Skip to main content
Tomás Sánchez. Going beyond time

Tomás Sánchez. Going beyond time

“Those who are creative work through the past, the present and the future, going beyond time; those who are not, accept the ties of the old and the new”. Abanindranath Tagore The latest presentations staged by Tomas Sanchez –who has expressed himself through painting, drawing, ceramic art, puppet design, set design, fabrics, graphics and gems– reveal the multiplicity of a creative endeavor. Between November and December 2006, he took part in a tribute to Antonia Eiriz in Naked Life held at the Servando Art Gallery in the confluence of two fine art masters who contributed to the formation of new generations: Antonia, armed with her mighty personality, her critical stance and her influential spirit; Servando, for giving out his experience and knowledge of the arts. His inclusion bore out the learning process with Ñica, who went the extra mile in making her disciples let their inner selves out. “In the morning”, 1973, was exhibited in the National Museum of Fine Arts (NMFA), a freestyle, spontaneous composition. His insertion in Howard Farber’s Collection of Cuban Contemporary Art, exposed at the Cuba Avant-Garde at the Samuel P. Harn Art Museum in Gainesville (University of Florida, 2007), highlights his contribution to the national art as a standard-bearer that bears out his affective apprehension with the environment from an eminently philosophical reflection. The South Wind canvas, 1995 –conceived from photographs and notes about the natural environment taken down in Playa Maria Aguilar, near Trinidad, in Sancti Spiritus– was part of the 2007 Havana Auction. The harmony and conjugation of blue shades, coupled with the degraded whitish hazes that fade away in the horizon, underscore the beauty and vitality of this seascape. The atmosphere and the expressive value of the tones shroud the figure immersed in a spectacle that calls for some meditation. The presence of the individual –and even when that figure is not around– his aura, piqued Master Manuel Vidal (1979), who baptized him as a maker of humanized landscapes. He took part in the most exhaustive exposition of Cuban art, Cuba Art and History since 1868 to Date, exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from Jan. 31 to June 8, 2008, featuring a curatorial project of nearly 200 paintings, photos, installations, videos and graphics out of the NMFA, the Cuban Music Library and collections scattered in Europe and America, that runs briefly through the esthetic scenario of the 19th and 20th centuries, zeroing in on the formation and strengthening processes of the national identity. A succinct version was presented last May at the Groningen Museum in the Netherlands. In the morning, 1973, and The Flooding, 1984, inserted in photorealism –a movement that restituted his predisposition for landscapes and enabled him to splay his cult for nature– were also exhibited. Tomas integrates his interest in renovation and his rupture with the hyperrealist movement that had been all the rage since 1974, owed in part to his friendship with painter and photographer Rogelio Lopez Marin (Gory), and Flavio Garciandia, who contributed to his one-and-only linkage with photography, a resource he turned to as a reference to visual memory for reproducing an affective panorama. He started out with Landscape, 1974 (NMFA collection) in which he portrayed a spatial atmosphere that remembers his place of origin and gives away the conceptual scope of the environment from a spiritual approach through reflexive and evocative shade of his inner feelings. In The Flooding, 1984, he depicts the flooded areas of Havana’s Eastern Beaches back in 1982. The author appealed to his memory and made use of a surreal language to bring together tridimensionality, perspective and approach to the photographic image. With suggestive powerfulness, he captured the temporal side effects of nature’s rage, thus ratifying the subjective dosage present in his recreated evocations, expanding his creative possibilities, cultivating the surprise and riveting his interest in the landscape and its relationship with the human being. Outstanding world-class cultivator of an ecological art teeming with opposite, spiritual and genuine strength, focused on concentration, plastic synthesis and formal balance, he exhibited a retrospective at the NMFA back in 1984 that embraced both his first-ever impressionist lithographs and his major landscapes –including the garbage dumps– the crucifixions, dramatic and satiric individual figures broached with a touch of humor and propped exclusively on the power of lines and gestures, monochromatic and sober, contrapositions of black and white, except in one case that features an expressive red hue. It’s not Christ’s mystical image, but an impersonal vision of the man coping with pollution that speaks of “a perfect relation between man and the environment, between the objective and the subjective, and makes us feel the calmness of an ideal balance among the elements it’s made up of without having them lose their identity.” (Mosquera, 1985) His individual exhibition at the Monterrey Museum of Contemporary Art (MARCO) in 2008 engulfed a selection spanning his last ten years with 54 paintings that included