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During the break/Oil on canvas
 

 
Solo Show
Arturo Montoto

ArtNexus #43 - Arte en Colombia #89
Feb - Apr 2002



Panama City, Panama
Institution:
Legacy Fine Art

Mónica E. Kupfer


The Cuban artist Arturo Montoto exhibited a series of his works at Legacy Fine Art. The pieces were related to each other by composition and theme, offering his vision of the traditional still-life. Using oil on canvas, Montoto creates environments of walls marked by time and abandonment, worn-out steps, and window frames behind which no human presence can be seen; all serving as scenarios for one or two isolated objects, usually a fruit or a fresh vegetable, placed in strategic positions, painted with very luminous colors and quite detailed, almost hyperrealist. In the majority of paintings, the artist creates a contrast between the vitality of natural elements and the somber quality of the settings, produced with the exclusive use of the spatula. No doubt, the first impression one experiences is one of observing a peaceful still-life of realist and classical style that probably attracts the massive public that usually rejects the audacity of the majority of avant-garde artists.
The technical skills of this Cuban artist are unquestionable. He has a solid education from Cuban and Russian academies, and he also practices intense self-teaching by reading and studying history of art. His academic history is revealing. He has a degree in muralist painting, he¿s been a professional photographer, and also a teacher of photography and painting. He lived in Russia for six years, two years in Chile, and presently spends his time between Cuba and Mexico. His experience in the realm of photography includes several prizes. It is interesting to find out that he has developed several exhibits of objectual art ¿a creative aspect almost absent from the show done in Panama.
Although Montoto now dedicates most of his time to drawing and painting, his work still reflects his photographer¿s eye. His most recent paintings combine the realism conveyed by the photographic image with a profound admiration for the painters of the European baroque. The artist allows us to recognize in his works samples of figures like Sánchez Cotán, the one with the almost ascetic still lives; the light and dark effects of Rembrandt, and Rubens¿ technique of transparencies and varnishes. These are elements Montoto admires, internalizes, and incorporates into his works, assimilating the lessons and creating works with his personal touch of baroque.
We are talking about a Latin American type of baroque, because of the few elements used and the sense of desolation expressed in his compositions. The opulent tables with food and flowers that characterize Dutch baroque are not found in his works. As he once said to me, ¿The thing is, in Cuba we don¿t see tables like that.¿ Perhaps this is the source of the nature of his still lives; because, in his case, we are talking about tropical fruit in settings that, because of their abandonment and darkness, suggest a social commentary.
In any case, in the works of Montoto, baroque is the concept of the memento mori. He paints the fruit and the vegetables in that very brief moment of perfect ripeness, when they¿re about to disappear, because they may soon be consumed, like the mango and the silver spoon in the piece, Conversación en el dintel (Conversation on the Threshold); or because they have already been intervened by the human hand, like the onion in En el descanso (On the Rest), and the sliced papaya in La reina de este mundo (The Queen of this World). These are products of the land of his native island, the natural wealth of a place economically depreciated. The places where he positions the fruit, although illogical for food, are the spaces in the Cuban cities where urban maintenance and renovation are not even dreams yet.
In Montoto¿s works, light is oblique, dramatic, and baroque. We are talking about an intense illumination that has to do more with artifice than with the Caribbean. It reflects the way this artist constructs his still lives and illuminates them with electric lights, placed in such a way that it satisfies his aesthetic interests. The compositions themselves are based on a geometric structure, clearly established in the background, as one would have in the scenography of the theatre.
However, more than these comparisons, it is also interesting that Montoto does not only look for realism in his works; he also wants to create a sense of uncertainty. There is something surreal about presenting fruit outside their usual context. The compositions don¿t tell the whole story, and the titles, deliberately suggestive, insinuate a different reality from the one apparent. As in dream-like settings, the paintings contain elements of reality, but at the same time they show undefined and dark spaces. Curiously enough, the artist achieves his objective more so with the less picturesque pieces, with those that are almost monochromatic, where we see a simple pen or the dry husk of a corn-cob, instead of a painted fruit with the preciosity and the color that Montoto knows well how to achieve.
In the context of this exhibit of realist and apparently classical still lives of, I thought it valuable to have discovered, in an interview with the artist, that he also has explored other media, launching himself beyond the traditional painting and the well-wrought drawings of nudes that have made him famous. Although the pieces presented in Panama don¿t show an intention to break schemes, Montoto has also created works of objectual art and installations; thus, expressing a search that brings necessary risks for someone who obviously has complete control over the production of still lives, and perhaps even comfortably so. By exploring new languages ¿at the same time he continues to question the relations between photography and the painted image, between the objet trouvé and the poetic interpretation of the same, between urban reality and intimate truths¿ this artist will also continue to impress his public.




 


 

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