Rowing against the current is what Kcho has been doing since he was a student in art school. Intuition, and the way of relating to his country, was what made his work great; like many of our poets, he created his own metaphors of the island myth, of the symbolic connotation of what it means to live on an island. This is the essence of the spirit of the pieces that appear in Rowing Against the Current, an excellent exhibition organized by Pan American Art Projects and its founder, Robert Borlenghi.
The exhibition is a record of essential moments in Kcho’s career to date. The oldest works range from 1999 to 2005. With this group, we have to build our own path of nostalgia. We find several drawings made in different mediums and two installations: “Archipiélago”, 2005, and “Kayak”, from the “Dangerous Objects” series, from 2002. Among the drawings, it is worth highlighting: “Forest with Oars”, “The Jungle” and “Propeller and Stone”, all from 2002. Added to this nucleus, “Untitled”, from the Mangle series, from 1999.
Integrating the most pedestrian tools of the sea into the landscape has been one of Kcho’s greatest motivations since his first exhibition. “Forest with Oars” establishes a fusion between man-made objects and nature: in an organic hybrid that obviates any technological allusions. Kcho draws, processes and creates his artifacts as if the concept of Land Art were removed from a specific ambiance, to enter into all the representations that are possible in art. He is capable of naming, of sketching, and then of weaving the origins of his idea into objects. That is the breath that he applies to “The Jungle” and to “Monument to the Third International” as a cultural allegory to utopias and contexts. The artist gives a glimpse of the proximity and the distances that he may have with Wifredo Lam or with Vladimir Tatlin. By his account, in the piece from the Mangle series, density predominates as the concentration of an image which evokes that space of transit between the sea and the mainland.
“Kayak”, from the “Dangerous Objects” series, is an extraordinarily powerful installation demonstrating the artist’s capacity to interact with chaos. Each of the elements that make up the work comes with its own history, as symbolic references drawing upon the everyday. The piece is a return to the journey to the beginning of our existence. The verticality of the swordfish beaks is a commentary on impossibility, of pain, of a loss. Nothing is achieved without suffering. Life is not possible without death. “Kayak” propels us to an end without knowing the path.
“Archipiélago”, a piece dated 2005, is composed differently: several small houses floating on an innertube, inspired by typical fishermen’s dwellings, or ad hoc constructions of recycled wood for people living in marginalized places. Kcho speaks of fragility but also about balance and containment, that magma of contradictions from which this country is borh. Hence the artist tells us: “The sea… is the invisible border. And the only permanent thing in Cuba is that it will always be an island ”.
“Impenetrable” is one of the most recent installations from the artist’s series “La Regata”. The oar returns in the imagery, adapting its function to a new situation. Kcho’s gestures recall the philosophy of Erik Satie: a single note played on a piano can have multiple variations. This piece has a certain solemnity, we hear the noise of silence. The flesh of the objects creates an island inhabited only by them. Spectators sense they are being interrogated although they cannot possibly know the answers.
After years of avoiding painting, seeking a more direct mode of communication with reality, Kcho returns to explore his relationship with pigment. A selection of these works is presented in this exhibition. The revelation of these canvases does not hide the firm and loose line of his drawing, which manages to coexist in a perfect pairing with painting. It is as if suddenly we were observing the colorization of a black and white film. Kcho, like Matisse, knows that it is drawing which leads to the spirit, and color to the senses. He also learned as a rule that it is drawing that can guide color along the paths of spirituality.
This exhibition is the confrontation, or the will of the artist to make possible the small niches that we find along the paths of life.
Jorge Antonio Fernandez Torres
Art Critic and Curator of Exhibitions