oils, acrylics, pastel and stained glass marked by profound humanism, full of new ideas about the environment from a contemporary approach –an expression of his affective relationship with nature next to introspection, nutrients of his conceptual stratus and his intellectual and ethical commitment. He showed gripping and intimate images characterized by steadiness, clarity and accuracy of the images. Some containing an ontological, suggestive purpose, while others were pristine, unpolluted and untainted scenes: The experience of meditation has definitely marked my life and the way in which I perceive how the world influences my art. The form of meditation I practice is full of devotion toward God or the Being, the Consciousness-Energy that created the universe, the force that lies in all of us as our soul or inner self. The goal is the unification of the soul with God or the expansion of the individual in the Endless Consciousness, (Montero, 2009) A fruit of his reflections, his imaging emerges from his inner world as a clear-cut, sincere and intimate revelation of a cosmopolitan perspective that conveys the intensity of his feelings and the assimilation of his conceptions. His view –through the use of a visual, ever-changing and expansive visual vocabulary– comes up with a poetry that constitutes a compilation of his existence and his psyche undertaken with purity and painstaking construction. A virtuoso of apprehension for nature, he conciliates his commitment to his work from the mystical experience and the assertion of the scientific knowledge based on meditation –a major bond with the work and a way to reveal the virtue of his talent as a fabulist and craftsman, heir to an ecological trend that stands up for man in the contemporary world through a landscape recreated by his visual heritage. Last October at the NMFA, he pieced together an exhibition entitled Alicia Alonso Dances Here Tonight, dedicated to the prima ballerina assoluta during the 60th anniversary of Cuba’s National Ballet. In Homage to the Diva, 2008, acrylic on gilt paper donated to the Museum of Dance, he strains his interpretative ability and seduces us with sensuality, tenderness and harmony. He defies his trade and squares off for the challenge: the creation of a mysterious scene caught in a tangled-up backdrop that trespasses the boundaries of the canvas and adds a pair of the dancer’s ballet shoes –a token of her outstanding career. This conjugation of pictorial and tactile effects puts an aura and adds harmony while it evokes eternity and a Cuban touch. He also joined a repertoire of 50 expressionist pieces displayed on March 19 at the Servando Cabrera Moreno Museum & Library (MBSCM) as part of the festivities for the 80th birthday of Antonia and his Amelia Pelaez Painting Prize given to him for three canvases belonging to the Flooding series a quarter of a century ago during the First Havana Biennial. The theoretical foundations of The Witness’s Conscious: Servando Cabrera Moreno, Antonia Eiriz and Tomas Sanchez vindicate their artistic careers: Antonia y Servando as teachers, their contribution to heritage and the significance of their works; Tomas for the historic continuation. In Tomas’ engravings, from Claudio Ferioli’s collection, his creative capacity, his level of experimentation and the mystical character of his color lithographs made in 1972 are clearly seen through an expressionist language of virgins and crucifixions he relies on to lampoon the religious theme –a clear influence from Luis Buñuel’s films– by making the human figure the centerpiece of the artwork and the landscape the background of the composition. The evolution of his interests move toward rural landscapes populated by expressionist neo-figurative beings and grotesque-expressive elements that verge on the surreal atmosphere of scenery and kicks off a naturalist line. This duality of realistic and expressionistic language in the formulation of his poetry coexists without divergent seams and acts as an exact compensation of his plastic interests. As a vanguard artist, since 1974 he took an attitude of renewal that stressed his deep attachment to landscape. His career shows his absolute interest in the human being and the environment, and goes for a different landscape that makes him one of the forerunners of Cuba’s new art. Since the late 1970s, a movement of young Cuban creators struggling for an opening of expressive agents within the plastic language hit the spotlight. In the Volume I Exhibit, Jan. 1981, this new breed of artists opened up the decade’s artistic discourse. This turned the group into a sparking movement in the cultural scene. In 1980, Tomas had grabbed the 20th Joan Miro International Drawing Prize and had been invited to open an individual exposition at the Joan Miro Foundation’s Center for Contemporary Art Studies in 1981, and where he showed up with a bevy of 20 black-and-white drawings made on plaka and whitewash on cardboard featuring an assortment of landscapes. For the first time, he brought the garbage dumps up front, a turning point in his ecologist profile for canvases that came later on and in which the lack of any human presence whatsoever is overwhelming. He took on the landscape theme from three different variants: the natural, the one