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The Caribbean Olympus

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.

Juan Car­los Ver­di­al in sei­nem Atelier

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.

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Geboren in La Habana, 1947. Kulturförderin, Kuratorin und Kunstkritikerin. Absolvierte das Pädagogische Institut Enrique José Varona. Sie arbeitete über zwanzig Jahre als Promotion-Spezialistin im Consejo Nacional de Artes Plásticas (CNAP). Sie kuratierte zahlreiche Kunstausstellungen in Kuba und im Ausland. Sie schreibt regelmäßig für die Zeitung Granma, die Zeitschrift La Jiribilla und die Boulevardzeitung Noticias de Artecubano. Außerdem erscheinen ihre Artikel in den Zeitschriften Extramuros, Art Oncuba, Opus Habana, Cauce und Aquarell. Seit 2007 ist Virginia Alberdi Benítez Teil des Projekts Kunst und Mode. Sie hat Texte für zahlreiche Kataloge Kubanischer Künstler geschrieben. Derzeit arbeitet sie als Redakteurin im Sello Artecubano und ist Mitglied der Kritikerabteilung der UNEAC.

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