Painting an unmentionable party
By Julio Lorente
The ups and downs of painting in recent art history (and when I say recent, I mean from the neo-avant-garde until today) make up the startles and downs of an artistic genre that always survives its theoretical gravediggers. Whether as an abstraction-evasion, as a pastiche, as a neo-historicist redoubt or, finally, as a random exercise of light form and elusive content, it manages to perpetuate itself with the loans of turn.
If we add to this its elastic condition to subvert and fit naturally the ideological plots that weave the filigree of censorship, it is not surprising then that painting is, occasionally, the most propitious way to deal with the “syndrome of suspicion”.
Of course, this is not an axiom and Tomás Esson (Havana, 1963) and his A tarro partido II, an exhibition of paintings billed in 1988, and which was censored the day after its opening, can attest to this.
A little bit of all this is in the painting of Marco Arturo Herrera (Havana, 1991). The colors of his paintings are not reminiscent of the chromatic deliriums of the tropics, but rather the elaboration of a plane of subjectivity where the impersonal becomes a means for his caricatured characters to tell stories that may or may not be ours. Ambivalence as an alibi.
For Marco Arturo Herrera everything could begin in German expressionism, but that would be adding to his work a dramatic tension that seeks the tragic and the heroic. Elements that are not really necessary for his discourse. A discourse that assumes lightness, ease and color as a syllogism that unveils ins and outs of quasi-political realities, which are swallowed up by high-flown ranges. In any case, one could speak of German neo-expressionism, the Italian transavant-garde and part of the American painting of the eighties.
It has rained something since Rufo Caballero defined as “pepilla” painting, the production of a group of young painters that from the domes of the ISA bet for the painting raised under the curatorships of the critic Píter Ortega. But every effervescent movement with revolutionary qualities, both in art and in life, is destined to deflate. Today, to the saga of that generation, painters emerge who assume certain conceptual and/or aesthetic kinship.
Marco Arturo Herrera could be on this rope, where painting more than a medium, presupposes an attitude. This is how this artist’s paintings become a cynical backdrop for a reality that becomes monochromatic, and where the dazzling patina of history fades away in its impotence.
And it’s not that sometimes Marco Arturo Herrera doesn’t tackle melancholy, frustration or any other human pathology, it’s that when he does, it’s an imposed, almost theatrical exercise where the “unmentionable party” that we presupposed Lezamiana, transmutes into an adage by Reinaldo Arenas: In Cuba everyone wears a mask.
Interesting in this amalgam of images that follow each other like a story with an implicit moral, is a drawing on canvas entitled New Pines (2017). It shows several Christmas trees planted in pots with the typical decorations of these holidays, in addition a pioneer scarf, symbol of the educational utopia in revolutionary Cuba. Martí’s metaphor of rebirth is annulled by a serial plantation created with one objective: to adorn an illusion; to function as a simulated decoration in the paradise of fictions.
The thematic androgyny that suffers much of Cuban painting today, operates from a fold where you keep playing with the chain and not the monkey, as if avoiding the stigmas that keep you away from the market and at the same time put you in the Big Brother’s spyhole. If Marco Arturo Herrera avoids these epochal tricks, it’s because he assumes that painting is a diversion, a “Christmas celebration” that, thanks to the sparkle of the garlands, can dilute mordant comments in stagings that presuppose ironies well charged with oil. Not for nothing was his most recent exhibition entitled Hot Christmas: The Tropic full of snow or the snow full of Tropic?
Marco Arturo Herrera is interested in painting from a limbo where the fauve allegory, creates relaxed spaces against interpretation, but not because there is an absence of topics (rather they abound), only that these paintings have a feature that stands out: the need to assume colors and ideas with a willingness to swing.
Painting becomes an unmentionable party when suspicions abound, that is why this artist’s symbolic reservoir intentionally borders on the naive and is quoted as a fable. There is no better way to survive than to build –or paint in this case– our own myths. These are times when defining is still to turn to ashes.