Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jose Julian Aguilera Vicente's Vibrant Cuban Expressionism

The plethora of unknown, or little-known, talent continues to amaze me, my inked up comrades. Yet, the part that is little-known is really only limited to our access, as is the case with this feature. I came across this person by accident, but the first image grabbed me like a vice grip. Here was powerful and emotive, expressive work that has been hiding only because of its origin. The island where this work is made is, in fact, well-acquainted with this man's work. So, again, it is a matter of access and export. Let's take a look...
José Julián Aguilera Vicente, b. 1933, in Santiago de Cuba. Aguilera Vicente is one of Cuba’s most recognized artists. His career in the art world has been varied and he has shown his work outside of Cuba, but Cuba remains the most popular spot to find his work. This is where the political binds that tie off cultural exchange need to continue to loosen their grip. Art is art, and people can gain a lot culturally from exposure through the arts. Aguilera Vicente has been able to break free a bit with his work to exhibit his prints outside of Cuba, yet there are many artists living and working in Cuba whom we have limited knowledge of or access to see their work. I am glad we have this opportunity.
In addition to working as a professional artist for over 40 years, he is also known for teaching art at the José Joaquín Tejada Art School in Santiago de Cuba, the Art Education Department at the University of Oriente and the Higher Institute of Education (ISE), amongst other places.

As a child, Agguilera Vicente won a competition and some art supplies. His family was not supportive of his artistic ambitions, but his brother Paco supported him to attend art school. His first teacher/mentor was sculptor René Valdés Cedeño. Among his fellow students was Miguel Ángel Botalín. In 1953, Aguilera Vicente graduated from the José Joaquín Tejada School of Fine Arts, which followed the nationally sanctioned curriculum of Havana’s San Alejandro Art Academy.

After he had begun to teach he took a class in printmaking at the Neighborhood Institute. It was mostly theory, but he was interested to pursue the process. The 1960 Revolution ushered in a new era for Cuba and the artists working there. Aguilera Vicente was asked to teach at the José Joaquín Tejada School of Visual Arts and the following year, he exhibited his first exhibition of engraving with more than 100 prints from Mexico’s Taller Grafica Popular, who specialized in graphic arts related to Mexico’s Revolution. Aguilera Vicente explains the personal significance of this exhibition by saying, “We examined them with a magnifying glass, discussed them, and analyzed how they had made those engravings. Then we dared to do some ourselves. I devoted myself to engraving…. My engraving school was the Mexican Revolution.”

Aguilera Vicente later met the president of the Engravers Association of Cuba, Carmelo González, who taught about printmaking by showing examples, yet it was one of Aguilera Vicente’s students, Lesbia Vent Dumois, who actually taught him techniques which helped him develop his own work. It was also at this time he discovered German Expressionism and Soviet realism.
As time went on, Aguilera Vicente began to turn to relief printing. “Wood is better suited for romantic pieces. I enjoyed it from the first creative step, from the moment the idea occurred to me….It’s a magnet, a fever. “
Aguilera Vicente’s expressionist work emphasizes the presence of an existential separation and fragmentation, and, as Octavio Paz pointed out fragmentation “is the most perfect and vibrant expression of our time.” I, for one, enjoy this man's love of making images, in whatever medium he chooses. The dramatic, evocative nature of his line, the bold compositions, the clear message. Some of the work has a more political overtone, but the somber feel of the rain washing away people's passion and dampening their spirits is reflective of most Cubans' plight as they hope for a better day and social freedoms.

Aguilera Vicente is a founding member of the following art groups:
Raúl Gómez García Brigade
the Juan Marinello Cultural Contingent
the Commission for the Development of Monumental and Environmental Sculpture (CODEMA)
the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC)
the Provincial Committee of the National Union of Cultural Workers (SNTC)

As a prolific artist, Aguilera Vicente has participated in over 100 exhibitions, won regional and national awards, such as Professor Emeritus, the National Culture Distinction and Artist Laureate, and his work has been included in international venues such as the Biennials in São Paulo, Brazil (1967) and Krakow, Poland (1972).

He has had numerous articles, reproductions and critiques published about his work, namely the Cuban publications Bohemia magazine, Mella weekly, Granma daily, Caimán Barbudo magazine and Galería bulletin; as well as Russia’s Revista Literaria Internacional; RDA magazine; and Germany’s Gráfica Contemporánea.
His work can be found in many private collections in Cuba and abroad, including the Emilio Bacardí Museum in Santiago de Cuba, and in the Flores Carbonell Collection.

1961--Oriente Gallery, Santiago de Cuba
1961--Cultural Center, Camagüey, Cuba
1966--Centro Habana Gallery, Havana, Cuba
1966--Habana Gallery, Havana, Cuba
1966--Balcón de Velázquez Gallery, Havana, Cuba
1980--UNEAC Gallery, Santiago de Cuba
1980--Cultural Center, Palma Soriano
1980--Arts Center Gallery, Budapest, Hungary
1962--São Paulo Biennial, Brazil
1975--Art exhibit in Kingston, Jamaica
1976--Santiago in Leningrad, USSR
1976--Modern Cuban Art, Oslo, Norway
1976--Modern Cuban Art, Helsinki, Finland
1976--Modern Cuban Art, Switzerland
1978--Qualifying Committee XI Festival, New York City, USA
1979--Joan Miró International Gallery, Spain
1980--Cuban Graphics, Managua, Nicaragua
1981--Santiago Graphic Exhibit, Mexico City
1982--Cuban Printmaking, Spain
1982--Cuban Graphics, Paris, France
1982--Graphics Sampler, St. George's, Grenada
1983--Cuban Graphics, Mexico City, Mexico
2003-2004--Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C.
2003-2004--Lighthouse Center for the Arts, Tequesta, Florida

View more of Aguilera Vicente’s work at:

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