him part of the complexities of society and existence, highly belligerent centers and part of the existing scenery in the midst of which the memory and evocation of Martí was a transubstantiation loaded with the contents inherent to his mythical stature. At the same time, with his “re-visit,” he turned Martí into an active participant of the problems of the convulse reality in the midst of which the pieces were created. Wisely, the artist with a skillful handling of irony and a non-concealable humoristic tone in painting and engraving, succeeded in eliminating the earnestness and the poses, to present to us the Apostle as an intimate friend, an essential person in the most critical moments.
Following this there came a period of overwhelming work in which Bejarano almost definitely turned him self already toward painting. He travelled to Mexico and in January 1995 met art gallery owner Nina Menocal, who decided to send one of his works to the XI Biennial of Latin American and Caribbean Engraving in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he obtained a prize,15 and who from that moment on was to develop an essential activity in the artist’s circulation and international promotion.
In the period from 1994 to 1996, Bejarano lived in the midst of an intense agitation that brought about substantial transformations in the broaching of different topics that would follow. In the same way he weighed concepts that began to appear already in those days about the representation of the city (and of society in general) while he decided upon his approach, re-evaluation and re-vitalization of certain conventions that were to exceed their classical belonging to traditional genres through his artistic elaboration, as for instance the still life, the portrait, the religious painting, the historical portrait and the landscape. The events of those defining days would show later in an ascending but gradual way in the development of his craft as a painter.16
The stay in Mexican land on two occasions –specifically in Monterrey–17 gave Agustín Bejarano the possibility not only of widening the horizons of his creation and of achieving a great number of works, but also of exchanging with creators, both Mexican and Cuban –whether in transit or living there– with whom he held fruitful meetings that resulted in commitments for future solo shows.
In 1966 he exhibited under the title Voluntad de silencio a new series of twelve pictures and ten of his engravings belonging to Brisas del alma for the first time at the Nina Menocal gallery in the Federal District. The pieces, which had been created in Mexico for that event, had their own autonomy with regard to the printed works, even if the artist’s production up to that moment was taken into consideration. A unique spirituality close to mysticism characterized works like Luz heráldica, Amando A-divina and La lectura. The presence of his wife beside the artist in some pieces had a remarkable emotive load unseen before. Birds were to become regular references, among them fowl as well as winged creatures and characters drawn out of our environment because of their typical nature, present in El espiritista, El erudito and Traga Luz. There was also an important contrast between the sophisticated universe of the city and the simplicity and austerity of the world inhabited by the peasants: Pequeña adoración, Paisaje abstracto con lugar sin geografía and Made in El solar.
In Voluntad de silencio, the figures with hat began to appear repeatedly in a clear reference to the man who works the soil, an aspect whose first antecedent appeared in some of the engravings of Brisas del alma. The images would gradually lose that accurateness they had enjoyed in the previous pictorial representation and appear more free, at times very gestural, even though other times the exactness in the drawing and the delight in its details became outstanding as well as the utilization of characters previously elaborated. Made in acrylic, the new paintings, all enigmatic and with substantial differences in their making, presented a movement of transit that undoubtedly supported the more radical turn that was taking place but where it was still possible to perceive oscillations at the moment of facing the representation, since formal solutions were still appearing that opposed the definite abandonment of the already conquered territories. That formal volubility additionally showed an inner world suffocated by the emotion and the somewhat overwhelming experiences of the artist in the referred period.
With Tierra húmeda18 –a game between a gestural abstraction and a figuration given through remarkable fades– some of the above-mentioned elements began to appear. There is a return to the soil as Magna Mater, a return also to man, to his origins and essences. Bejarano granted the works of those days a tactile quality in the painting, which unleashed the urge to hold the very soil in our fingers. The soil is beginning and end, but it is also the one that gives birth, “the land of our entrails.”19 They were not in vain: the dripping, the scraping and the textures, the use of asphalt, tar and other collected materials; his delight in dreams and myths, almost the way in which a child who returns to his birthplace looks at everything with penetrating eyes, was not even unfounded. It was again the naked feet, returning from walking the rugged soil and a return to that feeling that makes us “love the corner of the land where we learned of the beauty of the world, and the sorrow and the love that make us feel close to it.”20 They were the realm of evoking, space won to the subconscious, untouchable space for oblivion. There was the place where one always returns and the mixed technique turned the canvases into spaces of insinuation, places where the figures and the forms were sometimes vague, allowing others to guess them, to discover them, emerging “apparently” willfully from abstraction, suggesting silhouettes, bodies, faces, clouds, fences, tricky handwritings, groups of houses, cultivated fields. Color spoke through a refrained palette of something that came from very far, dissolved in that very distance suggested by the cold tones and pastel colors, without stridency, impeccably moderate, as if it were a cut to show the memories, which come slowly.
This was also the moment when the artist contrasted the place he came from and the urban world in which he was now inserted, an aspect that had only been announced previously and which became a particular reference here, never more absent in his meditations, turned into a deeper and more and more penetrating thought. He was in search of a road that would lead him to describe and distinguish the essence of the citizen and of the spirituality of the peasant who is inseparably linked to his piece of land to tell what is happening in the psyche of the latter. El adivino is a character that receives great consideration, in the same way that El brujo is feared, while Aire del sur is renowned and quoted in the tasks of soil cultivation, in addition to a very particular perception of the nearness of Nubes bajas. Following that same road he additionally gave testimony of the rotting of values considered century-old and of the overwhelming spiritual impoverishment in the urban milieu.
