Raul Enmanuel essay - by Carlos Luis, art critic

Raul Enmanuel Pozo

by Carlos M. Luis

Despite its late entrance in the realm of Cuban painting, Cubism was applied with evident originality by a number of the main representatives of the first generation of its vanguard. Among them, Amelia Peláez (1) used a structural system drawn for the cubist aesthetics. By applying cubist principles to her personal view of reality, Amelia Peláez distanced herself from analytical cubism incorporating, at the same time, the more sensual shapes of George Braque’s paintings of the 30’s. In that sense, this artist could merge a series of striking images into a context closer to a nationalistic pictorial language much in vogue in Cuba during her time.

It is not by chance that I make a reference of Amelia Peláez as a component of Raúl Enmanuel Pozo’s work. The same should be applied also to Wifredo Lam (2) with whom this painter maintains close affinities. In spite the fact that Pozo’s process of maturity had manage to elaborate a language of his own, his work obeys a tradition that cannot be discarded. In that sense his paintings represent icons that renders homage (consciously or unconscious- ly) to a past that remains in many ways alive in Cuban art. Raul Enmanuel Pozo’s icons originate as images that arise from a past that is being brought to a modern scenario. I refer to a cultural history that saw its first lights in Cuba during the nineteenth century until the present time, passing through the great moment of the vanguard during the first decades of the twentieth century. Raúl Enmanuel Pozo is the actor of an intense artistic process that has witnessed numerous ramifications inside and outside Cuba, since the advent of the revolution in 1959.

Let’s enter then, into the world of this painter taking into consideration two concurring points of his work: form and color. Form in the first place gives us the opportunity to recognize different aspects of his pictorial imagination.

One of these forms suggests the structures of Cubism, reminding us of ancient dolmens whose volumes weigh as sculptures inside his paintings. There is a tendency in some of his paintings to create sculptural elements such as in “Silla de Otra Forma” (2004) or in “El Reposo” (2004). Both of these paintings executed in mixed media, offer us the opportunity to disco- ver his concern with an expression that reaches its peak in the art of Wifredo Lam. In this sense, his debt with the richness of Lam’s world is unquestiona- ble. Every artist is always in the process of assimilation of other legacies, and Raúl Enmanuel Pozo is not the exception to the rule. The question resides though, in how and also through what means an artist incorporates the discoveries of the other, transfiguring it in one of his or her own. In Pozo’s case I believe that his strategies of assimilation are the result of an acculturation of the different elements that eventually he will place at the disposal of his work.

If the dolmens are an essential part of his paintings, other forms tend to be converted in totems, as the artist identifies them in paintings such as “To- tem Simbólico”. The totem is one of the most rich and complex manifesta- tions of the so called primitive cultures. The surrealists and along with them Wifredo Lam, felt attracted by the presence of these objects with their carved images representing the history of their clans. On the other hand, from Sigmund Freud to Claude Levi-Strauss, the totem has been the subject of studies of different nature that eventually helped to enrich the poetical arsenal of numerous artists. Whether or not Raúl Enmanuel Pozo has read these authors, is beside the point, since their findings are “in the air” ready to be aspired by any sensitive spirit. On the other hand, it is quite possible that he could be familiar with the writings of the great Cuban ethnologist Fernando Ortiz, who wrote an important monograph on Wifredo Lam.

Another important element in the art of this painter is the use he makes of the mask. Masks are an essential component of modern art. As is well known, the cubists adopted it in opposition to the classical models of Grece and Rome. The surrealists also adopted the masks but with the purpose of discovering in them a magical/poetical force. The presence of the masks in some of the avant garde painters in Cuba such as René Portocarrero (3) or Wifredo Lam, was more inclined towards the surrealist quest. Raúl Enma- nuel Pozo instead, attempts to realize a synthesis between both tendencies.

In paintings like “Son Varias Señales” (2004), “La Familia del Caballo” (2003) or his series “Los Detalles”, we can distinguish both aspects: the cubist structure plus the surrealist poetry acting like a visual palimpsest within the composition. By achieving this, he allows suggestio to prevail over evidence freeing the imagination of the spectator to do the rest.

I have pointed out three main aspects of Raúl del Pozo paintings related to form. However these forms are created within a rich gamut of colors. It is not my intention to follow the well known stereotypes pertaining to “tropical” color etc. Cuban painting had witness masters such as Fidelio Ponce (4) or Rafael Blanco (5) that refused to fall into that category while others like Rene Portocarrero or Amelia Peláez made a vast use of all the possibilities offered by color. The expressiveness of Pozo’s color is an indication that he followed the steps of those masters. The way, though, of how he crystallized them is entirely his personal doing as well as his treatment of textures. What is important in my opinion is that his “ars combinatoria’ with color, succeeds in creating a number of chromatic variations that place him as a colorist to be reckoned with. In that sense his entire opus adds to the already intense developing of Cuban painting, a new and original component.

(1) Amelia Peláez (1896-1968)

(2) Wifredo Lam (1902-1982)

(3) Rene Portocarrero (1912-1986)

(4) Fidelio Ponce (1895-1949)

(5)Rafael Blanco (1885-1955)

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