— September 14, 2016

A Celebration of Wifredo Lam

It's happening ! ..... The Wifredo Lam retrospective at The Tate Modern "The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam", opens today.  I am keeping myself pure of reading too many reviews as I want to skip along tomorrow and enjoy it with only my own preconceptions....... which are, that if ever there was an artist who may be championed as a celebrant of different cultures, a participator in causes, and an assimilator of art movements it has to be Wifredo Lam. Exuding on to canvas and paper from this kaleidoscope of elements, a representation of myth and life - the Lam world.

I have long had a fascination with Cuban surrealist artist, Wifredo Lam (1902 – 1982) and his seemingly, strange symbolism – particularly his ‘femme cheval’ (the horse-headed female).  Wifredo Lam’s works have a rich vocabulary of symbolism which comes from his mixed heritage: Chinese, African, Indian and Spanish descent and with that, an inherited rich background of religious tradition – including Confucius, Catholicism and Santeria.  He travelled widely throughout his life and was exposed to the influence of many artists including: Matisse, Joan Miro, Fernand Leger, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso; to the art movements of cubism in Spain and surrealism in France and was greatly inspired by the African sculpture of the Pacific Islands.  It is the sum of all these influences in the images that make up his paintings: Lam combined the radical modern styles of surrealism and cubism with the iconography and spirituality of African and Cuban mythology to create his own unique body of work.  From the 1950s through to the end of his life Wilfredo Lam developed and perfected his printmaking techniques.

Untitled (lithograph, 1974) above, contains the familiar stylistic characteristics and symbols that Lam was using at the time: la femme cheval with braided hair flowing down her back and the round-faced girl.  La femme cheval contains imagery of Santeria religious rights, where an Orisha, here the horse deity, interacts with the world and humankind and possess the body of a believer during ritual ceremonies and transforms them into a hybrid being that is part human and part horse as they communicate with the natural world.  Looking at this image, one first might see the strong linear black outline reminiscent of Matisse, Miro and Leger, and then Cubist elements of form derived from African sculpture reminiscent of Picasso but then beyond that one see that Lam gives these outlined forms meaning, bringing to life on paper the myth that they represent.

In Lam's Apostrophe’ Apocalypse (an etching and aquatint, 1974) above there are two images of the femme cheval and looking at the time it was created, it is a possible representation for the Cuban revolution, the horse no longer a victim or representing victims (Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937)) but representing the revolutionary liberation.  Cubist horse of suffering ? Santeria horse deity ? Liberating horse of the Apocalypse ?  .....you decide.


The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam at Tate Modern

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