This work is 11" x 10.5". Acrylic, graphite, and watercolor on paper. Done in 2005.
Eduardo Santana is a teacher of fine art at one of the Universities in Havana. He is a highly skilled artist, with a substantial degree of conceptual brilliance. Surrealism is a challenging genre for any artist. Some of the Cuban artists tackle this challenge as well as artists anywhere in the world today. Where do these influences come from?
Throughout Latin America, the European art movement Surrealism was enthusiastically accepted by certain segments of the artistic community. Many artists were drawn to Surrealism’s emphasis on the irrational, the emotional, the personal, and the subconscious. In general, European Surrrealist artists examined “primitive” art and folk art to discover an instinctive spirit, a reference point that was relevant to Latin American artists searching to establish a distinctive art based on their own multifaceted traditions.
Highly influential in the implantation of Surrealism in Latin America was the founder of the movement, the French poet-philosopher Andre Breton. In 1934 the Chilean artist Roberto Matta, who had worked in France for Le Corbusier, abandoned his training in architecture, so that he could pursue art in Paris, where he became associated with Breton and the Surrealists. His early paintings placed nonrecognizable biomorphic forms onto a receding spatial grid. In his later works scratched and drawn figures occasionally take on the appearance of menacing Latin American generals, operating as one of the few references to his homeland in his otherwise generalized time and space.
Surrealism also allowed many Latin American artists to explore their individual ancestry. Cuban artist Wifredo Lam joined Breton and his Surrealist circle in 1940, after they went into self-exile in Martinique. When Lam returned to Cuba, he began to examine his own African heritage: his mother was Afro-Cuban, and his godmother was a Santeria priestess. He explored this heritage in his work, depicting tropical fantasies filled with forms suggestive of African sculpture, masks, and figures. This emphasis on African forms also related to his contact with the Surrealists, who saw all “primitive” (narrowly meaning non-Western) artistic expression as connected with humanity’s common subconscious forms and experiences. Lam was particularly influenced by his contact with Picasso, who early in the century had used African sculpture as an important inspiration for Cubism.