Real Still Life

A Cuban artist captures time and throws it on a wooden canvas

Fernando Garcia's paintings are crafty enough to bring to mind Plato's distrust of art. For the Greek philosopher, by attempting to become more real than reality, painting was a deceiving art form. But in fact Garcia's work makes you relish the delicate balance between perception and illusion. Is that really a piece of adhesive tape on the panel, or is it painted on? And if it is, how could it look so true to life? This said, Plato may have had a point. I generally resist a painting's ability to show its essence by playing tricks on me; I needed to see more behind Garcia's persuasive trompe l'oeil. And I did.

If daily perception means to encounter a constant mishmash of elements, Garcia's art could be seen as poetically consistent to our human experiences. In addition he works hard at making the result irresistible to our gaze. In a sort of postmodern way, his art re-creates our ever-changing reality. In that way the paintings' artifice plays a positive role, beyond that of a decoy, to make us look once more. Garcia's art communicates an ambivalent fascination with the past, combined with a socially relevant twist and a fondness for that painterly quality of painting. After viewing his work, you'll likely find the aftertaste is poignant enough to keep you thinking about the images.

Fernando Garcia's creative world was formed at ENA (the National School of Art) and the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. He started making images during the Eighties, at the end of Cubastroika, a period during which Cuban artists believed they could push the envelope and move beyond the creative stagnation on the island. They concluded that the Seventies -- perhaps the most repressive decade for the arts after the revolution -- was a thing of the past. Garcia confesses he was fooled: "In reality it was a way [for authorities] to know what you really thought about things, a game of power." At the beginning of the Nineties, with the coming of the so-called rectification process, the artist (along with most of the artists of that generation) left the island disappointed. "I realized I only needed a one-way ticket," he says. So he fled to Mexico, where he had the opportunity to immerse himself in the underground culture, collaborating with magazines and absorbing as much as he could. The experience paid off. "Mexico had an impact on my work," he notes. And indeed there's something very Mexican about his use of color, props, and mood.

Garcia uses realistic detail to create everyday moments
Garcia uses realistic detail to create everyday moments

In 1992 Garcia came to the United States and worked hard to elaborate on his unique realistic style. "I start with a wood panel and a few ideas; that's it." What follows is a long interaction between artist and creation. A painting may take more than four months of heavy detail work. The wood will be painted, scratched, glazed, painted again, oxidized, scorched, and sanded until puzzling images and textures begin to emerge. The result looks both antique and contemporary.

Garcia is able to incorporate his own experiences into a pictorial world filled with rusty pipes, fruits, brick surfaces, and the female figure. The last of these is a constant in his work. "Women are not exclusively an object of beauty; they also express an idea.... The female image is important in that it reveals an intrinsic human value," he says. One senses a certain romantic idealization of the female form in Garcia's paintings, and I think he could overcome that stereotype and still keep together his overall mood.

It's a good thing that Garcia is never sanctimonious, and he defuses a bit of the seriousness with specks of pop imagery. In the end his art is about time -- its inevitable course and its inexorable weight upon us. Through that lens one can understand the artist's intention to interpret the finer details, as well as his obsession to capture every other moment as a mark on a wall, a cornice, an arch, or some form of mosaic imagery. After seeing Garcia's work I could almost hear Gauguin questioning, "Where do we come from? Where are we going?"

Garcia's paintings can be seen by appointment at Roberto Ramos's Cuban Masters Collection. CMC functions as a restoration studio and a gallery of old and contemporary Cuban art. Ramos has amassed an impressive collection of nineteenth-century and premodern masters, as well as lesser-known recent figures, which, in time, will need to be reexamined in the context of twentieth-century Cuban art.

 
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