When I met Carlos Quintana in 1991, I had the impression that he was a hectic man. His work appeared to me as an unstoppable extension of his inner world and emotions. In those days I regarded with amazement the insufficiency of both paper and cardboard to stop his gesture. The walls of his small apartment were a major domain and to them he moved his passion and ravings, a habit he still has not lost. That huge collage on the partition walls of his place was full of narratives and told one story: his own.
Some of those who have written about Carlos Quintana ignore, and others perhaps prefer to forget that in 1989 the artist was drawing comics. He first made them on what we once called “Chinese paper” (India paper).1 On that ordinary and modest paper the artist drew the pictures of some of the most unusual stories I had ever seen. Then he started drawing them on cardboard.2 Each drawing was a small, autonomous picture that told certain stories still unknown to me in a very peculiar and at times aggressive manner. I had received a repressive and prudish education that I had not succeeded in getting definitely rid of, and precisely in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s I began to gain conscience of that somewhat underground world, of a different reality whose doors Carlos Quintana also began to open for me.
His chronicles were those of inconvenience. Have a hidden and secret Havana, patrimony of many and non-existing for others. Leaving behind the orthodox and coherent dialogue of conventional comic strips, he meditated about dreams and ambitions. He uncovered attitudes like hypocrisy, opportunism, violence, and in some cases expressed himself with truthful cynicism (as a testimony) with a marginal language spoken by his characters, while he lucubrated about our right to be listened to although we may have a different opinion. On the other hand, he defended the opinion that appearance is not what defines us, and also commented specifically on that excluding machismo suffered by our society.3
Already in those days it was common to perceive in his works that informality in the application of inks (so much commented along his whole creation), and his draftsman’s hand at times was more accurate and insinuating and at others, on the contrary, the line showed the greatest possible vigor in the midst of surfaces apparently carelessly stained. Toward 1990 his works as a painter began to become known and his characters born in the comics became protagonists of his oil paintings: the bald or shaved ones, the ones with long noses and the male and female figures with dogs’ or wolves’ heads, indistinctly.
His art, from the very beginning, was a zone of decompression in which that irrational part we all carry inside appeared naturally, but it also took advantage of the crack allowed by the game to represent without shame the authentic, ambiguous, scatological and obscene as phenomena that cannot be excluded from the substance of art nor can they be excluded from life.
The sensibility of Carlos Quintana is signaled by the inclusiveness inherent to post-modernity. That is one of the reasons why it was necessary to recall his past, to remember it, return it to him after those fifteen years without exhibiting in Cuba since that last time when he appeared in this same exhibition hall of Galería Habana, where he now exposes after a long period in Spain and other places of the world.
The coherent progress of his work (although the work seen in fragments does not allow a glimpse of that coherence) may be perceived if we take some of his exhibitions as referential points: El nuevo clásico de nuevo (Again the new classic) in Ángel Romero Gallery in Madrid, Spain; Con la sal en la lengua (Salt on the tongue), in Gary Nader Gallery in the United States of America; Dibujos y Pinturas (Drawings and paintings), in Jacobo Carpio Atma in Costa Rica; Descabezado (Beheaded) in the Library of Andalusia, in Grenada, Spain, among others. In this way we attend the consummation of a neo-Expressionist painting that went from the representation of lonely figures to groups of growing complexity, like some of those that are now submitted to our consideration.
The nature of his paintings is almost always confusing, and they represent actions that are not to be explained but only sensed. We are surprised by the mystery implicit in the evident symbolism of the pots (or pans) that are common in the practice of the Yoruban religion, and the mixture, or more exactly the crossbreeding with elements of the Oriental religious tradition. Also present are monks, samurais and characters that somehow incarnate Buddha, his ears represented by extremely outstanding lobes. In all this there is a posing related with the beliefs of the artist himself and a universe obviously born of the self-reference.
