Cuban Art Cuban Art
Gabriel Sánchez
Cernuda Arte 2007
Landscapes of Poetry and Enchantment
Manuel Alvarez Lezama

We never enter twice into the same river. We are and we are not.
-- Heraclitus

The divine ray cannot reach us unless it is covered by poetic veils.
-- Aegidius of Viterbo

Landscapes have featured prominently in Cuban painting since the l9th century and have gained extraordinary strength in the 20th.
And how could it be otherwise? Both Cuban painters and those who visited the island found themselves before an astonishing beauty, amid the poetic embrace of nature, in its immense sensuality/lustfulness, asking them to see the descriptions of Paradise as they appear in Genesis, with imposing telluric forces that drew them to an enormous peace/spirituality.

After 1959, Cuban landscape- both within Cuba and among the distinct diasporas that resulted- acquired new dimensions and was defined simultaneously by new political orders very different from those of the republican period, by the nostalgia that manifested in the lives of Cubans, (in his letters, Cuban writer Jose Lezama Lima reminded his exiled family members that they conserved the strength and happiness of the family while he had kept the beauty and the constancy of Havana, of the caiman-shaped island, of the land and landscape.) and by new techniques that developed in the visual arts after the 1960’s.

These new outlooks/discourses, clearly, have taken place within the controversial but accepted canons of postmodernism and globalization. And it is here that we find the work of Gabriel Sánchez, a young and prodigious Cuban painter who now lives in Spain, and who has at a youthful age already achieved that which few artists in history have achieved - from Van Gogh to Tomas Sanchez, from Church to Cezanne, from Corot to Christo and Jeanne Claude, and obviously Watteau, Gainsborough, Constable, Turner, Friedrich, Wistler, Monet, Pizarro, Rousseau, Wyeth, among other lauded painters of this genre: that we look at the landscape in a different way, in a new way.

In his recent work – compositions marked by distance from the Caribbean and Latin America - Gabriel Sánchez (born in Cabaiguán, Sancti Spiritus in l979 and educated in Cuba), uses a series of effective visual artifices to create luminous scenes of enchanted landscapes (usually numinous forests) that memorialize as much the essence of l9th century Romanticism as a lyric surrealism that is very contemporary, very his, very original.

Within his new geographic and existential reality, the blues and greens of Cuba are mixed with hues typical of Spain's Castilian region. Present are the dry greens, browns, ochres, creams, and grays, all colors with which the artist recreates the beauteous and magnificent autumn. Thus, in order to understand the latest rendition of Gabriel Sanchez's work, we have to recognize his superbly interesting communion with and reinterpretation of Romanticism, his complicity with 19th century painters such as Corot and Guilloux, and his disengagement from Tomás Sánchez. And if there is a painting that allows us to better read the present, imaginary reality of Gabriel Sánchez, we should refer to Soñar muchos sueños (Dreaming Many Dreams), 2006, where he places a Royal Palm in the midst of an alien environment. This way, we see the artist seeking the meaning of distance and the caprices of chance – caprices of chance that appear as precious metaphors in each of one of his forests: pianos, hammocks, rocking chairs, ladders, bicycles, blank billboards, signs nailed to trees, or little flags marking trails in the middle of nowhere, curtains à la Christo and Jeanne Claude, or simply light, used in a masterful way.

And so, with great poetic honesty, Gabriel Sánchez fulfills in his settings that which the great landscape artists of the past attained in their creations: a singular magic that invites us to be accomplices to that which has occurred, of what is occurring and what will occur in an enchanted place without limits. Paintings like Presencia y Ausencia (Presence and Absence), 2006 and Telones en el Río (Curtains on the River), 2007, reveal that we are before a young master who, like Stanley Kubrick with his enigmatic monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, uses unpredictable elements in each of his works to remind us that always, what we see is unique/distinct for each of us, and that in everything there is a key to understanding ourselves, understanding our native land, understanding life.

Manuel Alvarez Lezama

Manuel Alvarez Lezama - (Havana, Cuba) A graduate of Yale University. Professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. Former professor at the School of Visual Arts of Puerto Rico. Art critic and member of AICA (International Association of Art Critics).

Translation by: Gined Vitali-Ganem

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