However, that man, his peasant, already admits the existence of the homo citizen. He also knows that having distinguished him does not make him know him completely, but that he only begins to be conscious of his mutability and of the multiplicity of types that he will have to discover gradually in the scenario of the city. In that form, a number of lonely faces will appear as a prelude of the definition of multiple typologies.
This world exposed by the artist articulated coherently with the theme The Individual and his Memory, a topic on which the 6th Havana Biennial focused in 1967. Bejarano was invited to participate in this event as part of the segment Rostros de la memoria.21
That same year, with Marea baja22 he examined and in fact widened the contents of the previous series with regard to meanings and forms. In the birds he represented, the symbolical aspect was given a priority until in his allusion he reached almost with nostalgia the free flight of the birds in the woods. He did not abandon his evoking of the soil, a topic that now crossed the continental border to attain a cosmic perspective. There he stopped in other fragments of one and only “skin,” those that become visible when we take off whatever covers and snatches away. Elements exposed to the light when the waters retreat, in their continuous cycles of ascent and descent, of comings and goings, of departures and returns, tides as if they were the very movements of History.
Although it would be more adequate to renounce to that apparent and overwhelming unity of the mega story and refer to its most tangential and ill-focused aspects while the artist indicated us roads that branched off along the trails of the displaced ones. His movements exposed a fundamental archaeology of “small,” unofficial narratives, stories that reconstructed the otherness of another mosaic never seen before. Los conquistadores, Retador de alturas and Arenas movedizas left evidence of violence or evil, while on the other hand he painted beings who were dislocated in the city –like in Pájaro cazador, Espantapájaros and Saltamontes23 following the exodus of the rural population to the cities, of how the birds flee from La guarida and complete a world of disturbing, ghostly beings that twist up, angular figures in unpredictable foreshortenings, faces torn to rags that appear and disappear forming a network that is a trap where perhaps the Melodías del valle will never again be heard.
In its persistency, Marea… consolidated from another angle aspects already expressed by the painting of Agustín Bejarano. The oscillations of figuration were subordinated to the different aspects of the main topics handled. The modulations that were common to Sembrador, La cosecha and La siembra differed from the perception of El espantapájaros, La mona and El simulador, as well as referred the commitment and the passion of Caminante americano and Sangre de héroe. Those variations in the making of each one of the pieces evidenced a hierarchical structuring of the artist’s judgements about a milieu full of violence, losses and renounces, but in which one could still find reasons for redemption and authenticity. The peasants’ universe had a more lyrical treatment,24 and occasionally the sons of the earth were transformed into winged beings, but also into characters that metamorphosed.25 One of the most striking pieces of the series –without minimizing the rest– is La Isla oscura. Its vital force and its quality to summarize a group of themes and temporary circumstances defined in the metaphor it defends make it a work of obliged reference. The Island was turned into a scene in the middle of the night, an Island visited and lighted by a spectral being that disclosed the beauty of what darkness crushes.
In 1997 Agustín Bejarano obtained the Great Prize of the National Engraving Salon with a trilogy on plastic: Harakiri, Plantas e insectos and La conquista. His solo show El hombre inconcluso exhibited in 1998 at the GAN Gallery in Tokyo was the result of that prize. That show was significant because of two essential reasons: one of them, the fact that it put together overseas an extensive sample of his engravings (comprising those made in 1993 and up to 1997, a large group exhibited in that way for the first time),26 and the other, the international presentation of Angelotes –1998. These paintings of huge format had a pop pre-eminence that served the interest of the artist to oppose the sense in which angels had been represented previously in art history: beings like effigies of the inaccessible, the majority of them androgynous, messengers at times luminous, pure, protecting (Resplandor de invierno and Flor de rocío); others, farcical and deceitful (Angel simulador I and II). Presences with their bruises and their candor (Visión de los herejes and El placer del dolor), and also their vulnerability (La cacería III) or their strength of warriors (Ángel cazador). Creatures mediating between divine and human, endowed by the artist with great visual impact (Naturaleza sabia I, II, III and VI).
In parallel to his Angelotes, Agustín Bejarano continued his achievements in engraving on plastic with the series Las coquetas.27 A refined and soft drawing (effect that was possible thanks to the advantages offered by engraving on plastic) was the outstanding means in pieces that had his wife as exclusive model, particularly her unmistakable face (even while she was pregnant of their second son). The form of this series recalled the spirit of the idyllic postcards of the first decades of the 20th century, both the engraved ones and those made from hand-illuminated photographs. His coquettes are a contradiction with regard to the title that put them together, since the allusion went to women chased by tradition, recreated from a masculine vision that in spite of it eluded hedonism in the representation, and although they in some way referred to the feminine power of seduction and to the fissures of their always magnified sexuality, these represented women were disturbing images that appeared scourged, captive, lacerated; prisoners of a destiny predetermined by the script that history and society has written for them. They were an image of the effects of a drama on stage. Female figures with angelical faces accompanied by weapons, clothes and instruments more proper of sadomasochist actions or torture than of the display of their power of fascination. In opposition to the title that described them, they subverted the classical statute of beauty. These “coquettes” did not make use of their physical beauty. They particularly showed their spirituality and their resistance, in spite of the difficult postures in which they were placed, as an irony and negation of the usual praise of their bodies, as if they were objects, critical dissection that denounces the usual interpretation of the subject from male chauvinist points of view.28
In painting, another two of his series appeared in 1999: Paisaje y naturaleza muerta and Anunciación. In Paisaje…29 his approach had something of ghastly and oneiric at the same time. Pájaros mágicos (VIII, IX and XIII), diverse branches, furniture, flowers, fruits (III and I) together with elements of stylized and sumptuous chinaware, an imitation of those used by the Cuban bourgeoisie of the 19th and part of the 20th centuries, brought from Europe. Jars, plates, soup bowls, large pots shined. Some revealed a lighted inside, others contained miniature scenes of other places, architectonic references and even portraits (XI, XII and XVII) that recalled the images of the confectionery boxes, those that our parents tasted long ago. The portraits occasionally emerged from the very backgrounds simulating tablecloths, and they were only background for his figures (I, II and V) based on different pictorial effects. An atmosphere aged by the passing of time gravitated in these works that revived in an organic but unusual way the theme of the classic still lives from a perspective that at times was surrealist, where the suggestive visions of the artist were perceived with a more tempting and unusual concept of the topic of still lives and the landscape.
