Antoine Mena and Anxiety
By Andrés Isaac Santana
We all agree that painting is an extremely complex universe that often leads to uneasiness and madness, which makes it at the same time a space of fiction and escape that is, to say the least, fascinating, powerfully seductive.
From this tension, born from the constant principles of the constant search for a language of its own and the reactivation of the medium as a discursive support, emerges an unfathomable landscape of poetics determined to certify their worth and their stamp on the contemporary art scene.
It is in that tessitura in which I presume the current work of Cuban artist Antoine Mena is located. His is a visceral exercise of research, approximation and textures. I say textures because if something seduces me about his work is that condition of palimpsest –impossible to ignore– in which the idea of the legible is fervently discussed. That which we can always reorder according to our certificates of truth, certainty, reason and common resources or operations of thought.
The work of this artist, his surfaces seem to tell us, skips that notion of legibility and literality, with the sole purpose of turning painting into an autonomous language that pulses its own words and feelings beyond stylistic presumptions and labels.
Antoine Mena is a fine dirty man. The latter, which in any case is a compliment, means something like that he is a guy who understands painting as a strictly sexual act in which without pain there is no enjoyment, without tension there is no orgasm, without passion there is no transcendence of emotions and affections. I observe with attention and stillness his pieces and I discover the permanence of a subjectivity that is tormented and sharp, dissident and affirmative, fearful and radical. In all of them dwells a dirtiness, as a mixture, orgiastic superimposition and throbbing delirium, which makes them the object of fascination and bewilderment.
I am not even able to define exactly those pieces that I like more than others, since in all of them I notice the syndrome of the disturbing. In all of them, I insist on this idea, the discourse entails a relative autonomy that rivals the very density of the pictorial. The grotesque, the scatological, the perverted, the sublime, the sexual, the gloomy, the disproportionate, the wrathful, the noble and the human, come together in these epic surfaces that create –by force– a kind of subtextuality that provides keys to recognition and generates broad and contradictory impulses of interpretation.
On another occasion I pointed out that Antoine Mena’s painting is organic, corporeal, vaporous, meaty. In its very thickness and density, in its very defiant corporeality inhabit two dimensions that are paradoxical and contradictory: on the one hand, a kind of caducity and decadence that manage the aura of mystery; on the other hand, a kind of exorbitant contemporaneity that makes them potentially attractive.
It is, in his case, a visuality that operates in the field of a manifest tension: the sublimation of pictorial matter as the maximum expression of enjoyment, on the one hand; on the other, the exorcization of the demons that play in the dark cavities of the abject and the liminal. Perhaps that is why his painting seems to me somewhat fetishistic. There is in it a strange veneration and rejection, pleasure and suffering, surrender and idleness, control and loss, security and misdirection: a self and another that talk to each other all the time, that tell each other and challenge each other.
His procedure erodes the painting, plays with it, practices a gymnastics that takes him to the baroque back and forth, going through a mannerism that is his and no one else’s. In that same erosion, he exercises a sort of erotics of the onslaught in front of each work. He returns again and again, corrects, rehearses, makes mistakes, stains, paints again, throws away, recovers and, finally, the piece is born.
The work we see is born. But that ultimate visuality is the consecration and certification of an arduous process in which anxiety and infinite pleasure for that which is loved are involved.
We know, and those of us who are dedicated to writing know very well, that painting can hardly be expressed in words. However, and in spite of this, we spend our lives managing possible metaphors that are capable of speaking on its behalf. Something that, at the end of the linguistic and literary speculation, ends up becoming a convalescent and flat exercise.
She dissociates herself, emancipates herself, reveals herself from the scriptural tyranny to make her reality an autonomous existence. She, as it happens with the work of this young artist, places us in front of new zones of ignorance and inconsciousness, she warns us of those overflowing mysteries that respond only and only to the infinite power of the exponential subjectivity of a maker.
Whatever the intricate wefts of meaning, the metaphorical architectures and rhizomatic chains hidden in it, it is enough to point out its surfaces to understand, after all, that Antoine Mena’s work is an atypical case, and therefore unique, within the current narratives of Cuban painting.