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Reynerio Tamayo: A Chronicler of the Times

Reynerio Tamayo: A Chronicler of the Times

Tamayo is one of those artists who think talent is not enough without creative discipline. Generally, he is in his studio early in the morning,working on one of his many projects. Since 1996, he has done 20 solo shows and an impressive number of group exhibitions. Most important, is his constant presence in the debate over visual arts in Cuba in the past decades.

Tamayo’s work is easily identified by the “great public” in his paintings, sculptures and numerous graphic arts pieces, such as posters or caricatures, which have earned him several awards.

The artist was born in 1968, in Niquero, a town on Cuba’s south coast, although he lived part of his childhood on the Isle of Youth where he attended elementary art school. He later moved to Havana where he studied at the National Visual Arts School and the Higher Institute of Art (ISA).

From the very beginning, acuteness and irony are the trademarks of his pieces, especially when the delve into his view of the artists of his generation during the era in which they were struggling to become members of the Cuban visual arts community. He tells us that those were the years when projects were conceived for “the love of art,” which ensured much controversy and pluralistic views.

One of Tamayo’s major virtues is his openness to many subjects and styles. He harbors no prejudicesas witnessed in his Penicilina para los cheos y la tristeza(1987) and Gánsteres en La Habana(2012).

Tamayo’s work carries a great richness due to the “smuggling” he constantly engages in of important artists from different periods. He radically manipulates these figures and irreverently connects them to Cuban idiosyncrasies. Along this runway, we have seen the parade of Velázquez, Van Gogh, Goya, Magritte, Dali, Malevich, Toulouse Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and more. Such intense and promiscuous contact has resulted in Magritte con bombín (Magritte with Bowler Hat), Huevos fritos con Francis Bacon (Fried Eggs with Francis Bacon), Radiografía de Velázquez (an X-rays of Velasquez), La silla de Van Gogh (Van Gogh’s Chair), El morro de Toulouse (Toulouse’s Lighthouse)and Puro Mondrian (Pure Mondrian).

Another feature that distinguishes Tamayo’s work is his capacity to place subjects and icons that traditionally carry a heavy ideological load into a position of controversy, without running the risk of turning to tasteless pamphleteering. His Martí Astronauta (Astronaut Marti) was highly praised at the group show called El Martí de todos (Marti for Everyone) in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2006. His ironic comments on the obsessiveness of war have also provoked interest.

Reynerio Tamayo is responsible for creating images of a Havana that wavers between fiction and reality, between the past and the present.It is a mysterious Havana, salvaged from tales heard many times over that have attained substance and delight thanks to the magic of Cubans.

The best term to apply to Tamayo is “chronicler.” The artist uses very Cuban subjects such as baseball and cigars. The latter has been the centerpiece of many of his pictorial fantasies in which famous figures handle them. However, Reynerio also enjoys a sense of eclecticism that is nurtured by events and phenomena that take place in far-off countries, such as Japan.

Tamayo’s passion for graphic arts has led him to create many posters since his student days when he produced the publicity for his one-man and group shows. His posters for Cuban films have also had a great impact: Havana Station, Barrio Cuba, Fábula, La bicicleta and Fuera de liga are some examples of his posters for the cinema.

Tamayo is very quick to react to provocative ideas, and his artistic sprit contains a sort of charm and wit that allow him to give many of those ideas a felicitous outcome, so much so that he has been dubbed by some critics as a chronicler of his time.
August 2013

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