Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Imagining Cuba

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Sabrina Marques: Mi Patria Querida (My Beloved Homeland)
Apr. 19—May 13, 2007

Sabrina Marques, who lives in New Haven, was one of six artists selected for shows in Real Art Ways 2006 Open Call. (See here for info on the 2007 Open Call.) Her work—large oil paintings and a series of small gouache illustrations on paper—are on display in Real Art Ways' Real Room until this Sunday. They are an engaging phantasmagoria, ostensibly on Cuba.

But this is a Cuban landscape of the imagination. Although she has never been there, Marques' family was from Cuba. Since she was young she has absorbed the family stories. According to her artist statement, "Through listening to stories which describe the landscape, politics, music and people, stories that relay histories of fortune and loss, my imagination wanders to try to compose the type of place that Cuba might have been and what it has become." These works depict her Cuba.

Although Marques' artworks "interpret the stories of an aging generation of political dissidents from literary and musical backgrounds," according to the show press release, whatever political commentary they might contain is submerged beneath layers of metaphor and allegory.

These are dreamscapes, inventions cobbled together from family lore and creative play. There is a large element of the fantastic in these works. It is as if Marques has nursed these visions since she first heard the tales as a child. Looking at these works, I imagine her holding them close, turning them over and inside out in summer reveries until she developed the artistic skill-the voice-to capture them in technicolor full bloom.

In the large oil painting "Entre Amigos (Friends Among Us)," two pale green rabbits occupy a jungle fantasyland of oversize flowers, plant tendrils, succulent paddles and multi-colored leaves. While one feasts contentedly on a leaf, the rabbit in the foreground appears startled and about to bolt. "Parlamento (Parliament)" is another forest scene. In it, three green and blue speckled owls roost in a thicket of plants. There is not just rich, verdant greens but also leaves of maroon and purple, blue, orange and gold. These large paintings are marked by a strong use of flat colors. In fact, the way Marques applies the paints they look almost like acrylics rather than oils.

The gouache series are more intimate. Where the paintings use colors boldly, the smaller pieces rely on stippling, dots and line work to convey depth, and tonality. Each small square could be an illustration for a strange children's story. Several are composed out of surreal juxtapositions. For example, in "Aprendiendo (Learning)," a figure that is part owl with human legs stands on a tennis court with a racket in one hand and tennis ball dropping from the other. The strange "Oscuridad (Darkness)" is set in a darkened bathroom. A moon-faced child figure, standing on a floating bathroom mat, holds a teddy bear in one hand and a half-open umbrella in the other.

There is a strong element of folk art in Marques' work, particularly noticeable in the naïve approach to perspective and the figure. But it is clear that this is an aesthetic choice, not a defect in technique. Notwithstanding their genesis in tales born of upheaval and exile, these works have a warmth and engaging optimism.


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