Friday, February 8, 2013

A Cuban Adventure Totally Objective

In the last post, A Cuban Adventure Not Totally Objective, I began a description of El Rapto de las Mulatas (The Abduction of the Mulatto Women), a 1938 painting by Carlos Enríquez.

I asked you to analyze the painting and share with me your aesthetic discoveries, and I am happy to report many of you did.

What follows is my synthesis of your perceptions and mine.

Here is the painting:

Carlos Enríquez, Abduction of the Mulatto Women, 1938, oil on canvas, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana

The picture is an orchestration of light, airy, translucent color masses that twist, turn, and spin in a compressed space.  Right side up, as it is above, that much is clear.

Here it is upside down:


Upside down, the picture divides into two sections: slightly above center, a semi-circle separates the now lower half from the upper.  The lower half consists of lighter, transparent, almost diaphanous volumes rising upward and bulging forward to the right, crowning in the “hat.”  Notice how the “hat” to the left sinks back in space; how the head of the “mulata” between the two “policemen” is the furthest back in space, nestled in a dark crevice; how the oval, bent-back head of the “mulata” on the right floats forward and holds its position in space just below the “policeman” to the right, and her “body,” a cone of deep reds, bulges up and then recedes back completing the curve that divides the picture. 

The now bottom of the picture, like fluffy blue/pink cotton-candy, wisps, curls, and floats creating pockets of space made deeper by the vertical, delicate, curving “palm trees” as they set off the dove-tailing landscape of rolling hills in the far distance.

Look carefully at how far back the space recedes by comparing the “hat,” right side up, to the space created to its right:


Even the “rifle,” its black barrel dramatically pointed back and right, guides us both backward and across this rolling, blue-pink configuration of receding planes.

And while we are here, examine the brush strokes that build that “hat.”  A few of you detected a Cézanne-esque application of short, horizontal strokes that become vertical bands, building its volume.  Notice, too, how the brim is more of a bowl, with the crown of the hat sinking down into a pocket of space and revealing the “eye” and “nose” of the policeman through an open space made by the rising edge of the rim’s golden band.  Notice, also, that the Cézanne brush strokes do not build a solid, set volume, but rather a light, airy one.  Notice, as well, that the vertical alternating blue/gold bands that structure the crown of the hat are rhythmically repeated in the double row of “palm trees” in the far right of the picture.

Now look at this detail of the lower section of the top part of the picture, as the figures meet the two horses:

Swirls of color volumes swim across the picture plane.  The breasts and shoulder of the “mulata” to the left, a bubble-like mass of transparent, muted color, floats between the flattened “policeman’s” body and her thrown-back head.  Her oval “head” contrasts in both color and value to the warmth, lightness, and transparency of her upper body.  In tones of tan, black, gray, and green, the oval volume also sinks down into, and is encircled by, a crown of black.  The undulating  color mass around her completes the color unit, and it consists of the “policeman’s” hand and arm pressing downward and both her arms rising upward, fingers splayed and pointed, the spaces between them rhythmically echoing the men’s bullet vests.   

Wedged between the two “men,” the other “mulata,” is folded legs to chin, and gripped in a two-handed vise.  Her rounded thighs and knees duplicate the rounded, bubble motif of her companion’s upper body, but in Cézanne-esque brushstrokes of heavier, darker tones.  Painted similarly to her companion in tones of blue-gray and tan, her oval face slips slightly behind the left “policeman’s” shoulder. 

To her right, the second “policeman” melts, cubist piece by cubist piece, into the background.

That’s merely the top half.

Now let’s look at the bottom part:


All the color units crowd the frontal plane.  No space recedes between any of the color units.  The horses: one frontal, a swirling volume of blue-grays and tan; the other (to the right) seen from the rear, bulging volumes of reds, oranges, and browns.  Blue-gray wisps fly from the left “horse” and float to the right.  On the top left, the “mulata’s body, a bulging red/orange mass pushes forward and down, closing off the space.  On the right, the “horse’s” rump pushes left against the central “horse,” dramatically and forcefully squeezing it forward as it explodes outwards into the frontal plane.    

Moreover, the color masses, remarkably luminous in combination with strong dark and light accents, do not hark back to Rubens.  Enriquez may have used a subject similar to The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, adapting it to a historically Cuban experience, but he did not borrow Rubens’ bright color or textual and fleshy fidelity. 

Look at the Rubens again:

Rubens, The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, c. 1617, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Enriquez stresses expressive qualities of movement, drama, forcefulness and power—Cézanne-esque qualities with similar subtle colorful modulations—but none of Cézanne’s architectonic setness or solidity. 

His color and swirl has much in common with Pascin’s.

Look at the following pictures to see if you agree:

Pascin, Southern Scene, 1915, Barnes
Pascin, Cubam Hospitality, 1915, Barnes
Pascin, like Rubens, expresses an activity of swirling rhythms and he models volumes by contrasting bands of color.  Like the cubists, he uses angles and planes to orchestrate those units in space.  He adapts Renoir’s lightness, delicacy, and fluidity of color.  Dr. Barnes argues that Pascin creates a “sort of swirl which, though less colorful than Rubens’, and less powerful than Tintoretto’s is akin to both.” (The Art in Painting, p. 376).

That said, Pascin’s color has a pastel quality.  Enriquez color does not.  Enriquez color looks to be the result of applied strokes of tinted air, as though made out of exhaled breath, not pigment.  The marvel is that these delicate, light, airy, translucent color volumes also forcefully and dramatically writhe, swirl, and pulse thereby, in El Rapto de las Mulatas, legitimately linking subject facts to picture facts.  
In my next post, I will review that last sentence.  At the end of last semester, as I read my students’ final papers, I noticed how much trouble they had stating the picture idea for the painting they were analyzing.  While they all were able to discuss their picture as made of colors on a flat surface, when they described those colors, they could not move past what they “represented.”  They talked about hats, not a color volume in space, for example.  This conversion from subject to subject matter, from what we refer to as everyday reality to visual perception, is no easy task.   


























No comments:

Post a Comment