In Anunciación,30 although he approached a biblical theme that is classic in the history of art, the game played by Agustín Bejarano took another road. Medieval art was evoked and in like manner the spirit of the Renaissance without reaching the quotation or the appropriation. His (re)formulations went to a point of orgiastic and promiscuous sensibility (XXIV), in an oscillation between the mannerism and the baroque at the time of assuming a subject that belonged to the sacred tradition. Each work was a fragment in which the narrated “event” was displaced to a different dimension. The vitality of its religious incarnation transcended to leave the matter in question open to other creeds and particularly to the realm of worldliness.
In the meantime, sexuality appeared as a feast and joy of existence, and the copula was –in an elliptic way– an act of liberation and ecstasy for the human being (XXV). Thus, the subject was displaced to a contemporariness that added advertisements, tattoos and graffiti (VIII, X, XI and XXIX). His icons were set in a familiar context based on ambiguous and sensual characters (XXIII and XXX), immerse in luminous, festive and so to say carnival nights, among vegetal “networks” which –animated– wrapped, knotted and also repressed (XVI, XVIII and XXI). The signals that his annunciations whispered, sang and danced occurred in a theatrical territory in which a hybridization of ideas and resources existed to serve a different way of broaching and manipulating the subject, to stop particularly in the human aspect, in the voluptuous nature of the bodies, underlined by the chiaroscuro and the recreation of shades in the volumes literally kneaded by the artist’s own hands. Bejarano raised his voice in praise of fertility, of the emotion of life and of the pleasure in creating it. However, he exalted the enigma with abysmal profoundness, full of messages and winks like malicious publicity. He wanted to register particularly the instant of the revelation, brief in its magic (XIX, XX and XXII).
In the last pieces of that series there appeared the character of the guardian seen as expression of power and coercion. This character originated the development of a brief series of eight pieces called Fronteras humanas with which he appeared at the Toronto International Art Fair in November 2003. The guardians brandished their power, submitting everything that stood in their way. The violence they produced was disguised in the very restraint of the scenes, in which the “actors,” women of Greek-Roman beauty, posed their femininity in a “paradise” in which force was an omnipresent law, pursuit for the exhibition of beauty, works and life in all its forms. Each of the paintings resulted in a collage of numerous superimpositions, and the sets built in neoclassical style were samples of the grief, seclusion and freezing of the drama of an always haunted and endangered subsistence. A universe besieged by force and brutality, something almost consubstantial and natural to the times we live in, where the ghost of ancient and modern barbarisms subsists.
Bejarano’s poetics, profusely experimental, has avoided the restriction to certain styles, with a live interest in the renewal of topics profusely handled in the history of art, as happened with his taste for portrait in the series Cabezas mágicas. It left behind the sensuality shown in Anunciación, where the taste for contrast had become evident in the exaltation of the corporeity of figures of precise anatomy. The “portrayed” characters” integrated with their austere environments, and although at times they were represented up to the torso and even in their full body, conceptually, from the title of the series, the symbolic reference concerning the heads was focusing them in a cult to all that is generated by thought, to the strength and powers of the mind, and also to its condition –a venerable one– of receptacle of spiritual matters, to establish an analogy with Plato’s idea that the human head is the image of the world.
There was a refusal to any physical resemblance, to that precise construction claimed by some for the portrait. Canvas and acrylic were respectively space and technical instrument for his free game of blurring classic morphologies and praising the epics of daily life –a daily life whose plainness and fugacity builds the epic of the common man. There was space here for farewells, expectancy, injuries and also for savageness, wreckages and metamorphoses. The artist thus worked out the scheme of events and at the same time of the memory from the point of view of the individual, and delivered to us an outline of his own experience through many of the margined beings of the great discourse of history.
The exhibition Cabezas mágicas, presented at the Havana Club Foundation in Havana, was a sort of resurrection of the portrait topic –abstracted portraits in the represented invoked types; abstractions of a generic kind present in Tejedora de mano, Pescador and Retrato de muchacha, which presented fictional faces that recreated the anonymous and, at the same time, multiple figures of the streets.31
The artist’s strategy, in general, was to subvert the selective and hierarchical foundations by recreating common types, making up a crowd that strolls and constructs social processes day after day. From that perspective he outlined a wider dimension of man in his link to the environment, and opened roads to make us see that everything that surrounds us is full of texts, most of the time obviated.
