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Hip Painting

Hip Painting

Critics are like dogs barking at the wheels of a bicycle. Marcel Duchamp A “lateral genealogy” about the prejudices, preventions and grudges of “the concept artists” could be built, focusing on the painting art of the late 20th century and the early 21st. The list of injustices in the form of complaints sheds light on the interest in collisions that spin around the vortex of today’s artistic creation. Critic Hector Anton told me one day that some teacher –someone has definitely turned painting upside down and back up again– used to reel off comments about the pictorial scope of certain paintings. “What a kitchen that piece has!” What a kitchen, a wonderful phrase where there was one. With the toilsome effort of the cooking process, the big teacher was actually referring to the magnitude of the artwork, to the “pictorial lab” that redounded in highly artistic values, though we already know they are not necessarily so artistic or cultural. It’s right here where, for me, ambivalence begins. Did the phrase mean a sincere admiration or just hint at a slight irony or hidden sarcasm? Today I firmly believe it meant both. That’s how complex the problem that makes and remakes the culinary expression humbler really is. For my part, I once heard another great artist, this one frankly on the side of concept and the transgression of painting limits –as someone might put it, a more radical or more militant one– talk about a group of excellent contemporary painters as “hawking painters” or “fair painters.” Artists being scorned by their own colleagues. But the post-conceptualists were and still are by and large some of the most inspired and personal painters that roamed the artistic realm in the 1990 and afterwards. However, under mocking circumstances, they were being raked over the coals for just painting, and even some wielded, in a manipulated and de-contextualized fashion, that famous Duchamp phrase of “blockheaded like a painter”.1 Thus, painting is today little less than a yearning among spiritual deadbeats and bums, a decadent gesture, a fatty tissue, counterproductive diabetes, off-key oldness, a commercial concession, unfathomable hedonism, among other things. The last straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of critical jokes is the one I heard about the paintings of such artists as Alejandro Campins, Michel Perez, Niels Jenry Reyes and, to a certain extent, Orestes Hernandez. We should not discard the evidence that these painters become bothersome as they hit the road of success, we are fully aware –at least since the Republican times– of the fact that for a good chunk of Cubans somebody else’s success is construed as a personal failure for the beholder. Yet there’s also quite a grudge lodged in this aforesaid timely disqualification. Now people say that a certain quartet is doing “hip painting,” as long as the contesters consider that particular painting messes with nobody or nothing, not even with the Art institution or the government, nothing at all. Just another allegedly avant-garde hedonism or formalism that never quite gets off the runway. In that sense, the old adjective “hip” –a little outmoded today and mostly seen as synonymous of decadence– comes to replace a more modern term as “micky” painting as stacked up against a “repa” painting (from Spanish reparto, meaning barrio, that one that actually spark off a free-for-all in not time). Obsessive criticism against “hip painting” encourages freshness and the shaking off of shark-suckers with frivol and esthetic engrossing, it even shrugs off the fact that “micky” painting –sorry, but I prefer the term micky over hip here– is inserted in a non-vicious circle of attitudes and reactions that do have a lot to with the context, the environment. There’s no such thing as apolitical art, and there are no third opinions either. Scratching the surface of the text would lead us back to a hackneyed and stupid discussion –stupid as in the case of a non-affiliated conceptualist– like the one dealing with the ideological addressing of abstraction. There’s no doubt that the “strawberry freshness” of these painters is reacting against long years of “chocolate”. Too much chocolate. First, they couldn’t stand anymore the excess of conceptual rationality they had warned their Higher Art Institute professors about. That explains the burden of irrationality, of unshackled subjectivity, of rejection toward too theoretical creations seen in virtually all paintings. The fact they are now nicknamed the “hips” in a pejorative way lays bare that this kind of demand or grudges still prevail with might and main, not only in the professors, but also in their contemporary peers. On the other hand and in a more general way, these advocates of the Italian avant-gardism and the American and German neo-expressionism –and they don’t take pains in hiding that devotion– are extremely interested in re-conquering the power of visual fascination, the critique of the fundamentalist logo-centrism and the grips that have to do with the artist’s personal memories and history, the history of art, etc. When talking slantingly –never explicitly– about the goings of the Cuban art, these kids seem to be tired of those references that want to change the world, the government, the institution from the illusive plasma of the artworks alone. They want to shrug off that need to create for the sake of reviews and social allusions all the time. That doesn’t mean, though, that they achieve this much all the time. The most illustrative case in point is Michel Perez, an artist who cares for the middle point of centrality –of nullity I must say– righteousness, levitation and suspension. Yet a painting like A Talk with the Youth turned its back on him big time: the painter couldn’t conceal the entire referential burden that was always nauseating his emotive memory in a metaphorical fashion. This means, then, that when it comes to art purposes are sometimes not good enough. Works are lovers. The pejorative connotations of hip, fair, hawking, brutality of painting, suspicious