Carlos Enríquez Gómez
Carlos Enríquez (August 3, 1900 - May 2, 1957), was a Cuban painter, illustrator and writer of the Vanguardia movement (the Cuban Avant-garde). Along with Víctor Manuel, Amelia Peláez, Fidelio Ponce and Antonio Gattorno, and other masters of this period, he was involved in one of the most fertile moments in Cuban culture. He is considered by critics to be one of the best, and most original, Cuban artists of the 20th century.
Carlos Enríquez strived to develop a genuinely Cuban style that, while fueled by surrealism and modernism, took inspiration from Cuba's landscapes, culture, social problems and way of living. He was also considered a rebel, and was often criticized for the allegedly explicit nature of his nudes, and for his bohemian lifestyle.
Born in Zulueta, in the former Cuban province of Las Villas, on August 3, 1900 to a wealthy Cuban family, Carlos Enríquez received little academic training, so his art is considered to be largely autodidact. At a young age he transferred to Havana to complete his bachelor studies, and in 1920 his parents sent him to Philadelphia, where he studied Commerce until 1924. At his insistence, he was permitted to study Painting at the Pennsylvania Academy, where he took a short summer course. Due to differences with his professors, he never finished the course, which were the only painting studies he ever took. He returned home the following year, with fellow painter Alice Neel whom he married that year.
Soon after his return, he started painting professionally, while working as an accountant at the Lonja del Comercio (Havana's Stock Exchange). In 1925 he participated in his first exposition, and in 1927 two of his nudes were retired from the Exposition of New Arts of Havana after being considered "exaggeratedly realistic". 1927, however, marks the year when the Cuban Vanguardia movement made its first steps, mainly thanks to this exposition, and the artists that participated in it would later become the higher exponents of the movement.
The episode convinced Enríquez to return to the United States. After breaking up with Alice Neel, he returned to Cuba in 1930 with their daughter Isabetta. That same year, another of his expositions is aborted due to the allegedly explicit content of his paintings. He again left Cuba, this time for Europe, mainly Spain and France, where he continued his painting career and got in touch with Impressionism and surrealism, currents that will radically influence his work. Some of his best works were produced in this period: Bacteriological Spring and Virgen del Cobre (which is the patron saint of Cuba).
He returned to Cuba in 1934, and started a new pictorial style, which would become his trademark. He named it Romancero Guajiro (countryman's romance), a modernist approach to the stories and colors of the Cuban countryside. Like the case of the other vanguardia artists, the reencounter with his native land provided the catalyst for his mature style and his commitment to express Cuban realities and myths. The subjects were often inspired by popular myths and social realities. One of his preoccupations as an artist concerned the expression of an authentic Cuban-Caribbean culture, which he believed was only to be found in the countryside, in its Creole people, myths, and legends. His interest in the representation of the life outside Havana was also motivated by his belief that the real Cuba lay outside the capital. Enríquez's Romancero Guajiro was strongly influenced by some of the core ideas of modernist primitivism. His primitivism, however differs from that of Antonio Gattorno and Eduardo Abela in that it does not represent the guajiros as simple, calm, and noble, but as raw, violent, and restless. His painting Rey de los Campos de Cuba (King of the Cuban Fields) received first prize in 1935's National Exposition of Painters and Sculptors.
Rise to fame and death
Near 1939, he bought a small bungalow in Parraga, a semi-rural neighbourhood in south Havana which he baptized El Hurón Azúl (the Blue Ferret). This remained his home for the rest of his life. Here he painted one of his most famous works: El Rapto de las Mulatas (the kidnapping of the Mulatto Women). A transposition of the Rape of the Sabine Women to the Cuban fields, it is said that Enríquez had a horse brought to his workshop, tied Sara Cheméndez (his female model at the time) to the horse and had the animal lashed, in order to have a more realistic scene for the painting. The same year, he was again awarded a prize in the National Exposition for this painting, and published his first novel, Tilín García.
In the 1940s, he wrote two more novels (La Vuelta de Chencho and La Feria de Guaicanama, which were published posthumously on 1960), illustrated books, held conferences and expositions in several countries, wrote articles for different magazines, and continued to paint. He also received another prize in 1946's National Exposition for his painting La Arlequina.
His life was marked by alcoholism. During the 1950s his health weakened, and he suffered several problems with broken bones, allegedly caused by his unregulated way of living. He is said to have had severe economical problems, for the same reason. He died on May 2, 1957, while painting in his study. That same day, a personal exposition was to be inaugurated (it was of course delayed a month after news of his death). His house in Havana is now a small museum with about 140 paintings by Enríquez, and a number of sketches and writings. The house also acts as the meeting center for a small organization of young Cuban artists, named Hurón Azúl.
Enríquez' signature visual language was mainly composed by fluid lines, overlapping color forms, transparencies and dynamic figure compositions. His works usually aimed at depicting the Cuban countryside's history, myths and folklore. Poor peasants, bandits, sensual women, restless horses, and landscapes of palm trees and rolling hills were his common subjects. One of the foremost examples of Enríquez's romancero guajiro and of his painting in general is El Rapto de las mulatas (The Abduction of the Mulatto Women, 1938), in which Enríquez includes some of the above named elements of his iconography: aggressive rural men, sensual mulatto women, restless horses, and windswept landscape of rolling hills. Its heated emotional subject of abduction and potential rape is not only depicted, but forcefully expressed through a personal visual language of pulsating and diaphanous color-forms. Enríquez's paintings are about ecstasy when they are not about violence, for in both themes he identified one of the fundamental characteristics of his latitudes-the strident, orgasmic, experience of finiteness.
He also painted portraits and self-portraits, a large number of nudes and a handful of still lifes. He described his work in the following manner:
"My work is in a constant state of evolution towards the interpretation of images produced between vigilance and sleep, Nevertheless, I am not a surrealist. Currently, I am interested in interpreting the sensibility of a Cuban, American or continental atmosphere but removed from the methods of the European schools. To do otherwise would be like trying to resolve that which is ours with foreign formulas, for oriental art is as distant from my sensibility (though it may move me) as is the art of Picasso".
Enríquez was also an accomplished writer and illustrator. He published 3 books and a number of essays and articles. He also provided the illustration artwork for books by Nicolás Guillén and Alejo Carpentier, two famous Cuban writers that were friends of the painter and regularly visited his workshop.
Enríquez' art started having wide recognition during his lifetime, currently his work is permanently displayed in the following museums and collections around the world:
- National Museum of Havana (or Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes).
- Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- El Hurón Azúl, Havana.
- Cuban Foundation Museum, Daytona Beach.
- Cuban Museum of Art and Culture, Miami.
A number of Enríquez' paintings and drawings are as well present in several private collections in Cuba, Latin America, the United States and Europe.
- "Carlos Enríquez, el controvertido artista cubano del pincel". Nnc.cubaweb.cu. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
- "Carlos Enríquez y el Hurón Azul | María Elena Balán/ Arca de cubania". Rcadecubania.blogia.com. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
- Martínez, Juan. Cuban Art and National Identity. Florida: University Press Florida, 1994: 120
- Cruz-Taura, Graciella, Fuentes-Perez, Ileana, and Pau-Llosa, Ricardo. Outside Cuba. New Jersey: Office of Hispanic Arts Mason Gross School of the Arts, 1988: 44.
- Pintores Cubanos, Editors Vicente Baez, Virilio Pinera, Calvert Casey, and Anton Arrufat; Ediciones Revolucion, Havana, Cuba 1962