It should be pointed out that there was only one face in the exhibition that as an exception could be identified. This happened in the ensemble Metáforas de la salvación, made up by seven pieces arranged in the form of a comic strip, which told a dream by José Martí, a fantasy of synthetic symbolism that illustrated ceremonies and foundational actions with a decisive role in the formation of our identity. The Apostle, whose halo was a straw hat, showed us in all its extension the wideness of the achievements in our Island, in spite of the need of keeping on sowing, of rising beyond the ill-fated night extended over all of us and to act until the voice of sacredness rises. In the profound darkness of our ravings, that Martí visited us whose drawing illuminated the canvases with his hopes of rescuing the essential values of mankind.
In 2001, the piece Imágenes en el tiempo III32 was shown by The Elkon Gallery of New York in the exhibition La belleza y la fuerza. This canvas belonged to the series of the same name that Bejarano had begun in 1997 and retaken the same year of the New York show. Martí emerged again the Agustín Bejarano’s discourse with unstoppable strength, assumed from a position that differed from what had previously been made in painting and engraving. If in the beginning his allusions to the Apostle had stopped in his imaginary, in the political figure that he was and in the citizen with whom the artist had “shared” his intimacy, now he was the hero that was being born anew from a praising glance of the sacred and epic, through the praise of his exceptional spirituality. The metaphor acquired a greater tropological height in the handling of the mythic stature of the man who has given his own myth enough reasons to exist.
All that Bejarano had done up to that moment was consciously filtered until turning it into a heritage within this series. The plastic resources allowed the draftsman to be seen at certain moments, but the greatest echo was obtained by the painter in the modelling of his figuration. The intentional recurrence to the ochres, sepias and soil-like colors with constant changes of their intensities, not only in the backgrounds but in the whole surface of the canvases, together with ostentatious crazing (obtained from the effects of pelvina applied to the canvases)33 and glazed surfaces underlined the textural effects and had the purpose on one side of reinforcing the passing of time, and on the other of underlining the strength of the soil-man link. The symbolic value contributed by other elements sought to “link man to everything he is, has been and will be, and not just with a passing fashion.”34
Bejarano established in his series a critical distance with the conventions of the heroic portraits. The various Martí that inhabited his works did not belong in pedestals. He avoided solemnity to recreate in the affection toward the man that history has hardened, driving him away from the common man. The artist animated in these portraits a painting that meditated on ideas, a sensibility, ethics: those of a unique (not perfect), paradigmatic man, given to the practice of sacrifice, justice, love and tenderness. A man devoted to the liberation of his country, concerned at the same time with the destiny of America, with ideas that were valid for all of mankind. A man who was always above his loneliness, his anguish and the physical fragility of his body. Bejarano sought to achieve images of that so peculiar man that would transcend the local reference. He achieved it in a way that was similar to the strategy suggested by Marguerite Yourcenar, who had stated: “One takes the place of the evoked one; one is then in the face of a unique reality, the reality of that man, at that moment, in that place, and following that direction one reaches the human and universal elements better.”35
In Imágenes en el tiempo, all the usual requirements for the representation of historical personalities were omitted. It was the essence of the figure and not the physical resemblance with the character that was essential. The body was many times fragmented to support the symbolic element. Bejarano recreated particularly the tropological thickness that made it possible to achieve Martí’s exceptional spirituality, while he praised his own visions of the Apostle. He pointed to the immanence of his visionary and illuminating ideas and to his actions. That is why many times he turned him into a winged being, the equivalence of the messenger, the anticipator, the guide, with the strength of a hummingbird steady in the flowing of time. For that reason his figure appeared on scaffolds and ladders, halfway between dreams and the harshness of reality, between the utopias and the journey required to make them come true. Martí as a sculptor of thought, a traveller with the force of the wind against him. That big hand of his was also there, the instrument of the maker, of the giver. His body, the soil. His body, a fountain.
Memory –the one that germinates, as Cintio Vitier would phrase it– was the subterfuge and part of the process through which Bejarano brought him back again. That was how each one of those Martí was a segment of the story of his image, made of a substance that endures time, that vividly exceeds it.36
It was in commitment with the spirituality that flowed from Imágenes en el tiempo and from within it, and mixed at a time when a final definition was still difficult and hasty that Agustín Bejarano’s most recent series, named Los ritos del silencio37 was defined. In it, time continues to be a premise, a clause of legitimacy, although his approach now differs from the meaning granted to it by the artist in previous works. If with it Bejarano allowed the memory to recreate his dramaturgy– his story– and after assuming it he succeeded in reaching certain states of permanence, the new series came to be an immediate now or, if one chooses it, a present that denounces in its instantaneousness the drama of human existence, that is destroyed in its own immediacy.
In Los ritos… there is a man, undoubtedly portrayed, but in the way that Bejarano assumes this fact. His portraits deconstruct the genre and at the same time the subject of the representation. After a generic abstraction, man emerges non-differentiated. Each piece creates metaphors of longings, needs, anguishes, loneliness, dreams and desires. In principle, Bejarano does not claim to be relieved from any of these scourges, but he states and denounces them, he leaves evidence of his perpetuity while he dissects the spirit of the present from the very medulla. The aridness overflows what could be benevolent landscapes and they are places of vociferous sterility. On the border of his craters and abysses man meditates, he suffers on his knees.
Bejarano has used large, small and medium formats in these ceremonies related with silence. The representations refer to “small” beings (which seem to bear the full weight of the fate of mankind), dressed up with hats and frequently winged, placed on top of scaffolds and ladders, to establish in addition an intimate relationship with the desolated and austere “landscapes” –of philosophical origin close to Zen– in which he turned craters and abysses, city shadows, and spectral towns with skinny trees into routine.
