Aporias of artistic thought: An approach to the work of Rafael López Ramos

1- In 2011 your work was included in the book Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora: Setting the Tent Against the House, written by Andrea O’Reilly. What does it mean for you to have been one of the artists selected to compose this book?

Andrea’s book takes as a reference the CAFÉ: the journey of Cuban artists project, a series of exhibitions in different academic spaces and museums, curated by Leandro Soto, in some of which I participated. In it the author “focuses on the CAFÉ project to explore the long and turbulent Cuban history of movement and rupture, from the perspective of its visual arts and to meditate on the way in which one reconstitutes and reinvents oneself in the context of the diaspora.” For me and my wife and colleague Natasha Perdomo it was very important to have been included in her study because when she visited us to interview us we were still living in Vancouver, Canada, and we were experiencing firsthand that process of readjustment and adaptation that occurs in the first years of geographic and cultural transplantation. And of course, it was also nice to participate in the project together with other artists that I know since we started our studies in Cuba or we participated together in some exhibitions of the 80s and now we have been part, for several decades, of this diasporic tide or species of an extraterritorial nation, along with other artists of Cuban origin who have been trained or even born outside the island and continue to create a work in which Cubanness continues to be a notable reference.

2- The issue of the Cuban Diaspora in the United States, specifically in Miami, has always caused debate around the link between the term and art. What do you see and what do you not see as attractive to being part of the Diaspora as an artist?

The subject, in the context of Miami, can take on an even more controversial nuance as it is labeled “art from exile”, but that is a straitjacket that the artist is allowed to put on or not, confining the scope of his work to limits of a getto. It is like having escaped from a corral to get into another a little larger, with more shade and food, but a corral nonetheless. Freedom is often spoken of as an absolute and universal concept, nothing relative, and sometimes we lose sight not only of the limits that are imposed, to a different degree, in each context where we land, but also those that we usually self-impose so as not to be discordant in the chorus.
I have gotten out of that choral monotony every time I have considered it necessary, because I like my work to dialogue with the social environment where it is created, (and I do not mean Miami, this kind of city-state that is for many Cubans ), but to the United States and to this entire quasi-globalized planet that we inhabit when we leave the Cuban archipelago, no matter where we establish residence.
I have always been very free and independent, and I prefer to do things my way even if it costs me twice as much work (I could explain the absence of my work in so many private, local, Cuban art collections, paraphrasing Beuys “I love Miami and Miami hates me ”); but it is fun to know that the day they “discover” it, they will have to buy it on the secondary market, at double or triple its current value, mine being a rather scarce and restricted production. And to finish answering your question, what I find most attractive about this diasporic condition is that “The air makes the eagle”, as Goethe would say.

3- The iconography in your work represents a good part of your perceptions of the world as an artist. The characters linked to the story (mainly Cuban) are accomplices to each other, supporting a language sometimes with suggestive irony. How would you describe the treatment of history in your paintings?

I consider the official history that is taught in textbooks and educational programs around the world, not only in Cuba, as a fable concocted to better control the masses, isolating them from the rest of their peers around concepts such as patriotism. and nationalism, which can make someone willing to die in war, the most lucrative business and industry in the modern era, exploiting a primitive instinct that still lives on in our genes.
My painting is, like any work of art, a fiction that is broken down into two levels of expression, that of painting itself as physical and retinal matter, a composition of colors and shapes that can be perceived as abstraction if we squint, but at the same time open them completely and focus on each element, we begin to read the narrative implicit in each one, that other fable that alludes to the official history, subverting it with a dose of humor or absurdity to expose its embrasures and seams, not with a mobilizing desire, that would touch the borders between art and the pamphlet – what today more elegantly call “ARTivism” -, but rather as a coded aesthetic message that would serve to bear witness to the things that characterized this peculiar period of human civilization and, therefore his position, to please a handful of strangers who today agree to perceive this work as a living cultural vehicle in which they see their own obsessions, philias and phobias reflected, independent Whether or not it matches the color of the sofa. But the characters or symbols that I use come from the most diverse historical, cultural or iconographic traditions and I mix them freely to achieve a kind of puppet altarpiece that parodies – and makes fun of – that great dramatic scene that History and History claim to be. Culture.

4- The use of color in most of your works has a high level of contrast between cold and warm colors, which is manifested for example in your Chromatic Aporias series. How important is color to conform to the semiotics in each of your pieces?

The Chromatic Aporias project was conceived ad hoc for a gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art, MOCA, in North Miami, a sort of site specific, made up of four large-scale paintings, one for each wall of the space, which is almost square and I resorted to the square format. But its main feature in chromatic terms is that I composed each piece playing with a pair of complementary colors: Blue-Orange, Yellow-Violet and Red-Green –which I repeated in one of the works, reversing its location from background to figure, since there are only three pairs. The reason why I turned to harmony as complementary is that in it the colors vibrate, they almost scream when juxtaposed; they are a kind of opposites that nevertheless complement each other and are always united in nature – the shadow of each color contains its complement. That’s why it seemed to me a metaphor that embodied the concept of aporia very well, albeit subtly.
In the rest of my works I use color in a very specific way, depending on the theme or the visual elements that make up the composition, for example in The Dark Night of the Soul and Backdrop, a range of cold colors between blue and violet predominate , rather dark.

5- “The carnival mixture of such dissimilar narratives could perhaps explain – embodying them – the cultural, philosophical and political paradoxes that the Cuban soul has faced during several decades of its history, while representing a contemporary recreation of the Aristotelian concept of aporia: the equality of contrary conclusions ”. This is how you pose about your Aporias series. In that carnival mix, do you propose a socio-political change for that Cuban soul or is it just an artistic resource of pictorial representation?