positively influenced by man and the one destroyed by the individuals. At the same time, he discovered the potentials this genre had to offer in establishing an anthropological relationship –even when all human presence had been deliberately left out– by going deeper into the permanent interrelation between man and nature next to windbreakers, dams, garbage dumps and the unpolluted environment. His artistic activity was influenced by his temporary stay in Guanabo Beach in 1981 where he related with a group of ecologists that eventually sensitized him about the care for the environment and that contributed decisively to send him into a period of fertile creativeness whereby he denounced environmental pollution as a consequence of man’s actions. His artworks laid bare his profound longing for vanished landscapes, the virgin forests, the natural state before the arrival of the Spaniards, the destructive action of mankind on nature and the preservation of the environment as the motif of choice for his creations, always from a subjective and intimate approach of that scenery splayed in realistic colors that spill over the boundaries of all former landscaping outlines. His poetry turned toward a legitimate, renovated artwork that probed endless motifs tangled up in a mixture of visions multiplied and handed over in perspective. This was no doubt a technical and spiritual process egged on by his inner growth and coming of age in the arts, a blend of lyricism, spirituality and mysticism that could bring up a landscape created from meditation and affective memory. A bird’s-eye tour over the coasts of the Sierra Maestra mountains revealed forests and keys of Cuba seen in perspective. He managed to get an emotive internalization of the landscape with a vision way too close to photography that helped him give some continuity to his formal searches. He stressed his interest in ecology by skewing the esthetic panorama in the rural vista and by relying on his childhood experiences that enrich so much his imaging. A good case in point is the Honorary Mention he nabbed for his canvas entitled Relation at the Second Havana Biennial in 1986. Based on that synthesis, he started painting with a more conceptual ecological sense that portrays Cuba’s countryside scenes not only linked to palm trees, but rather as an archipelago dotted with islets and carpeted with mangrove thickets that let their roots way deep down inside and raise ever-growing sandbanks. That marked the beginning of the relationship among the cloud, the island and the sea. In his Relations individual exhibit at the Provincial Center for Fine Arts and Design (Havana, 1988), he unleashed new formal quests. Two dozen cardboard sheets conform a system of ecological ties made up of these three elements as less realistic landscapes in which composition and perspective come forced in, altering their formal layouts as they related to one another. He put the composition elements in similar forms, at arbitrary symmetric locations in space that, from the standpoint of the concept, actually reminded viewers of the Hokusai engravings, the talented Japanese xylographer from the 18th century. He introduced a different version in the artistic treatment of clouds as they ceased being mere supporting elements. They wound up breaking free and acquiring a life of their own. They stood up as central motifs, accepting their relation from an aerial view that recognized their value in space and the illusion of depth attained through an array of blue shades. His sensitivity outlines nonstop variations of the clouds: pointing down, standing up front, in shadows or near the abstract art, starting from symbolic elements in the visual field. Just another creative variant came to pass in 1989 when he stayed in Mexico for four months, one of the world’s most polluted and populated capitals, and where his awareness of how man can actually do away with the environment accrued. The topic remained underlying and surfaced every so often, its antecedents harking back to Sao Paolo in 1985, though it definitely grew stronger while engaging with members of the environmentalist movement in Mexico following an air ride over some cities in which he saw the destruction of forests, oil-covered swamplands and the degree of pollution wafting in the air and resting in the waters. He then rediscovered the garbage dumps and steered his work toward ecology, the importance of environmental protection and the material and spiritual communion between the individual and his habitat. Since the early 1990s, his pictorial quests were definitely leaning to the ecological side and his artworks reflected the vision of a kind landscape versus the incidence of civilization’s wastes that attack beauty and pollute the environment. In 1991, his orientation is homed in on the representation of new landscapes whose sketches are virtually stark abstractions, the outcome of the synthesis of his mental archive, but this time around peppered with details resulting from the direct observation of public garbage dumps that denounce the planet’s environmental decay. In some occasions, he put the garbage dumps next to the seam thus establishing two huge poles apart. And even though he continued to omit the human figure, his presence is felt in the peculiar