The Work of Carlos Luna
By Osvaldo Sánchez ©
The work of Carlos Luna constructs itself over the whole basic, residual repertory
of Seventies Cuban art, more specifically on the Pop models of print-making of an
emblematic and nationalistic bent, in which a commitment to the popular combined
the genre character of the scenes with the kitsch exuberance of unfettered ornamentalism.
The generation of the Eighties, to which Carlos Luna belongs, strove to abolish the
representative complacency of the Seventies and its saccharine fondness for making
any ever image into the visual panacea of our idiosyncrasy. However, Luna did more
than to take up those minor keys of national discourse such as the bucolic, the everyday
anecdote, the provincial picturesque, the heroes of Independence, and a certain mystical
exaltation. He also reduced the theoretical challenges of his approach to the personal
imagery of someone who grew up in a small tobacco town. This is a highly unusual
feature in the visual arts panorama of the Eighties in Cuba.
Despite the fact that many of the resources marshaled by Luna are already documented
in the work of Seventies print-makers such as Roger Aguilar, Chocolate, Nelson Domínguez
and Pedro Pablo Oliva, his aesthetics, which owes something to Eighties bad painting,
manages to cut itself away from the cultured strand of Cuban art to espouse a streetwise,
provincial taste, where the grotesque is sublimated by the arbitrariness of color,
the variety and brio of gesture, and the artisanal neatness of the enfolding outline.
The immoderateness with which Luna piles on the hatching and striping, his spiraling
or oblique compositions, the contrast between figure and ground, the intense lighting
and the vibrant planes of color; all these are reminiscent of the festive popular
murals painted on the tin sheets of the guaraperas, or cane juice vendors; on the
back of the buses, on plaster spray-painted ornaments and on carnival floats. This
aesthetic kinship is more powerful than any alleged citation, much insisted upon
by Luna himself, of the great modern masters in Cuba such as René Portocarrero, Wifredo
Lam, Mariano Rodríguez or Amelia Peláez.
The only affinities between Carlos Luna and the rest of his generation reside in
the careful design of his compositions and in certain plastic elements similar to
those of José Bedia, Tomás Esson and other common sources. Nevertheless, Luna´s vivacious
Pop spirit and strident graphism remind us, at their best, of the major paintings
by Umberto Peña, suffused with the illustrative kitsch of lesser artists such as
Ludovico or Larrinaga.
Carlos Luna´s sojourn in Mexico over the last few years has reaffirmed his interest
in popular artifacts, the intimate wit of toys, and the redecorated exaltation of
low-art elements transformed into middle-class stigmas. At the same time, his encounter
with the great nineteenth and twentieth-century Mexican tradition of woodcutting,
epitomized in the work of José Guadalupe Posada, together with his discovery of craft
techniques such as paper cut-outs and enameled tin, have introduced an unmistakable
“Mexicanity” into his ever more graphic output. (As regards contemporary visual arts
in the country, we cannot avoid mentioning Arnold Belkin, whose work displays a number
of formal correspondences in that of Carlos Luna).
It may be that Luna’s penchant for making works based on quotations from and tributes
to masters and colleagues, constitutes his way of legitimating certain common sources
and deliberate borrowings, which converge in the popular baroque, in kitsch and in
decorative arbitrariness. It is a perpetual proclamation, from the crude stage of
a village childhood, of his nostalgia for a party, which is over.
Mexico, DF 1995
The Cisneros Capital Group (CCG) Art Collection is a private art collection - primarily
made up of Latin American paintings. We are pleased to present paintings, sculptures
and drawings by Carlos Luna, an outstanding Cuban painter and sculptor.
The CCG Carlos Luna Art Collection is being presented online so that more people
can enjoy these great paintings. If you work for a Museum, City Cultural Center,
or University Institution and are interested in an exhibition of Carlos Luna, please
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