Some time ago I became aware of the limits of art to transform society, for example, when we tried in the 80s, those who ended up transformed were the artists. I only intend to metaphorically document a state of affairs and help to reflect on that, each one from their own interpretation and reaching their own conclusions. The soul of a nation (its idiosyncrasy) is something quite difficult to alter, hence the powers rather analyze these peculiarities in order to better exercise dominance over them. I resumed this series, after letting it sleep for more than a decade, but it was like a process, not at all conditioned by the reestablishment of Cuba-USA relations, since it was reactivated little by little with specific works such as El Caballo de Troya, 2011; The Allseing Girl, 2013; and four small pieces that I made for the collective exhibition Short Story, curated by Rubén Torres Llorca for the Juan Ruiz Gallery, in June 2014, of which three were exhibited: Who’s Next in Line ?, Yawning All the Way to Heaven and As Above, So Below), but beyond the light and ironic tone of most of the works that make it up, they approach the subject from a rather humanitarian point of view, and a feeling of deep compassion, trying to understand myself himself and help others to understand who we are in this world, in this hemisphere and this continent, beyond all the disguises, nicknames and destinations that have been assigned to us since the very foundation of the Republic of Cuba. And it is not about hurting or commiserating about our destiny, but about trying to get some practical lesson from everything we have experienced.

6- Due to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in 2014, the socio-cultural projects between both countries have increased. What do you think about it as an artist who has formed and is an active part of both countries?

I think it is positive that this diplomatic and cultural dialogue takes place to cement a full relationship between the two countries, interrupted for more than 50 years due to the opposite roles that both had to play in the theater of the Cold War. But the holding of a large exhibition on the island with all the artists of the generation of the 80s who are part of that diaspora that we mentioned at the beginning is still pending. There was a project that Elvia Rosa Castro was curating and it would take place in February 2015 at the Visual Arts Development Center, but for various reasons it was frustrated.

7- Many people consider that the “boom” by which Cuban art transcends at this time is just a trend with a future market that, apparently, favors both collectors and artists inside and outside the Island. What are your perspectives within this “boom”?

Everything seems to indicate that so far this “boom” has focused almost exclusively on artists who reside within the island – or temporarily live abroad – who seem to be hoarding symbolic capital – and of course, financial capital. – generated by the item “Cuban Art”. Personally, this boom has not affected me even positively or negatively, I continue to have the favor of the same type of middle-class collectors, generally academics or scientists, who acquire works out of true love of art, not looking for a high-return investment ( or a status symbol, in the case of those who collect signatures, such as children competing to see who completes their set of Baseball postcards first, etc.). The great American collections, not even the Rubins, have not yet noticed my work either, when I participated in a large collective exhibition held by The 8th Floor space, belonging to their foundation, curated by Rachel Weingeist and Orlando Hernández, in 2013. But It is not something that makes me despair. Whenever it has been necessary, I have had a job, related or not to art, so as not to be forced to sell my work below its real value.

8- In the Wonderland series, the female figure is shown in a kind of wicked game in oil. How do you explain the presence of women in your work?

In this series, the repeated presence of the female figure alludes to a more evil game than that of Isaak’s song, since I took as an initial reference the use and abuse of the image of women, as a sexual symbol, by advertising commercial, to reflect on other social and economic phenomena suffered by the US population, such as the financial crisis, matching the subaltern and weak situation of the majority of the population with that historically suffered by them. I know that all of this can turn out to be quite demotic in the midst of an artistic panorama dominated by formalism, abstraction and a kind of run-of-the-mill Modernism imposed by the market, auction houses, etc. interior designer.

9- According to your experience and / or knowledge as an artist, you could define or expose your criteria on the concept of Cuban art.

It is a complex task that, as well as defining the Cuban nationality itself, but I would dare to say that Cuban art is created by any artist born in Cuba or descended from Cubans, although honestly, it seems more urgent to first define what art is, at a time when there is insistent talk of his death and the Art institution is transformed under the influence of the market and new technologies. However, this supposed death of art would be more related to the artist’s displacement to an increasingly insignificant and subordinate role in the fabric of the “art industry” – to somehow homologate it with the financial one, given the speculative nature of both-, which is a bitter irony in the context of the current resurgence of the “modernist look” –not so much of its spirit given the central role of the artist in Modernism and the avant-garde of the 20th century. Only the accurate definition of “Zombie Formalism” comes to mind, which has begun to circulate among the most serious critics as a reaction to the phenomenon.

10- In 2015 you held an exhibition with the Chromatic Aporias series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami. What are your plans or cultural projects for the current year 2016?

I’m not used to making plans many months in advance, because you never know where you will be or if you are still alive. But in the last month, invitations to various group exhibitions have been made or appeared, among which I can confirm Fried Cuban Chicken, which opens on June 25, curated by Rochi Llaneza for the MAC Fine Art gallery in Fort Lauderdale, and the Another is CloseUp, which will open on July 7 at the Webber Gallery of the College of Central Florida, in Ocala, together with the artists Alberto Carol, Ivonne Ferrer, Lia Galletti, Ismael Gómez Peralta, Victor Gómez, Aldo Menéndez and Aimee Pérez.

11- Anything else you want to add?

Well, thank you for your interest in my art and for having dedicated a very valuable time to elaborate this interview in such an important, complicated and beautiful moment of your life as is motherhood.

Miami, September, 2016

Rafael López Ramos, Aporia in Green and Red, 2015
Art OnCuba Magazine https://artoncuba.com/blog-es/entrevista-a-rafael-lopez-ramos/