Rhizomes of drawing: the exercise of perfection
By Yenny Hernández Valdés
Drawing is the quintessence of painting, sculpture and architecture. It is the root of all art and science, and whoever masters it enjoys an incalculable power…, said Michelangelo Buonarroti, and how right his words are even today in the second decade of the 21st century. The praxis of drawing, not only as a sketch or previous process of a certain artistic product but also as a technique and discourse, is a challenge for anyone who takes that creative path. For more than two decades, Antonio Espinosa (Granma, 1974) has challenged drawing in his work with exquisite aesthetic results.
The appropriation of the drawing demonstrates the maturation of a praxis –not the only one– in Espinosa’s career. It is worth pointing out that the challenge is not only the technical work through the trace of the graphite; also its merit is in the absence of color as a singular characteristic of his work, not only for his landscapes, but also for the vast production anchored in a reflective exercise on the society we inhabit. With that total absence of color he manages to provoke moods in the viewer that range from awe to an unbridled suggestion of emotions.
Territorial waters: of ambivalence and nostalgia
Very few artists have dedicated themselves to work the landscape from the dramatism that offers the drawing in black and white and the range of grays. Antonio Espinosa has that added value: that of being a constant artist in his peculiar drawing practice, without resorting to the semiotic stories of color to explore and exploit the aesthetic grips of working with pencil, charcoal or other tools that allow him to obtain a creative zone of shadows, reflections, lights and textures like those he gives us with his Territorial Waters.
Espinosa delights our retina with the psychology of the marine landscape. But that retinal tasting goes beyond that, especially for those of us born with the gene impregnated with the damned circumstance of being surrounded by water everywhere –paraphrasing Virgilio–. Its territorial waters present the interpretative possibility of two extremes. On the one hand, the sea in its bordering condition as a prison that hinders the natural will of human progress, visually reinforced in those waves whose direction seems to stop us and erase the possibility of progress. On the other hand, it is the sea in its condition of infinite space, open to the possibility of subsistence and searches as an area that invites to explore, to find something after the swaying of the waves.
However, the sea is presented to Antonio Espinosa as a cultural condition to reflect an icon of national identity. This exercise in reformulating codes becomes a symbolic and existential metaphor from which to discuss tensions, ambivalences and nostalgic feelings about this island.
About the marvelous real of a picturesque city
The greyness of his marines can also be found in the works that make up his series Fragments of a Picturesque City, a contemporary, achromatic and biting version of the Picturesque Album of the Island of Cuba, by French engraver Federico Mialhe.
In these pieces we can see the combination of a photographic halo and the perfection of hyperrealism. He is a fussy artist with the completion of the work, with overflowing the exquisite detail of the spaces he represents. To be able to rummage through those lines and shadows with a magnifying glass would leave us speechless thanks to his superb ability to draw the emotion, the possibility, the tension and the timelessness of the surroundings.
Like Mialhe in his album, Antonio Espinosa revisits and incorporates in these works the detail of the names of the streets. It doesn’t do it for free; there is an intentionality in that we stop at the visual and textual discourse of the street intersections it represents. Virtudes corner Perseverancia, Gloria corner Economía, Misión corner Milicias are examples of urban confluences that make us reflect on interpretations based on a nation built on vague discourses, whose historical standard can be perceived in these works from the encounter or clash of opposing, surreal and even ridiculous points of view.
From accumulation to trope ecstasy
In this eagerness for social reflection from the creative process, Espinosa offers us a type of landscape work that subverts the traditional meaning of the word to build landscapes of accumulation, of the horror vacui of which his works show off. It places us before an accumulation of diverse objects that amplify the visual dimension of the frame (Conformity), which then concentrates in small spaces of graphics (Dreamed triptych. Island, Country, Nation) to later derive in a spring of letters whose meaning goes beyond the word to generate diverse states of mind (Revolution). Let me explain:
In the works of the Conformity series we are faced with an overcrowding of different types of sweets that, from the hyperrealist effect of the drawing, lead us through a visual fallacy that ends in a total ecstasy between what we observe, what we yearn for and what we achieve. A massiveness of sweets that becomes bittersweet in its very essence, that brings out the contrasts and shortcomings of a society trying to subsist in the eye of a perennial economic crisis.
But this taste for the accumulation, re-functionalization and reconfiguration of objects acquires visual and conceptual strength in their graphic interpretations. In Dreamed Triptych (Island, Country, Nation) he appropriates diverse stamps and medals to recompose words whose signifier has a fundamental weight in the historical memory of Cuba. It stresses both the usage value of the objects that shape each letter and the default concept with which we usually associate the reconfigured words. Thus, it places us in front of the historical narrative in which we are teaches/injected the ISLAND, the COUNTRY and the NATION in which we live from a stormy accumulation of ideological artifacts.
All the conceptual overfall that is generated inside his works is achieved thanks to that taste for drawing, for the elegance of the greys, the perfect whites and the dramatic shadows. Antonio has the mastery to provoke from the composition and the gray scales, dissimilar sensorial experiences: vertigo, self-absorption, relaxation, oblivion, dispersion, claustrophobia… In his work Revolution, one can see a circular route that is as convoluted as a sort of vertiginous spiral, which loses clarity and firmness as the rotation advances: a utopia that dilutes in the face of the slippery reality that we live in.
Attention! Antonio Espinosa is not a political or politicized artist. He does not intend to “make fire from the fallen tree” to discuss a romantic, expired and residual historical process. Antonio Espinosa explores the historicity of an established social discourse to propose other codes of reflection; a casual interpretation, not mediatized or fragmented, but personal, that speaks of the stagnation of certain processes from the clash and confluence of diverse realities and individualities, through drawing.
He is, without a doubt, a mature artist who does not disguise his influences and experiences in art. On the contrary, he is proud to air those other artists he has drunk from, with whom he identifies, of whom he has made plastic reinterpretations, as well as with whom he does not have a shred in common but whose creative work is a pleasure to know. Espinosa is a receptive and critical subject, with an enviable artistic and intellectual formation, solid and sharing with a facility of word that few artists master. All of this has influenced and developed in him a technical, compositional and conceptual criteria and exercise that are worthy of praise. He is an artist who, even after twenty years maturing the technique of drawing in black and white, continues to enliven the viewer’s retinal tasting and social reflection of the ISLAND, COUNTRY, NATION of which we are a part.