way of taking us straight to the consequences of a manmade situation that ended up kicking against himself. Through neat lines and resolved humbleness, he drew, pieced together and laid out a dreamland contrary to the size of the tiny individual in the face of creation’s magnificence. His intuition scoured the most remote roots of the human being and many of his most contemporary inquiries tackled from a broad spectrum of meanings. He alluded to the creation of a pure and perfect planet, not devastated by man, but rather highlighted and protected by the individual. He attempted to help build a better world –the token of his own ethical project and a clear expression of his altruism. Even though his abstract world is nourished from his own experiences, the exteriorization of those experiences coupled with his introspective ability make this passage go beyond any scheme, while its array of alternatives expands in search of new interests in a new main topic: the landscape, the human figure and nature knit together in their natural weaving, as well as in a cause-effect relationship that converge without hampering the coherent and organic development of his work. The most striking thing, though, is his ability to conceive the environmental relationship with the individual from a number of different sides. No wonder it shouldn’t be contradictory to say that his current artworks zero in on the human figure or that he takes on an expressionist language to represent his ontological concerns from anthropological underpinnings, through calm, serene painting on one hand, and a more heart-wrenching and ironic one on the other hand. He also took part in Meeting Grounds, held at the St. Francis of Assisi Convent, as part of the collateral exhibits within the framework of the Tenth Havana Biennial, rubbing elbows with major artists from different nations and paving the way for the interrelation with different creative narrations. In parables like From the Cave of the Heart, 2005, he perfectly conjugates the meditative praxis and its vital relationship with nature. He manages to create the utopia of a landscape worked out through austere drawing in which temptation and mystery sprawl into the inextricable depths of a universe. His attractiveness lies in unearthing an ideal spot for recreating and worshiping to the conclusive and suggestive power of an image in retrospective. It stands for the iota of the Tomasian creation and speaks volumes of his faithfulness to the conceptual foundation from his own comments. “Siddha Yoga” speaks of “seeing from the heart”. That means seeing from the inner perspective. When I open my eyes after a profound meditation, the outer world comes to me like a vibrant lacework made of light. What I look at is seen in its wholeness, all at once, and the color, the forms, the textures, the relations between one object and another come to me in a much clearer way. You may get amazed just as if you were seeing things for the first time. That has definitely influenced my painting and I believe it could also happen to any other artist. To me, art is the strength that drives me from within to express myself, to describe the perceptible manner in which I feel what I feel and I see what I see, when I look inside or outside. I try not to establish art-yoga-life ties. Everything happens all at once. Meditation helps me know who I am, let alone it helps me appraise and understand the outer life. Through art I express myself in both ways, inwardly and outwardly. (Montero, 2009) Affiliated to Siddha Yoga, a philosophy that stems from the Kashmir Shivaism and the Vedanta Advaita, that recognizes in reality the Universal Consciousness or Being (also called “God”) and stands up for the cosmic illusion that the universe does exist, is divine and constitute the means to reach the goal: that everything that exists, including us, is One; which is no stranger at all to that Consciousness in whose spirit, the individual soul and God is only one thing. Based on that concept, Tomas conceptualizes his esthetics, considering that the Universe –sort of the environment (including the body and the mind) and whereby we can get to know our true nature– is basically divine and that energy the Universe is made up of is consciousness. Thus, the energy-consciousness, in a state of concentration, represents the ego or “consciousness of being separated from the whole,” and if that energy-consciousness expands to appease our thoughts, we can feel the Universal Consciousness or our true nature. Helped by the revelation of unsuspected realities, the mysterious spaces in his work accrue as if they were a summary of an expansion of his fantasies, and they make us their confidents by allowing us to wander their realm of peace and tranquility through creations carpeted by his most intimate feelings and emotions. The author has admitted: “I look at the landscape with a feeling of reverence, but at the same time I feel I’m a part of it. What it’s inside is outside, too. I feel as if I were seeing outside the things that are inside of me.” (Sullivan, 2003: 19) Following his academic formation and the growth of his mystical experience through the exteriorization of his own energy, he succeeds in spiritualizing, de-constructing and shaping up his visions. To