Taking a succinct walk through the history of art or more specifically the history of painting we can see that landscape has passed through various chapters in which its importance to artists has waxed and waned. For centuries it was seen as a mere backdrop, a view ripped to shreds by the genius of true masters who in certain works, without perhaps even meaning to propose it, forged a glorious path that would be tread in the nineteenth century by the Romantics, the Impressionists and the post-Impressionists who brought out the virtues of landscape as both an experiment in form and a channel for the restless angst of the human soul. At the same time, landscape also continued to work as a purely decorative exercise and this may go some way to explaining the disdain it still draws from many artists and its lack of presence on the contemporary Cuban art scene.
One creator who has not been afraid of the phantom of landscape and is taking its possibilities of form and concept seriously, is the young artist Rafael Villares. From his very first pieces to his most recent work he has used urban and rural landscapes and even galactic panoramas to explore the most pressing problems Cuban society faces today, such as the phenomenon of migration. He also tackles other themes less rooted in a specific context, like channels of perception or in the words of the artist, “the sensory-intellectual relationship between man and what surrounds him.”
Two aspects of his work are particularly striking, clearly demonstrating the solid career he is developing for himself. Firstly his variations on the theme of landscape stand out, not only in terms of the plurality of spaces he chooses to focus on, but also for the way in which he picks out isolated elements within them—a tree, a flower, a bolt of lightning or the source of a river—even giving a new meaning to certain images.
The second striking aspect is the way he fuses diverse artistic methods drawing on painting, photography, sculpture, installation and/or performance to represent, appropriate or construct.
Because he doesn’t just paint or photograph the landscape, he also appropriates natural elements that he brings into the gallery: an unusual root, a bed of weeds, a piece of cracked earth, to name but a few examples. And he does not just insert these randomly into his work, he involves them in the work using light boxes, sound or other resources in tune with contemporary art practices. He thereby constructs his very own flowers or trees, a peculiar hanging minigarden or an anomalous storm. All this reinforces the very experimental nature of the work Villares is developing: an exploration of landscape in its broadest sense.
Regardless of the medium, the care and attention with which the work is made remains constant, as does the use of diverse elements that blow our senses, since for Villares the viewers’ interaction with the work is fundamental.
To achieve this fluid communication he often employs allegory, determinedly scaling the heights of great lyricism. His work is a study of the environment that goes beyond attentive, conscientious observation. There are studies on the worlds of botany or topology to cite but two of the most recognizable.
Topology has a notable presence in the series Morfología del Eco (Morphology of the Eco) that Villares has been working on for a few years. From October the latest works in this series will be on show at the influential gallery Factoría Habana, alongside previously exhibited work that will take on a new dimension in dialogue with the newer pieces.
Returning once more to use disparate techniques and media to draw attention to points of convergence between the landscape and other elements of our surroundings or even our own bodies.
He draws on similarities in form and structure, the similitudes of the morphological order, to examine the natural and conditioned interrelations that we are subjected to in different environments in order to highlight the necessary transformations that permit us to flow in harmony with the flow of our surroundings allowing renewal.
In his latest offering, through the use of reinterpretation, manipulation and/ or superimposition, Villares once again clarifies his ultimate purpose as “the constant back-and-forth between the definition and the representation of landscape.”