Not in the least classic are the places he takes us to,38 with the skill of a surgeon, when he makes a big cut to show us some problems that suffocate contemporary society: the lack of communication, the loneliness and the fragility and impotence of man today in the face of the huge conflicts that gravitate upon him.
These landscapes of his, which are born of unquestionably abstract depths, expand in sepias, pale blues, sienna, ochre in their most mythical intensities, with pastel greens, very dark olives, whites of abundant foggy density and one or another warm touch of synthetic orange or pale rose. They emerge in the material, in more moderate crazings and in the effects of paper pasted and worked upon on the canvas surfaces;39 suggestive to the hand as if they were a different writing made more for the touch of the soul than for the distraction of the eye, together with other zones worn down by the bite of time, as impartial witness of nature and human essence, moulded in very diverse formats, including circular ones.
All this becomes part of the somewhat unearthly and desolated atmosphere in which his characters calm their spirit, absorbed in an omnipotent, higher force that lies above them. A force that some would call fate, but which is simply the challenge of existence expressed in the dispute that takes place between silence and emptiness.
These works do not emerge, however, from mythical or mystical sources, but from the flow of everyday life. Particularly meaningful is the election of humble and common beings in the midst of their daily vicissitudes with the crudeness of the absent voice; a force to safeguard the true pain of the simulation and the weakness that is sometimes present in its confession. These apparently short men, not fortuitously placed by Bejarano in his landscapes, are the tense vision of human drama, of the struggle for dreams, hope, passion, for every fragment of life that struggles between the limits imposed by circumstances. Men who are giants no matter under what circumstances, searching themselves.
On the other hand, if Agustín Bejarano shows us life as a dawning or sunset, in darkness or with all the blinding light of noon, it is because that life still is not dead; it beats and vibrates stealthily, slyly, in prison and under the weight of silence. Of that silence that may be simply itself, or earnest if it belongs to those who are silenced. These rites are a test of strength and have a sacred height that demands no mercy; they are a sign of depression but under no circumstance of defeat. That is why he chose men that were not marked by frivolity, pure in their very essence and in that of their work (fishers, peasants or Utopians), men who carry their truths on their back and even from profanes search for pity in the inner light, in meditation, letting time go by, whether sitting on ramshackle piers, rustic scaffolds, through the unpredictable water current, in the sea, in the river or in dreams.
The silence they carry annuls weeping, rage, sadness, fury, frustration, hatred, and saves the roar inside until it can silence it and find the adequate trail for its crossroads. That is why the majority of the paintings are ordered from a central point; chaos has no place in these landscapes, in these meditations of men that remain silent but search while they temporarily devote or abandon themselves to nature.
His characters in that environment are owners of a silence that seeks to understand the secret thread of their lives driven to limits, in such a way that they may stop being passive actors of a destiny to become masters of their own lives and take the first step to change the course of things so that everything becomes different from how it seems to have been planned, knowing beforehand that the only way to transform the world is to start the change in oneself.
These landscapes are the place of communion for people who are trying to wake up, to leave behind all doubts about themselves, to resist the most decisive tensions in order to find the lighting of the own conscience. Here are undoubtedly their intimate adventures and journeys. Inside each chest is a sustained prayer. That is why I distinguish the actors of Los ritos del silencio as worshippers –allow me to call them that– who pay tribute to silence, but nevertheless remain eager to find answers.
Men and places converge in the infiniteness of a nature that is more symbolic than naturalist and in addition vast, plentiful in its luminous effects or in the densities of its darkness. The act of silence is the rite, and the universe, its landscape. Its copulation makes everything overflow, annulling the emptiness and the mind of those who remain silent. It becomes a window between the outside and the inside. At that very moment, the inner beast that at one time has possessed us all is defeated.
As if he followed the same road, in the coming and going, peeping at certain zones that are strange to the great story, Bejarano shows us peripheral places that are nevertheless essential to the social body, because “in the minimum, in the triviality of usage, in the loneliness of nights, there, in the brief and persistent impotence, there, precisely in the non-historical world, in the world of ephemeral protagonists, we find answers (…) A landscape is a landscape, without metaphors or similes, but a feeling becomes a sentence, becomes the truth.”40 This turns the anonymous into far-reaching, because it is speaking to us of “that enormous mass that surrounds and forms us and has no words. It is part of the enigma, and silent is the very matter of our nature. Words that are a turning into, that hold on in the real world because they contain it, because they imagine it, turn it into a myth, a symbol, a revived word.”41
But the artist is not satisfied with what he has made and goes beyond those unsuspected red or silver flowers of the beginning of the series that bewildered many since they first appeared in Imágenes en el tiempo. A unique shower of roses falling upon the darkness was the beginning, then came the abysses and craters, piers, boats, the landscapes of loneliness with their rustic scaffolds, his ladders to nowhere, the mute pianos, the spectral and sterile buildings, the aggressive airplanes. The formerly recreated island suddenly became a tiny spectre emerging from the waters, sole, unique. In it, a man on his horse has nothing but that landscape and his own reflection in the water, if he has one. “Each island is a small world in itself, a small universe in miniature,”42 and each one of the men is also an island. An island with its lightness or its weight, and with its dilemmas.
All articulated elements are part of a drama, of the deep existential conflict of mankind, of the permanent anxiety and restlessness that accompany it. Man states his vulnerability and his fear of that which can destroy him, observing many things in the midst of so much insecurity. That man lives with the certainty of the finiteness of life, but is eager to discover beyond it: how far could the human being reach and if ever that frontier of oneself could be transcended, how one could escape alienation.
