Juan Carlos Verdial
CUBAN ART IS CHARACTERISED BY ITS DIVERSITY. THERE IS NOTHING NEW IN THIS STATEMENT FOR ANYONE WHO, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, HAS TAKEN AN INTEREST IN THE CARIBBEAN ISLAND’S ART PRODUCTION. ART GALLERIES AND INSTITUTIONS SHOWCASE THE MOST UNIQUE TRENDS. BUT IT IS A HANDFUL OF ARTISTS WHO CONTINUE TO SHAKE THE SCENE AND STAND OUT DUE TO THEIR ORIGINALITY AND TECHNICAL CALIBRE.
Carlos Verdial Soltura is an example of this prized group. This painter from Havana was born in 1957. For about twenty years, he toiled over a vast piece, which he fully identifies with. This work will not allow itself to be forgotten by those who have the chance to view it. In the 1970s, he trained in the historically renowned Academia de Artes Plásticas San Alejandra de La Habana, the San Alejandra Fine Arts Academy in Havana. He subsequently taught in various institutions including the Oscar Fernández Morera, the Trinidad and the José Antonio Díaz Peláez schools of art in the Cuban capital.
The technical calibre and originality of his works allowed him to become solidly established and show his pieces in various national and international exhibition spaces, and participate in various projects.
Verdial’s manner of transferring the product of his constantly fertile imagination to canvas is what turns this tireless creator into an outstanding artist who stands out among the ever-growing number of Cuban painters. Study his paintings thoroughly and you will be left speechless by the world he successfully introduces in each one of them. Verdial, in a surrealist context that almost always depicts marine elements, creates an environment with luminous figures that unite to offer the maximum number of ways in which to reach this disturbing universe, with dreamlike traces. It is as though we were constantly submerged in light slumber that takes us to a place where reality and fantasy come together in splendid symbiosis. This demiurge of his own cosmos, which he periodically shares, has visibly progressed from his early work but retains the components that not only identify him but also make it possible to maintain the artist’s fluid relationship with the space he created: the presence of women, fauna with elements from the deep seas, together with those plants that identify the creole island… all of these components differ and can be combined in a myriad of ways, thanks to the marked similarities and differences.
The images produced by the artist are also obliquely related to the Cuban iconographic tradition of having prints for tobacco certifications, this world of packs that form a part of our identity. This is shown in the textures of the backgrounds, the reliefs, the colour, the figures and in the atmosphere of the pieces. A wise spectator might see Verdial’s painting as a type of poetry that is deeprooted within the visual culture of the Renaissance: the construction of allegories. His work is more than pure concept. Rather, it is a tangential appropriation of an appearance that ultimately responds to the artists interest in the topic.
When I refer to surrealist elements, I do not allude to the world of Dalí and this European surrealism that has been plundered to such an extent at one time or another. Carlos Verdial creates new and varied characters, which he includes in his works. He has created a universe and each one of those spaces are fragments or moments of the Verdialan universe, of untravelled borders, which are utterly atemporal and populated by mythical creatures who, at times, seem to come from the maps of cartographers from a most ancient time, from which there is leftover evidence. He has created a world where it is not unusual to see multiple varied representations of sea monsters, terrifying inhabitants of unknown waters that petrify sailors and pirates alike. Overall, they show the unexplored areas of the ocean where lie dreadful, deadly creatures who are able to cause awful disasters, simply by emerging from the depths of the ocean, with a stroke of a fin or some other movement that pertains to their original anatomy. Or they depict passages of a diverse array of legends, stories or tales that refer to an imaginary land, based on real events, such as Scylla and Charybdis in Homer’s Odyssey. Almost all of his pieces have one thing in common… the sea. His characters live serenelyon the surfaces and depths of waters; there is no violence or uncontrollable swell. The placid waters appear to be deceptively tepid and conceal a feeling of unease.
Without further ado, a piece created by the artist in 2009, Vuelta tras la huella de sal, where the central character is a woman, as is the case in almost all of his work, who is on a small boat and navigates a mustard-coloured sea. However, this woman is an integral part of the vessel, which in turn, has beautiful side fins that serve as oars that allow it to travel. There is something on the head of this feminine character, serving as hair, that recalls the head of a bird with iridescent feathers and a very long beak. The edges of the vessel are adorned with tiny real palms. The main feature of the work is a Cuban flag that covers the torso of the woman who bears her breasts and stretches out over the entire vessel. All of these elements reaffirm the identity of the character: real palms, the Cuban flag, the intense illumination of the tropical elements that come together to create an utterly unreal environment with seductive imagery. Overall, Verdial’s work is characterised by the presence of one or several female characters, who are always a hybrid of the female and sea creatures, monstrous beings, the product of his fertile imagination. The feminine torsos are attractive; the characters either bear their breasts or are covered by just a thin piece of a fabric. Theyare mermaid-like, somewhere between what can be called fish-shaped and the Chilote mermaid or any other kind, translated into their own version. In other pieces, the characters, who are always surrounded by or submerged in blue waters, integrate to form a whimsical machine, two-headed fish, mountain women, and cage women, all related to the Chilote sea horse or the Kelpie or many other creatures originating from the folklore of different native countries. They are always beautiful to the questioning naked eye and their nudity represents not surrender but defiance.
This artist surprises us with the careful, detailed realisation of every single element and character in his work. He does not narrate tales, there is no story to tell. He simply presents a fragment of this world that feels Cuban and shows it by using flags, stars, tropical plants and birds, as if uniting all of these elements would constitute the independent islands or the inhabitants of parallel worlds. One of his most recent creations, Malabares de vida y muerte, where there are architectural elements, a stone arch, that frame an ensemble of women integrated into a spring. There is no shortage of fish but there is also a huge butterfly that is carefully drawn to cover the central character, who is juggling transparent balls inhabited by visions or nostalgia. Once again, light is shed over the head of a red triangle with a star. The artist solely emphasises the now placid expression of the woman, whose face is almost guileless. Verdial is obsessed with insularity and la circunstancia del agua, once again, shows this world with elements of the forest, by creating numerous marvellous beings within the imaginary of the different latitudes. However, he turns them into new tropicalised and feminised versions. What I now declare could be encapsulated by this text: Verdial’s art seduces, provokes and stimulates pleasure at the first glance. However, it does not stop there. Verdial’s seduction is far from a superficial connection because the artist proposes something much more absolute.