Butterflies Talking to Time
By Eva del Llano
Angel Leon Valiente’s work has always maintained a special interest in the exploration of emotions and personal conflicts, which are extended to the viewer’s sensibility through the creation of poetic environments, with motifs and signs that he makes his own. Those who follow his work closely can identify the keys to his inherent language, where the search for the discursive possibilities of each motif that captures and inspires him can be observed.
In his creation, his concern for time has always been present, vibrant in the form of nostalgia on many occasions. However, in his recent work, he has become involved with it in a different way. In his new works, this interest is accentuated and made visible through other elements. At first glance, one notices the sepia coloration, which evokes the appearance of an old document. The color has disappeared and his poetics has leaned towards a neutral aspect that is interested in creating frictions between different visual relations. These interactions occur in a particular way, with the use of references and suggestive anachronistic games: a cartoon, a family photo, classic images of canonical art history, as well as other references of his own, which speak to the artist and those of his context, such as the toy he places in some scenes.
Appropriation is identified as a creative operation; for example, Freedom Leading the People, an image so impregnated in our retina, acquires another meaning in Reconquista (Reconquest), where from its libertarian sense it dialogues with the artist’s present. It becomes a very powerful and sincere image in relation to the reality of his country –which is ours–; also by associations that seem playful as in Steamboat Willie where he places the theme of the shipwreck from the appropriation of Rembrandt’s work, in a certain counterpoint with the jovial tone of Mickey’s cartoon. But the jovial has other readings, it is Mickey who steers the ship, another generation, and the shipwreck must take place on another island.
Thus, in the midst of the new keys that Angel uses, his latest series has the butterfly as a recurring motif: the butterfly with broken and worn wings, an accumulation of dead butterflies, the insect associated with destruction and death as well as transformation. It is also a reference to an understanding of time, which dies and is reborn.
There is also a sense of redemption. In his Diptych Lost Generation, the typical family photo where everyone gathers at the back of the table with the birthday child in the center, constitutes a captured instant that gathers so many lives and decisions, different destinies for each one of the faces that appear in the photograph. The lost hope of a generation that believed. The generational theme is evidently present in Angel’s new works. In Los de ninguna parte (Those From Nowhere) or Limbo, he takes a sensitive look at those elderly people who walk the streets, neglected by society, displaced from their rhythm, while at the same time alluding to an aging country.
His sadness for certain scenarios is manifested in his work. In addition, he draws on events of his context, which continues to affect him materially and emotionally. Memoria medieval (Medieval Memory) associates the face of Botticelli’s Venus with the wooden house, the sense of birth is undoubtedly present, in addition to the theme of the well-known Renaissance work by the presence of the house as a symbol of its roots. The face of the Venus adds sweetness to the image, it becomes a scene of true emotional bond with her people.
It is a discourse of the artist’s confrontation with the world, in which he shows and shares his individuality and the way in which his environment affects him. Thus, in his recent work a certain anguish is perceived, which takes the form of nostalgia and rebellion. It feels very personal, like his protected space of catharsis, where he pours out his passions and desires. Art, porous, which interprets and transforms reality, is perceived in his work as a living form, affected by the artist’s own transformation and the causes that move and disturb him.
Finally, I reserve the last lines for reasons that are close to me, where my ideas and my skin are involved. We are both Cubans, contemporaries, and beyond his motives, I inevitably relate his pieces to common motives. The world in crisis, a war, Cuba beaten by an inept, corrupt and abusive government, migration, frustration, nostalgia… The butterfly as transformation speaks from many places and its search in time wants to find strength there, in its power, in its possibility. Angel carries the past with him, it speaks to him, it weighs on him and drives him, the present is uncertainty and creation at all costs and in all senses; the future is hope.