Instinct is stronger than reason in these paintings, which invade us with the emotions they produce. Azul (Blue) presents its characters of huge, disturbing beaks with deep affection and tenderness similar to the one that has been present in all the history of art in the representation of the Virgin and Child. The mystic atmosphere is also recreated in the peace and quietness transmitted by Samurai durmiendo (Sleeping samurai), while in Ciego Montero, cómo me gustas, cómo te quiero (Ciego Montero, how much I like you, how much I love you) it is the song to the water as element at the service of purification. Meanwhile, Alimentación (Nourishment) is a (re)written piece about a universe where heads ruled, some of them inside pots from which other characters drank. To cover the stage and show a new and sole protagonist holding a pot while a goat (or lamb) enters the body in a spot that puritans would avoid at all costs naming, might be regarded as a mere vulgar event, and it is, however, an act in which a reference to the oblation is achieved with extraordinary synthesis and sui generis manner, a reference to the sacrifice of the animal whose blood nourishes and grants strength and vitality to the being it represents, in a similar way to the exercises practiced in multiple ceremonies of different religious creeds.
Much has been commented about the ambiguity of the characters represented by Carlos Quintana, of their androgyny, a phenomenon that appears more subtly in his present work and also of a totally opposite motivation, in a search that is willing to attain mythical essence. However, I consider it timely to add that from the beginning there was a close link with that change related with the sexual identity of his figures, which registered his own non-conformity, his taste for imposture and the irreverence, the parody and even the well-trodden roads, order, false modesty, hypocrisy. The repositioning of carnival is nothing but a pastiche, and the laughter is annulled; it is not mentally possible, it does not water the public’s mouth to lay bare the circus that every society carries inside and that the artist joyfully deconstructs.
His strokes, more and more vigorous each time, obey his impulses, that strength of fleeting violence conveyed by his hand with sincere expressionist gesture in which there appears at times a discreet breath that reminds us of Francis Bacon.
The works, both paintings and drawings, represent a nowhere. The context of the figures or ensembles is fictional, not specific movements written in the air, his personal, extremely subtle gestures. Thus, he falls with open legs and draws a line in the horizon as if he were a ballerina, a pregnant woman, while an ethereal child drinks from gourd, in Viva Cuba holding jr. We may even think we are hallucinating in the midst of the complexity that is visible in the prodigal figuration of Como me sigan jodiendo me voy pal carajo (If you keep pissing me I’m gonna fock you) or in the presence of Soy la señora de feroz por el tiempo que duran las cosas en el bosque (I’m Mrs. fierce for the time that things last in the woods).
No less attractive are the charcoal drawings. In them there is a frugality that fascinates and impacts. They are a dry blow, essentiality. Their strength is that of the painter who paints by drawing and vice versa. Pure gesture, necromantic call. His dead, his ghosts, go through him, reveal themselves to us, and El arte y la trigueña también (Art and the brunette too). Cinco cabezas (Five heads) is there to prove it, and in addition his monks, his hybrid beings, reconfigured by another nature, as testimony of his multiple trances.
Perhaps for that reason it may be timely to look again at everything exhibited around us with eyes different from those we were carrying, and to stop before the depressed head painted with a strong white line in Estoy extrañándome a mí mismo, pero no hay cráneo (I miss myself, but there is no skull). Perhaps precisely there we might get to know that if Carlos Quintana has been the medium to transmit the dictate of these beings, now that he returns exhausted, again he brings salt on his tongue, because just at the moment in which he has faced that hybrid and sudden laterality, in that brief margin, the wind has blown on his face bringing him back to life.
La Víbora, Havana, at nightfall, December 2, 2005.
Published in the catalog of Carlos Quintana’s exhibition Lateralidad cruzada, Galería Habana, 2006.
1. I am referring specifically to a piece in my collection: Invierno leve (Light winter), 1989, ink and color pencil on vegetal paper, 92 x 66 cm.
2. Prior to drawing comics, Carlos Quintana was dedicated to writing and illustrated his own texts.
3. What has been said is confirmed in the stories Alias “la cosa” (Alias “the thing”), Abstracto (Abstract) both from 1989; Catarro (Catarrh), 1990, and from 1991 Cristo y otros apuntes (Christ and other notes) and Una obra del experto (A work by the expert). All of them are in mixed technique on cardboards of 70 x 50.2 cm. each. To be particularly highlighted is an untitled story from 1990 that is worthy of representing the cartoon vanguard in Cuba in the collection that one day will have to be prepared by the National Fine Arts Museum. This story reaffirms a fragment of a text from the book El Viaje a Hixtlán (The trip to Hixtlán): “Welfare is a condition that should be cultivated, a condition that one should become familiar with in order to look for it.” It is repeated 12 times in the piece, in the equal number of pictures that make it up. What changes are the characters that say the phrase, who represent a wide group of social types that fill the streets of this island.