Nicholas Socrates 2009 Urban Design: Art City Society Public Art in Relation to the Cuban LawCompared to the old European civilizations, Cuban art developed ina short space of time. This time constriction created specificcharacteristics which were strongly influenced by successive andsometimes superimposed trends emanating from the great culturalmetropolises. In that desolate cultural panorama, it was inevitablethat self-taught artists as well as those who received academictraining would build on European artistic traditions, fundamentallythose of Spain, France and Italy; and later those of the UnitedStates. When Spanish control of the island ended in 1899, theartistic environment offered an encouraging panorama, and severalacademically trained painters, whether romanticists, realists or lateimpressionists, left an excellent legacy for subsequent generations.As Cuban artists – part of the intellectual movement that played amajor part in Cuban and Latin American culture – moved into the20th century, experiencing a maturation of their own sense ofidentity and gaining from the heritage of the fin-de-siècle masters,the islands art attained its first true authenticity. The 1920s,considered by the most perceptive intellectuals of the period as"critical," signified a new stage in the history of Cuban culture. Atthat time, its sources of inspiration were fundamentally the Parisschool and the renewal movement that gave birth to the MexicanRevolution of 1910. We can say that from that moment on until thisday, Cuban painting has been an integral part of the most modernuniversal art trends.Within Cuban art as a whole, rural and urban landscapes have beena recurrent theme in the countrys eastern region. Indeed, thistheme is a valid expression of self-recognition, of which the artistswere not always aware. This has been a sustained although variedand changing theme, marked by light that is filtered or explosive;vegetation that is steamy and exuberant, voluptuous and extremelysensual, or chaste and serene. These landscapes may reflect lovelyrural scenes, corners of the city, or a brilliant urban synthesismarked by colonial tiled roofs or poetic combinations of geometric
pieces. Any viewpoint assumed by the artist speaks to us, above all,of a manifest desire to portray physical surroundings as a way toreevaluate oneself, to validate an existential experience throughimages, thereby perpetuating it and preserving it from the ravagesof time and of humankind itself.The tradition of landscape painting dates back to the 19th centurywith the work of José Joaquín Tejada Revilla (1867-1943), born inSantiago de Cuba, where he lived throughout his life except forsporadic trips abroad. Tejada constitutes a milestone in the citysart history, more because of his skills than because of the paintingshe produced.Juan Emilio and Rodolfo Hernández Giro, brothers born 20 yearsafter Tejada, painted the natural setting surrounding them withgreat precision. "Its impossible to be a painter here and not paintlandscapes," Rodolfo stated. "Orientes landscape is our pride. Themountains look closer than they really are, and one needs to havebeen born here or to have lived here for many years to know howto place them in their proper perspective."In the mid-20th century, Santiagos prodigious art scene wasgraced with numerous artists who followed the path forged by themasters, who simultaneously brought their own originality to bear.The art of cityscapes and landscapes achieved a level ofextraordinary virtuosity on the canvases of Antonio Ferrer Cabello,José Julián Aguilera Vicente and Miguel Angel Botalín, amongothers. They were succeeded by a group of landscape painters,including Danis Montero Ortega and Eddy Ochoa Guzmán, who in1995 founded the ECOART ecological project.The most recent generation of painters from Santiago de Cuba,whose focus has not been landscape painting, has sparkedcontroversy in the local art community. Almost all of these youngpeople have had years of formal training, at the National Art School(ENA), the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), provincial schools, artinstructors schools and other institutions. They have acquiredknowledge about the most varied and the latest artistic trends, andthey have developed extremely personal styles linked to Cuban andCaribbean life. This essay offers an evaluation and characterizationof their works.Their art, created in the 80s and 90s, constitutes a response tosome principles of the most conservative artists and an attempt tobreak with an attitude that some of them have called contemplative
and mimetic, an attempt to recreate reality rather than to questionit. These young artists have searched for a language that, withoutfacile accommodation, clearly defines their intention to make thatquestioning the focus without which their work would beincomprehensible. That is why their themes reach far beyond artitself; they transcend or explore problems of humans and theirbehavior; their internal dialogue and self-awareness, and theirrelationship with their habitat, both social and natural. Their artoften challenges facets of society and sarcastically criticizesselfishness, deceit, hypocrisy and many other "sins." On occasionsthey irritate or hurt the onlooker, so that the latter will react andactively take sides. They call everything or almost everything intoquestion, even though they dont always achieve their objectives.Their codes have diverse levels of complexity.There is true philosophical reflection in this trend. Every artisticaction or form is well studied and backed up by a "why," inviting thepublics response. Due to this artistic involvement with the mostdifficult, contradictory and profound facets of reality, the semanticforce becomes metaphorical and shapes take on a symbolic valuewhich often increases, depending on the context in which the viewerplaces them.Sometimes they venture into social commentary, although this isneither the most general nor the only expressive form utilized.There is a somewhat generalized tendency toward the grotesque, inwhich artistic elements and their treatment lend an aggressive noteto the work. Each painter confronts the artistic condition in his orher own way. Some are very concerned about form and, despitesome variation, the finishing touches of their work are an importantrequisite. Others, however, are not very interested in this aspect ofthe work, concentrating on the theme under discussion or ahumanistic analysis of existential problems.The youngest artists are attracted to social satire, often employingclear and precise iconographic language, while others prefer aunsettling discourse aimed at eliciting a reaction on the part of thepublic. They utilize elements of kitsch, choosing certain images thatfunction as expressions of mass culture and often make very strongstatements.The artwork of these young people fits harmoniously into thenational art scene, and – due to its contemporary nature – on thelocal level it is the expression of artistic renovation.
The 1980s was the decade when several generations of artistsconverged, resulting in a process of rupture and simultaneouscontinuity: the young graduates of the ISA – and more recently,those who come out of the provincial art schools – infusedinnovative features into a well-established artistic production, whilethe older artists (who in their time played a revolutionary andtransforming role) maintained their traditional forms of expression.In many cases a natural process of creative maturity producedgradual modifications.This younger generation, struggling throughout the country for itsplace in the Cuban art world and seeking its own expressive codes,sprung up in the islands eastern region in late 1988; throughoutthe 90s and to the present day it has developed its own discourse.Within this panorama, in recent years a generation that emerged indifficult times is coming into its full maturity and its production ismore visible than ever, striving for public recognition. In the 90sthey began to question society openly, not only in two-dimensionalart, but also in highly conceptual installations. They also expressconcern for our worlds problems and the environment, with clearlystated ecological themes. At a time when all reasonable peoplerecognize the need to heal the Earths wounds before its too late,these artists have set their gaze on the threat to all life on ourplanet.