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Williams Carmona. El canalla, 2008. Acrílico sobre lienzo. 55,8 x 43 cm. (22 x 17 pulgadas).

Solo Show
Williams Carmona
Latin Art Core

ArtNexus #72 - Arte en Colombia #118
Mar - May 2009

Miami, Florida
Rafael Lopez Ramos

Latin Art Core gallery presented ¿Recent Works,¿ an exhibition by the Cuban artist Williams Carmona (born 1967, Pinar del Río). The show included about twenty medium-format works that followed the same path that Carmona has been forging since the early 1990s. The artist, who settled in Puerto Rico in 1992, calls his style ¿Tropical Surrealism,¿ a definition that seems to arise not from the presence of an influence or source but as an ironic quote, launched with an unmistakably Caribbean sense of humor from the vantage of a postmodern distance. Carmona¿s post-Surrealist landscapes, with figurative elements that quote the style of Dalí, evoke Yves Tanguy¿s desolate oneiric landscapes and function as the metaphysical ground for the deployment of Carmona¿s variegated gallery of characters¿a true Caribbean tableaux where everything has a place, from the sacred to the carnivalesque, through a wide repertoire of skillfully executed quotations from world art masters.
Beyond their Renaissance or Baroque appearance, the central characters in Carmona¿s works often represent real individuals of Puerto Rican life¿lunatics, homeless people, losers of all kinds¿approached with a profound sense of compassion. Carmona invites his subjects to his home for a meal, converses with them in an attempt to understand their truly surreal logic, and takes notes and photographs that he later transfers to the language of painting, following the cues of the classics of art history. The introduction to Carmona¿s web site offers some photographs of these models, such as the central character in Fórmula para mujeres and El que espera la ilusión se desespera. A very different case is the subject of La Dama de Hierro (2007), a local celebrity and the prioress of the Carmelitas convent in San Juan. Since colonial times, the convent has received tribute from ships entering port in exchange for the nuns¿ warnings about the presence of pirates, a practice that today seems rather dubious. The show also included two magnificent portraits¿a traditional genre in which Carmona has always distinguished himself¿of the comedian Alexis Valdés and the late bass player Orestes López Cachao.
Another example of Carmona¿s conceptual gamesmanship between reality and art history is El Canalla (2008), his first self-portrait. In this work, Carmona transforms himself into Leonardo¿s Mona Lisa, explores the Cartesian mind/body duality, and trains a reflective gaze on the personality of the artist, like a machine that filters and grinds down reality. Carmona also seems to wink knowingly about the myth that Da Vinci represented a man or a symbolic fusion of the masculine and the feminine in his famous painting. Another transsexual game, but in the opposite direction, takes place in La obsesión del Menino (2008), which places on one of Velázquez¿s meninas a hirsute male head that gazes at the viewer with vitriolic intent while shepherding a rare tapir adorned with moose antlers. This animal chooses for his pasture precisely Velázquez¿s famous image, seen at the same angle at which it appears in the Prado Museum.
Another significant aspect of Carmona¿s pictorial discourse is the presence of biological elements: flora and fauna represented in graceful line drawings that recall the style of Roberto Fabelo (Carmona¿s teacher in art school) or, emerging from the heads of the central characters like vegetal explosions, in a figuration as lyrical as Zaida del Río¿s bunches of vegetation, fish, birds, and female nudes. In some of these recent works, a new symbol appears as the composition¿s central element: a receptacle or vase that sometimes contains the characters like genies in lamps, as in Sebastián ídolo de la liberación (2008) or shapes their bodies and expresses their identities, as in Mujer embotellada (2007) and Rayo de leche (2008).
Completing the exhibition were five works belonging to a broader investigation that Carmona began years ago: painting on three-dimensional surfaces. There were two frying pans, two mannequins, and one work that creatively combined both elements. This last work harmonized the artist¿s ¿Known Stories¿¿which Carmona says are entirely autobiographical (with a sense of humor that implies memories of so meager a gastronomy that it could have fried eggs as its herald)¿with a celebration of what can be called the ¿contemporary female deity.¿ The mannequins¿ mutilated bodies are at the same time reminiscent of archeological fragments of Greek statuary, direct-marketing tools for the fashion industry, and a magnificent tribute to the body art and tattooing that today covers the skin of women around the globe, inscribed with characters, landscapes, and all kind of stories¿cooked or raw¿of this difficult century.

Rafael López-Ramos



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