In the 80s of the last century, a unique phenomenon took place in Havana, absolutely unprecedented in the country’s culture. It made its irruption in the plastic arts, extending itself, almost immediately, to other manifestations, especially literature. And it was characterized by its enormous strength and creativity, and by the depth of its controversies, which included artistic pedagogy and the nature of the creative work.
That movement, led by a new generation fresh out of the academies, set out to renew the focus of some aesthetic principles that depended too much on the political and ideological character attributed to artistic representation, reinforced with the regulations of the First National Congress of Education and Culture, during the “grey five-year period”.
Among those artists (somewhat iconoclastic at times) who participated in controversies that sometimes made the hairs stand on end due to their level of passion and the things that were said in them (a phenomenon misunderstood and worse assumed by the Cuban authorities), was our interviewee , Angel Alonso Blanco. It is worth explaining that in the 1980s Alonso was barely over twenty years old and, nevertheless, he was already an active protagonist within the renewal movement that was taking place in the plastic arts. This is precisely what explains my interest in knowing his point of view, now, more than three decades after such events.
How and when did you start painting, at what age, and why the plastic arts? In this same sense, the academies where you studied and what they contributed to you in the artistic and human order.
«As a child I always painted at times, but I also dreamed of other careers. When I was in sixth grade, my father told me about the elementary school where you taught me and told me very seriously that it was a career in which I would often have great financial problems, that artists could have a very difficult time but that if they really I wanted I could try to enter. And look, that is the school where I learned the most, from which I keep the most good memories.
«Then San Alejandro was a chaos, they fired me and I had to finish it in the workers’ course. I never felt good in San Alejandro in the day course. It wasn’t school, it was me, it was my hormones, it was a great incapacity to be able to concentrate on studying, in addition to the event of my first love and the band of Frikis that I founded to compete while dancing rock. New Romantics it was called, our flag was a red heart on a white background, ha ha. I didn’t even set out to enter the ISA, I think for fear of not passing the test, anyway I was already working on whatever appeared to make money. I was very insecure in those days, I hung out with artists who seemed great to me. Today they don’t seem so much to me, I had them idealized, but I owe them the challenge of improving myself ».
Is there an artistic background in your family, writers, painters, musicians?
«My father did illustrations for Gente Nueva, the publishing house for children. The drawings of him in my photo album or the postcards he made always seemed wonderful to me. Yes, he had such a safe and pleasant drawing to see how it was emerging from his hand that it motivated me a lot. He never had pretensions to be a great artist or anything like that, he designed floats or costumes for the carnival, he illustrated, etc., but for me it was decisive to enjoy the freshness and fluidity of everything he did ».
Do you think that the generation to which you belong has been coherent from an artistic point of view, and what characteristics do you attribute to it? Also name the artists that you consider main. Do you consider yours to be a fulfilled generation? What is the difference, artistically, from the previous ones and what relates it to them?
“Let’s see,” he replies, “of course it was a very important phenomenon and in which I feel proud to have participated, I did not have any leading role in the Generation of the 80s, but I did participate in some of its key exhibitions and events, such as The Object sculpted, Not for getting up early…, or The young plastic is dedicated to baseball, but looking at it with the distance of the years, I think there is a lot of mythical in all this. And there is coherence in some and not in others, perhaps the less famous have been more coherent with that perestroikana position that characterized the movement».
«Figures? She says as if I had asked her something strange. It is that I do not believe in figures, I do not believe in important names or in successes, almost always artificial, of this or that artist ». (But man!, I say to myself somewhat disconcerted, all the artists I know always speak of important figures, of those who mark a path within some renewal movement). Ángel Alonso’s vision is radically different:
«Working in this magazine has been very enlightening, printing the work of a very important artist next to another who has no market and sells very poorly, due to the poor environment in which it develops, due to lack of contacts, for not being capable of drawing up a promotional strategy… no matter the cause; When I see the two paintings printed in the same magazine, the one of the expensive and important artist and the one of the unsuccessful artist, both talented, both creative, deeper sometimes the less important, I realize how artificial it is to be ” a figure”.
And when referring to his work as Artistic Director and Editor-in-Chief of the publication where he works, he explains:
«For this reason, what I want to characterize ARTEPOLI is that the artists who appear on its pages do so because of their talent and not because of their fame. That’s what I focus on as an editor, to do a little justice. In any case, the movement of the 80s in Cuba was healthy, authentic and very well-intentioned. Very different from the naturalization of prostitution that came later, from the spiritual emptiness that is felt in later generations, with heavily made-up works and a lot of pseudo-conceptualism without energy».