Los ritos del silencio is the moment of greatest synthesis and austerity in his work, a space in which all the recurrence to the anthropological memory extends itself, turning the subject –which some years ago served as pretext to the critics to regard him as someone who could not deprive himself of his peasant origin– into a topic that extends its regional borders to expand into universal boundaries without disregarding its birthplace and origin. His pictorial action upon them has been refined and becomes limpid, austere, simple. The protagonists are peripheral men, inhabitants of ghettos almost in extinction, hardly whispering otherness.
To penetrate the network of Agustín Bejarano’s poetics presupposes not taking into consideration hastily his multiple transits, not erring in separating series and stages, because the violence of abruptness is not present in his discourse, only a peculiar metamorphosis and a continuous mixing that take him from one place to another with a conceptual and morphological coherence signed by the patrimony of his own exercise. The exercise of an ever progressive poetics in which his draftsman’s spirit and his fidelity to abstraction are never absent, even within constant modulations that include having achieved a distinctive language to express himself in engraving and another one to do it in painting, although there may be frequent debates between one and the other and the fact that they should be regarded as the wholeness that they are.
In order to be able to make an adequate judgement of the work produced by Bejarano, it is necessary to leave aside any stereotyped outlook that refers only to that part of his work that has to do with the constant formal mobility and change in its most superficial values. To apprehend his work means going beyond the usual experiment and the decontamination of what has been established as a cliché. That enables the discovery of a flow of both conceptual and morphologic continuities in the substrate, in its framework and sometimes also on the very surface of his making, whose meaning lies in the mortar of history seen from a self-referential perspective, like a journey that takes him to penetrate what is private (or intimate) but always in communion with the social context. From that starting point one may suspect memory as a subterfuge that compels him, following a complex process, to create an identity, a sense of belonging that is not restricted to its own milieu but transcends it.
In a semi-abstract space of nature in which figurative elements have been inserted, he places man as center of the universe and then assumes the testimony of the relationship between that man and his context.
The living experience, daily life and the environment are the nourishing substances of his works, but without turning the local element into a limit. His multiple forms of assuming them have gradually endowed his symbolic production with the capacity to transcend the time and space in which they were created. Even from the inside of a certain social and human nature, he refers us to themes of universal meaning. The artist has succeeded in carrying ahead, in the midst of very diverse proposals, an aesthetic ideology without fissures, in his search of what has been planted in the group. He has made us see again Martí’s feeling of the earth as world, of the earth as the whole of mankind.
The artist cannot escape today’s convulsing society and in its multiple juxtapositions as to times and memories of very diverse natures –where figuration and abstraction or semi-abstraction have been formal resources to support his judgement on today’s contradiction between progress and tradition by the visible marks they leave in the social formation –he has preferred not to be accomplice of a contemporary world where true equity is scarce in order to draw the existential crisis of “modern man” and his abandonment out of anonymity.
This ecumenical man that Bejarano has decided to show in his abandonment has crossed and exceeded his own limits through prayer, request and meditation while silence is reiterated as echo. Something intense and unmentionable arrives, falls, invades with its density the place reserved to that voice, which would desperately like to be heard. These are the revelations toward which silence drives us. A strong rainfall may arrive, but time is something else. A fine drizzle is present in the passing of time. Time waits impassive. The weight is inside the man’s chest, suffocating him; nothing breaks it, nothing frees it; a hat is his only protection. Man yesterday, today. Always under the eternal rain of days.
1. Stefania Mosca, “Memoria y narrative,” in El suplicio de los tiempos, Collection of essays Los Malos Salvajes (Venezuela: Fundación Esta Tierra de Gracia, 1999), 168.
2. Kate, calcography of 1000 x 2000 mm alluded in its title (and in its graphic contents) a devastating hurricane of the same name that scourged Cuba in 1985.
3. The transgressions with regard to engraving had begun already some time earlier. At the National Meeting on Engraving in 1983, Ricardo Rodríguez Brey had obtained a mention, but decidedly the 1987 meeting meant a total rupture of the stereotypes in vogue as to engraving, given the morphologies and concepts of the works put together there in absolute divertimento, including Lázaro Saavedra’s mockery as to the paralysis that affected engraving and many engravers. His works consisted solely of impressions of the seal of a cracker factory, underneath which one could read titles such as: Mujer encuera (Naked woman) or Los pollitos dicen pío pío (The chicks say peep-peep), just to mention two examples.
4. The sculptural installation Vida, from 1989 (calcography and acetate, 2000 x 5000 mm) in which a voluminous vulva hybridated with other elements on relief seemed to jump upon us, is one of the most outstanding examples of the monumentality, force and experimentation of his engravings of those days, together with other collographies such as Una canción de amor para este mundo, 1989 (4440 x 4910 mm) and Estado 0, 1989 (2220 x 2880 mm) among others.
5. In 1989, Agustín Bejarano graduated from the specialty of Engraving at the Higher Institute of Art in Havana and inaugurated in his hometown the Engraving Workshop of Camagüey, which he directed for the next two years.
6. All large-format engravings such as the ones mentioned previously, together with Adiós cielo azul (calcography and collography, 1988, 2220 x 2800), Un universo para dos (collography and acetate, 1989, 1890 x 4960 mm) and El tiempo es un sol sin brillo (diptych, collography and plastic, 1880 x 1045 mm). All of them were part of the exhibition Huracanes. In all these engravings he used a mixture of techniques that allowed him to obtain a greater dimension in his works and transcend the bi-dimension (calcography and collography) as well as the work on textural surfaces achieved from the contributions made in his conception by acetate and other non-conventional materials in the field of engraving. Calcographies in which, for example, he used different procedures such as etching, watery ink and the dry point.