freshness, etc., are nothing but an array of insults that reveal a couple of things to a naked eye. On the first hand, the absentmindedness of these critics about the possibilities of today’s painting who now believe painting is an artistic expression beaten by the circumstances, the conceptual and post-conceptual practices, the performances, etc. These hasty arguers are only showing their own limitations to understand the democratization of the cultural phenomena and today’s visual arts in times when the market could seldom manage to reinstall dictatorships or rigid paradigms. Fleeting art, installations, conceptualism, the discovery of performances are over fifty years old now. Somehow they are forms of “traditional art” as well. On the contrary, the recycling of painting –even of the figurativeness– or photography, those old and hip artistic expressions, have come to today’s creative horizon a new lease on life in which esthetic options are outlined as a democratic, non-vertical repertoire that slithers through without restrictions and where genres actually work like conventions, in sync with the requirements of idea. I mentioned the ancillary example of the Cuban case as a pretext or motivation because the ongoing debate reaches the dimensions of an interesting problem within the universal environment of artistic culture; above all within the boundaries of the “system-world.” In the Americas, this is indeed a collision of sorts. Video installations, sculpture installations, performances that lay hands on intervened paintings or sculptures, photographs that play ball with the interventions, they all speak volumes of the inter-generic, interdisciplinary character of today’s creations and visual arts where they mix up frenetically with the beaten-track codes which are construed as high culture, publicity –as if the advertiser were not a purveyor of that same high culture in one way or another– the street commercial language, pornography and the like. In this cultural context, scoffing at untimely painting looks like a hip gesture, a micky one; a hell of one indeed. One thing is to stay away from painting, like some have made, because it is an expressive possibility so historically encoded which makes it so very difficult to find a personal and revealing pathway across these fields. In the case of the reasons wielded with maturity by sculptor and installer Manolo Castro, it’s crystal clear that originality passed away a long time ago, but grudges are not deceasing either with the recycling of the recycling, the pastiche for the pastiche, and the lynching of some artists by the hands of others. The paintings of the quartet that today motivate us hold a resemblance with the American neo-expressionism, today’s Asian art (animation and painting). However, each and every one of them puts a spin of its own on that “wind of the pictorial times” they are engaged in. Nobody stops being a child of his or her own time, and the same happens to the arts. British performer and painter Peter Greenaway once spoke of the “tunnel vision.” For him, artists wield their tunnel visions. They can’t look to their sides because they’d see nothing. They barely go deeper, but only through their tunnel vision. The ideal of a hip painting doesn’t express anything but just another tunnel, even just another possible tunnel. It’s okay to have hip painting and the impugnation of hip painting, and the impugnation of the impugnation of hip painting –just like the critique of the impugnation of the impugnation. This speaks of a living, quarreling cultural panorama. Of course, then comes the expert –someone who has allegedly not lost serenity. And that’s where I wanted to drive at. All tunnels must be juxtaposed for a chance to look at creation –not the macho-man erection, but the pleasant, comforting and democratic orgasm– from a macro perspective.2 It’s the democracy of tastes and codes and languages and art interpretations. There has to be a little bit of everything: micky and repa painting, logo-centrism and halfway points, hardcore performances, radical interventions, new-type hedonism, news media that subvert canons and expectations. Everything, just everything. It’s art whenever it jumps out of the cookie-cutter mold and the straightjacket just to offer a possibility of interpretation which is both lucid and feasible, as well as vulnerable, just like any human gesture. _________________________________________________________________ 1 In literature, contradiction on syntax and, above all, meaning and scope of this much-celebrated phrase are noticed. Some authors insist Duchamp turned to chess precisely to dodge the blockheaded-as-a-painter image. For others, the determining factor of the idea has to do with a much larger conception: Duchamp was sick and tired of the “blockheaded as an painter” expression in the sense of the significance that, from the perspective of the great creator and sage, is given for good to the gesture and the idea, to the selection process over the execution, to thinking and context far beyond the “profession”, the making and the doing, among other things. 2 Both in the bottom and up in the surface, the scornful term of hip painting –according to the biased look, a painting just an inch away from the feminine stereotype– stands for a macho-man gesture. There’s still a long way to go as to the metaphoric and literal relationships among artistic culture, art review and sexology in Cuba’s socio-cultural scene. No wonder Niels Jenry Reyes used to like androgenic views and the completely unbiased erotic relation, even without that having anything to do with his personal life. These other artists are fed up too with a hetero-normative, hegemonic and segregating world in any walk of life or social field. No more exclusion, they seem to say. And even in that democratizing endeavor that involves a long dialogue with the Other, dizzy or woozy people have certainly no room.

Diálogo con la juventud, 2008 / Acrílico sobre lienzo / Acrylic on canvas 
205 x 250 cm

Fresa, mucha fresa / Detalle de la obra Qué manera de quererte, 2008
Óleo sobre lienzo / Oil on canvas / 500 x 260 cms