do that he resorts to symbols and strains out the beloved tools that dwell in his graphic memory full of images that emerged from the bottom of his subconscious and whose most remarkable plastic finding is the conception of his own iconography, the result of a plastic adventure wisely macerated, high synthesis level and superbly rigorous and syntactical visual grammar to paint by moving his own feelings onto those elements of the surrounding reality that sensitize him, that make him draw a bead on the individual and his environment. Throughout his artistic career, he runs alongside the landscape, from the vital countryside and environmental pollution and its ripple effects on mankind, to much calmer spiritual ambiences. Peeking at the universe from that perspective is a challenge all by itself, especially when it’s all about the drawing of a unique line of continuity in its evolution. He switches both the languages and the themes through the different stages of his work, always adjusting them to his expressive needs. He’s pleased whenever he interprets the silent relationship between man and the environment, and when he addresses the clean, unpolluted nature the human condition is endowed to in its own reconciliation and to the environment as an indivisible whole. He warns that man hasn’t learned to live yet in nature without destroying it, preferring a domination relationship over it, without working on it constructively. He says mankind needs some social leadership in order to cotton on to the important connections of existence and commit itself to changing its own behavior toward the planet. His discourse builds on a new proposal whose codes put us face to face with a poetry of creative inquiries in a dream universe and a visual atmosphere of intimacy and suggestions that render a sense of cosmopolitan belongingness from his own ecological vocation. His art takes root in the nitty-gritty structure of his theological orientation, thus projecting his footprint in line with the reflex of his consciousness and with his commitment to a harmonic relationship with nature in an effort to guarantee the planet’s health and the survival of different life forms. Helped by the revelation of unsuspected realities, the mysterious spaces of his artworks accrue like the expansion of his own fantasies, thus turning us into confidents as he lets us into his realm of peace and calmness, of creations carpeted with his most intimate emotions and feelings. His creative work sums up countless sides of a vast theme that has singles out his imaging, challenges indolence and gives a wakeup call about the need to count on international cooperation to wipe out all that wrong and its ill-fated repercussions in society. He takes the stance of an artist from the Cuban Diaspora who has stood up for the intensity and value of the Caribbean landscape, being circumstantial with its quality from an ecological standpoint. As a harbinger on the island in sending out a message on the need to live in balance with the environment, he has tried to sensitize mankind through his artistic labor from the obsession of his remembrances and fantasies to carry out the utopia of possible wishful thinking. With all this much, he has toured the world, dignifying Cuba on the world scene and promoting the Cuban art far beyond our borders through a message of cultural integration in the face of the pressing drawbacks the environment is putting up with. In his most recent compositions, he refers to a visual fantasizing of an assorted and broad nature born out of the feelings he harbors deep down inside and from his existential intuition that generates imagined models. We look up at the puzzling side of his painting and the balance he provides through his spiritual come of age and the esthetic value of a work focused on highlighting the beauty and pulse of the energy contained in a necessary and peaceful landscape, a recreation of a universe of his own, the symbiosis of a real and magic world about which Gabriel Garcia Marquez (2008) wrote: “Tomas Sanchez’s fate is to create, through his artworks, the world model we’ll build after the Final Judgment”. By seeing through his heart, Tomas Sanchez has shown us how to go beyond time. BIBLIOGRAPHY Garcia Marquez, Gabriel: Tomas Sanchez (catalog), MARCO, Monterrey, May. 2008. Mosquera, Gerardo: Tomas Sanchez (catalog), NMFA, Havana, Jan. 23, 1985. Montero, Hortensia: Interview, Havana April 22, 2009. Sullivan, Edward J.: “Interview with Tomas Sanchez”, in Tomas Sanchez, Ediciones Skira editore, Milan, Jan. 2003. Vidal, Manuel: Tomás Sanchez’s Landscapes (catalog), Art Gallery, Havana, Sept. 4, 1979.

Pensamiento-nube, 2008 / Acrílico sobre tela / Acrylic on cloth / 75 x 55,5 cm

Homenaje a la Diva, 2008 / Hojas doradas, acrílico y objetos de madera y cartón primanite
Gilt sheets, acrylic and objects made of wood and  cardboard / 42,5 x 53,5 x 7,5cm
Colección Museo Nacional de la Danza, Cuba

La tormenta, 1987 / Óleo sobre tela / Oil on cloth / 160 x 110 cm
Colección Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Paisaje, 1974. Óleo sobre tela / Oil on cloth / 99,5 x 85 cm Colección Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

El viento del sur, 1995 / Acrílico sobre tela / Acrylic on cloth 45 x 60,5 cm / Colección privada