muñoz vera
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ArtNexus. Miami, junio - agosto 2008

Versión en castellano



Damian Carol

          Havana, Cuba, is certainly one of the most fascinating, mysterious, and pathetic cities in the world. The story of its deplorable condition, after years of oppressive leadership, has been told by many, as has its lingering beauty attracted artists, photographers, travelers and filmmakers. This exhibition of 44 large super-realistic paintings, with accompanying photographs (their “digital studies”), describes the familiar contrasts of sea and city, people and places, now framed by the artist’s meticulous eye for composition and detail. Guillermo Muñoz Vera is recognized as a master of realism, in the grand manner of Spanish painting, and a consummate student of traditional techniques and art history. This selection of works is accompanied by an audiovisual documentary and a beautiful catalog/book in which he explains that the project is the third in a series of solo exhibitions based on a similar premise: “To develop a simple idea which is not devoid of problems, contradictions and interesting technical challenges.” Havana is an ideal subject for such exploration and his images are to be read as a story of his travels (accompanied by text in the book) that is a visual diary of each day and its encounters.

The artist describes the city, its people, architecture and landscape in a pristine aesthetic study. Although he has definitely cleaned the streets, his intention was not to judge (easy for the viewer to do, especially in Miami), but to present a visual impression as the basis for a realistic painting in the strictest sense: a composition made of color and texture and carefully arranged on the canvas. As a self-proclaimed realist, the artist uses his visual impressions to inform his aesthetic choices. He focuses on certain details, especially the surfaces of the decaying buildings with their corroding baroque details. He marks the contrasts of laundry hanging on once-elegant balconies in “Ropa Tienda” and antique cars gracing deserted streets, “Paseo Nocturno II,” even if they need a push to run. People happily go about their daily business, despite what we know are difficult circumstances and what the artist describes as “the deplorable conditions of the neighborhoods.” There is a sense of implausibility that is the real contrast, but that is up to the viewer to consider. The artist may edit as he pleases for the realization of his painting, and he does.

Muñoz Vera is renowned for his still life paintings and, for this series, he continues to present the world in the same carefully contrived way; now an old car, a market shelf, a palm leaf, or a building is the focus of his verisimilitude. Bunches of bananas in “Mercado Unico I” are arranged in a modern version of Golden Age bodega paintings, and for “La Escalera Imposible” (The Impossible Stairway), a decaying doorway frames a stairway to nowhere, as much as it represents the artist’s attention to traditional technique. Muñoz Vera begins each painting with a gesso base then layers a grisaille paste (a method of painting using only shades of gray), color and translucent glazes to achieve the extraordinary textural effects that are characteristic of his work. This technique is particularly suited to the crumbling architecture of Havana. It also affords the opportunity to look twice at what at first may be beautiful as he lures the viewer into a closer examination of his process for the realization that it is only a painting, a façade, as is Havana only a façade.