7. The kind of pieces I refer to corresponds to the first part of his series Nidando en el jardín de miel, completed between 1989 and 1991. His work in this series was achieved with numerous techniques, going from serigraphy, collographies, tempera on cardboard and mixed technique, in paintings that, without renouncing to abstraction, begin to enter a neo-expressionist field and turn their glance to privacy life and milieu.
8. Those strokes were drawn on the plastic melted on the surfaces using instruments conceived for the accurate and delicate welding of electronic equipment.
9. Pieces from the series Nidando en el jardín de miel, collographies exhibited in Corte final: La fuente blanca (diptych, 1991, 930 x 5520 mm) and Universos paralelos (1991, 2760 x 930 mm). From this first period of Agustín Bejaranos’s work, the National Fine Arts Museum of Cuba treasures the collographies Kate and Mundo de cristal, both from 1987, and Nacer o existir en tu imperio, from 1991.
10. The series Rituales, although it was not included in the exhibition Corte final, was created during the same period of the already classical collographies from 1991 belonging to Nidando cerca del jardín de miel. Rituales, in turn, did not exceed twelve pieces, all in 145 x 140 cm format. This series approached figuration somewhat more and continued the association with eroticism, initiating a closer communication between man and the earth as a mother, understanding that man as mediator between heaven and earth, who participates in a relation created with magic and also with mysticism. It was totally made by using mixed technique, through multiple procedures that made it possible to recreate certain textures and a careful balance in the intensity of colors. It was only in April 2004 that the works of this series were first exhibited, at the Art Gallery of Ciego de Ávila, in Cuba. Among them stand out Susto, Semblanza oculta, El hijo del sol and Manantial mágico.
11. Brisas del alma, Colografías de Agustín Bejarano was exhibited at the Center for the Development of the Visual Arts in Havana, in April 1994. The show totaled 14 engravings on plastic (the majority of them measuring 1200 x 800 mm), made in 1993. The title of the exhibition put in evidence the doubts in the artistic milieu as to the technique employed by the artist at the time, apparently in an exclusive way and perhaps also for the first time in our environment. The large group of engravings belonging to Brisas del alma were gradually presented in public afterwards in several exhibitions.
12. The title of that exhibition at Galería Habana in 1994 is the name of one of the pieces include in it. Tierra fértil (1993, oil/canvas, 130 x 151 cm) was José Martí’s body turned into an island, from which Cuba (represented as an explicit map) nourished.
13. During 1994, Agustín Bejarano, who had already presented two solo shows –one of engravings with the series Brisas del alma and another one of paintings at Galería Habana called Tierra fértil– found a common point between both when he fulfilled the assignment made with a view to the group exhibition of Cuban artists Los dados de medianoche, collateral to the 5th Havana Biennial, cured that same year by specialists of the Center for the Development of the Visual Arts. He had been requested engravings, and complying with the requirements of said show he presented a group that was a continuation of the line he had already reached in engraving, but which included Martí as protagonist (an aspect that was more explicit in his painting in those days). The result of this assignment was a thematic link between his painting and the engravings he made: Patriotismo ecológico, Tropical electric bohío, El emprendedor and Ecología terapéutica nacional, although only the first three were ready to be shown in the exhibition.
14. About the traces of the Cuban Apostle in the work of Agustín Bejarano, see, by Caridad Blanco: “Nidando en la memoria: Los Martí de Bejarano,” Artecubano, no. 1, 2003, 46-51.
15. The prize obtained in 1995 at the XI Biennial of Latin American and Caribbean Engraving in San Juan, Puerto Rico was granted to the piece Torre de merengue tropical made that same year (1993, engraving/plastic, 1090 x 695 mm) belonging to the series Brisas del alma. The reproduction of this work in the U.S. magazine Artnews resulted in a promotion of this work; such an action was repeated by the magazine in 1997 with the painting La isla oscura.
16. It should be underlined that for the purpose of this work I have also used as references the numerous transitional works that mark the artist’s opening and closing of each one of his series (many of which have never been exhibited), but the particular study of each one of them would cast a shadow upon the sketch made in this article about a symbolical and particularly extensive production and would turn its guiding line into something intricate.
17. Bejarano’s first exhibition in Mexico was precisely in Monterrey. His engravings were seen at the exhibition hall “Manuel Rodríguez Lozano,” Centro Cultural de Arte, A.C., during the Salon of Graphics and Originals on Paper held in that city in 1995.
18. Tierra húmeda was made between 1996 and 1997. Part of it was exhibited for the first time at the Center for the Development of the Visual Arts in Havana in August 1996, and later at Lausín & Blasco in Zaragoza, Spain, 1999.
19. José Martí, “Ciegos y desleales,” Patria, January 28, 1893.
20. José Martí, “Vengo a darte Patria. Puerto Rico y Cuba,” Patria, June 11, 1892.
21. The works of Agustín Bejarano as part of the exhibition Rostros de la memoria filled one of the large pavilions of the Morro fortress during the 6th Havana Biennial. He was one of the 18 Cuban artists selected by the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center to represent Cuba in that edition of the Biennial and illustrate with their works multiple aspects of the theme chosen for that occasion. The pieces that represented him were part of the series Tierra húmeda, all in mixed technique on canvas in 1996: Van cayendo (200 x 270 cm), Revelaciones de un profeta (200 x 240 cm), Surcos prendidos (200 x 240 cm), and Surcador (185 x 250 cm). The last one of these works is part of the collection of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center.
