All works areUntitled, ink on paper,1940
by Kathy Zimmerer
(Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills) A rich treasure trove of Surrealist-inspired drawings by Wifredo Lam chronicles a period from 1940-41, when he was literally in a artistc and personal limbo at the Chateau de Air-Bel in Marseilles during 1940-41 .Lam was an enigmatic artist whose poetic ability to interweave his Afro-Cuban heritage with the sophistication of European culture, particularly Spain, made him a soul mate to Pablo Picasso and the Surrealists.
Lam's sojourn was indeed an interlude from the war and personal events.
In 1931 he had lost both his wife and son to tuberculosis while living in Spain. In 1938 Lam was wounded fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the Facists. With the defeat of the Republicans he left Spain as a refugee, traveling to Paris where he had a crucial meeting with Picasso. Picasso welcomed Lam and introduced him into his circle of artists, poets and intellectuals, which included Andre Breton and the other Surrealists. With the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, Lam departed for Marseilles, at the time a haven for anti-Fascist intellectuals.
There he executed a fantastic series of drawings that contained the visual catalyst for his most acclaimed works, which he created upon his return to Cuba in 1942. This rich, fertile period in Marseilles was confined to drawing. Paper was available and accessible, and Lam favored paper mounted on canvas even in his major paintings.
A superb draftsman, even Lam's earliest drawings reflect his genius with line and shape. The Marseilles drawings are a marvel of rhythm and imagination that represent an artistic peak. Evocative of Picasso's always strong influence on his work, especially in terms of Cubism and the Minotaur series, the drawings here document the fecund transformations of the human figure into fantastic entities.
By combining the tenants of Surrealism and Cubism. Lam created a line that has a sinuous life of its own. A female nude's head turns into nipples while flowers cascade down her linear tresses. His eerie composite figures sport horns, spikes and impossible anatomy, as in a female whose two breasts grow out of her neck. Like the other Surrealists, Lam was Deeply interested in primitive mythology and imagery, and he outlined quirky aboriginal symbols of a snake, birds and humans on several figures. These hybrid figures were also born out on the nightmarish paintings of Bosch and Goya, both of whom the artist intensely admired and studied at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
One of Lam's best drawings is a study in elegant simplicity in which two heads, one male and one female, are melded into one linear body. The purity and lyricism of this line adds to the spirituality of these odd creatures. As a complex artist whose life spanned the critical art movements of this century, Lam was a master at mixing the primitive with the urbane, as is demonstrated by these incisive drawings. By encapsulating both terror and beauty in his gifures, Lam endowed these drawings with powerful psychological tension. This lucid exhibition offers a glimpse of a creative mind exploring new themes and images as revealed by the self-aware workings of his subconscious.