Does the “prostitution” to which you refer mean an excess of “mercantilism” in the artistic production of the Island? And do you appreciate this as a feature that characterizes everything that came to the Cuban plastic arts after you? I would like you to specify more.
«Yes, it is important to specify, I am not referring to the painter who is forced to do something that tourists like to sell and thus survive, that even has its good side because it proves the responsiveness of an artist, I am referring to what is promoted at high levels, to collaborate with a rigid state to obtain benefits, to give in to the pressures of power to ensure a position as an official and respected artist. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens quite often because those who don’t shut up and live there receive reprisals.”
Do you think that current European societies are interested in art? What is your vision as a Cuban artist of the reality of plastic arts in the world, particularly Spain?
«I notice a very widespread indifference regarding art, except when it generates money, which in my opinion is the complete opposite of art. For me true art has nothing to do with money, I don’t think that great works of art were possible because of money. Not even those that have been commissioned. The true force that produces them is internal, immeasurable and priceless.
It is impossible to deny the marked current trend towards “gentrification” by an elite within the artistic world. I am referring to creator-entrepreneurs who move capital and finance their own foundations. I return to the charge: Does that seem bad to you for the destiny of art?
«In an ideal world, of course, that should not happen, but… It is a very complex phenomenon because perhaps what has happened is that the artist has had to become part of the system so as not to disappear due to lack of interest. And if there is to be an entrepreneur for the existence of art, is it not better that it be the artist himself instead of a person who, by not carrying out this complex activity, does not really know it? I think that the most damaging character on the current scene is not the businessman-artist, but the non-artist businessman, the one who decides, without knowing anything about the subject, what is or is not valuable, based on his money. Yesterday —he adds— I attended an exhibition, in one of the most prestigious galleries in Barcelona —which out of respect I will not name—, and nothing that was exhibited had (in my opinion) any artistic value. They were masterfully executed works, but they looked like Christmas gifts wrapped in cellophane. Everything was empty, soulless, without energy, a lot of sophistication, a lot of digital trickery, a lot of impact, a lot of shine… but everything was empty. It’s disappointing that the more inconsequential the supposed art becomes, the more it sells.”
And it needs more:
«I see the big art centers more interested in the curator’s discourse than in the artist’s discourse. They produce exhibitions that can be very interesting as theses, but in which it is the curator who delivers the discourse, it is he who uses the artists’ works to support his ideas. Often it is about establishing analogies, telling stories or demonstrating the validity of a thought, but the artist has ceased to be the one who speaks directly, and since he wants to be visible, he succumbs to what I have elsewhere defined as “The dark power of the healer.
You grew up in a socialist society, do you think that the Cuban art currently being produced on the Island responds to the principles of that society? What has changed and what remains current in the plastic arts of the Island?
“It does not correspond to the principles of that society, but at the same time it is a product of that society. He is like a German or a Swede who, even if he is not a Protestant, even if he is an atheist, does not cross the street without the right traffic light, even if there is no policeman nearby. Both have Luther in their veins. No matter how atheistic they are, they fear the punishment that a Catholic does not fear; a Catholic feels protected by a priest, he knows that by praying 20 Hail Marys he will be free from sin. So, even if socialism fails in real life, the values instilled remain, its ideals are present as part of a formation that transcends any subsequent political opinion.
Although, at least for me what he says is very clear, he insists on explaining himself better:
«Let’s see, in Cuba you go down an avenue and instead of a Coca Cola sign you find another that says «Reading is growing», for example, and that gradually gets into the mind, no matter how dysfunctional the system is, no matter how much corruption you find in officials, or the prevailing double standards, the value of the phrase “Reading is growing” is what influences you».
Of all the artistic legacy (I mean the plastic arts) throughout history, what values do you consider eternal?
«Spiritual values, of course, those works that can continue transmitting the feeling of the artist through time, whatever their language, even if it is an invisible work like the “knife without a handle with a missing blade” of the surrealists. . The problem is that History is told by power and there are many valuable works that fall by the wayside and History does not have the opportunity to rescue. How many valuable artists have not been lost in the concentration camps of Hitler, Stalin, Mao…?»