22. Marea baja was a series also created in 1997 and presented that same year at Nina Menocal Gallery in Mexico.
23. At a later date, the piece Saltamontes represented Agustín Bejarano at the Miami Art Fair, U.S.A., 1998.
24. It should be pointed out that Sangre de héroe and Caminante americano, which belong to this series, were the most recent antecedent of Imágenes en el tiempo, made in 2002 and totally inspired in the spirituality and the figure of José Martí, Apostle of Cuba.
25. Also in this series there are other characters portrayed in the way in which Bejarano has instrumented the genre: El jardinero, El creisi, El retador de alturas and El simulador.
26. Such far-reaching selection of his engravings had still not been presented in Cuba. This occurred, both in volume and rank, in 2004 with the exhibition La aguja mágica at the gallery Fidelio Ponce de León of Convento del Carmen, in his native Camagüey, with works of his from 1993 to 1998. The series Angelotes had been previously presented at Galería Habana in 1998.
27. The series Las coquetas is made up of ten works of 1100 x 740 mm each, made in 1998.
28. Starting with the series Las coquetas, it became customary in this artist to name each work with Roman numerals, which he did in the case of Paisaje y naturaleza muerta, Anunciación, Imágenes en el tiempo and Los ritos del silencio. This did not happen with Cabezas mágicas, since its peculiarities demanded a precise denomination in each case. According to this, whenever necessary I will refer to the number naming the work I am interested in underlining.
29. Paisaje y naturaleza muerta was made almost completely in 1999. After that, two exhibitions took place: one at Nina Menocal Gallery in Mexico entitled Agustín Bejarano. Pinturas y grabados (which also presented all the works belonging to Las coquetas and some of the Angelotes) and another one in La Acacia Gallery in Havana, bearing the same name of the new series and which, just like the exhibition in Mexico, was accompanied by pieces belonging to other series. Both exhibitions took place also in 1999.
30. Agustín Bejarano began to paint Anunciaciones in 1999 and continued it until 2001. This series was not much seen in Cuba. Only a small sample of it was presented at the Gallery Pequeño Espacio, of the National Fine Arts Council, as collateral exhibition during the 7th Havana Biennial in 2000.
31. This is illustrated with Business Man, Metamorfeo, El conquistador, El haragán or El Camaleón, specimens that both he (and we) very often meet in our daily life. The majority of the characters transcend the trivialization of existence, and their substance tends more to tropology and even reach the status of an allegory, as in the cases of La montaña humana, La visión, Escarbador, Brujero, Instinto salvaje or La sombra, pieces whose meaning expands in spite of the “layers” that hide their true dimension.
32. Latin American Art. La belleza y la fuerza, The Elkon Gallery, Inc., New York, April – June 2001. Agustín Bejarano was the youngest artist presented there, together with another 16 painters, among them Diego Rivera, Wifredo Lam, Roberto Matta, Rufino Tamayo and Fernando Botero.
33. Pelvina is apparently the trade name of a substance similar to kaolin.
34. Matthieu Galey, Con los ojos bien abiertos: conversaciones con Marguerite Yourcenar (Buenos Aires: EMECE Editores S.A., 1982), 39.
35. op. cit., 58.
36. From the series Imágenes en el tiempo, those that best illustrate what has been previously mentioned in the text bear numbers: IV, V, VI, VIII, XV, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXX and XXXII.
37. The series Los ritos del silencio, the most extensive up to the present of those painted by the artist, was presented for the first time in a solo show by Bejarano in 2003, collateral to the 8th Havana Biennial at the Gallery Servando in Havana. In 2004 it was also exhibited at Gallery Villa Manuela of the National Association of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) under the title Meditaciones and as Ecos at the Nina Menocal Gallery in Mexico. Works from this series were also at the Contemporary Art Fair of Palm Beach, Florida, at the exhibition 9 artistas contemporáneos, at the Principality of Monaco, Monte Carlo, in 2005, and at the National Fine Arts Museum of Cuba in 2006.
38. What I state about Los ritos del silencio reaches its highest expression, in my opinion, in a large number of works that should be mentioned here: from the works of 2003, the ones bearing numbers I, II, V, VIII, IX, X, XVI and LXI. From 2004: CVII, CXX, CXI, CXXIII, CXXV, CXXXVII, CXXXVIII, CL, CLIII, CLXVII and LXXXV and, from 2005, among which are several mixed techniques (including pasted and manipulated papers): CCXIII, CCXVI, CCXIX, CCXXI, CCXXII, CCXXXI and CCXXXII.
39. The use of manufactured paper began in 2005, once the artist learned of Iván Martínez’ production in Las Terrazas, Pinar del Río. He was really interested in the papers that Martínez discarded as defective. After the artisan saw the textures and manipulations made by Agustín Bejarano with the leftovers, together they began to prepare a type of non-conventional paper according to the requirements of the works. This conditioned the appearance of the mixed technique in Los ritos del silencio (up to that moment he only used acrylic and pelvina to achieve the textures and crazings, with variable intensity). In this new experiment, the papers are pasted with a rice paste over the canvases. After they dry, the artist begins to tear and manipulate them. If necessary, he humidifies them again to continue crushing them and thus deteriorating their original qualities. The eventually torn-off material is placed again in the form of mounds and heaps.
40. Stefania Mosca, “A ras de lo cotidiano,” op. cit., 117.