Photos: Otmaro Rodríguez
Cuerpo (Body), simply put, is the title of the most recent solo exhibition by Ernesto García Peña, a painter, engraver and draftsman who graduated in 1965 from the School for Art Instructors, which he entered when he was just twelve years old. “When I arrived at the Hotel Comodoro, where that academy was located, I was a very shy child, attached to my family. Bumping up against a totally different environment, with so many other children interested in doing their best, meant an enlightenment that I will always appreciate.”
And some traces remain of that shy boy who was born in Matanzas in 1949. García Peña maintains an expectant and surprised look toward his own work and, almost blushing, says that Cuerpo is a tribute “to himself” on his 70th birthday, “to his generation” —recognized as the generation of the 1970s— and also to his family, which has been consistently supportive.
The Centro Hispanoamericano de Cultura (Spanish-American Cultural Center), belonging to the Office of the Historian of Havana and located along the emblematic Havana seawall, is the chosen site for Cuerpo (Body), artist Ernesto García Peña’s solo exhibition featuring about twenty pieces, which share the common denominator of a compressed palette and a mostly square format, which confers homogeneity and consistency to the show.
As García Peña commented in an exclusive interview with OnCuba, the exhibition was born of the “necessity and commitment for the artist to show what he is working on,” but, he assures, “the demands of many friends were taken into account,” besides a debt he needed to settle: “It’s dedicated to the half-millennium of our Havana, a city to which I feel closely tied.”
If each piece is analyzed in detail, it can be deduced that with Cuerpo this renowned creator has proposed a break within his own work, and at the same time a continuity. Duality invigorates his intention to be increasingly direct, simpler… perhaps, more essential: “It’s a tribute, I think, to the human being who inhabits every body.”
Another peculiarity that distinguishes this offering is that, instead of bodies exposed almost entirely in non-anatomical positions, here fragments appear, such as fingers, an ear…
“The human being made the emergence of civilization possible in a physical space and therefore, I think it’s important not to exclude the city. What would we be without the wonderful minds that have inhabited Havana?”
García Peña affirms that each exhibition forces him to “study, research, work with more passion” and also to yield to and, above all, question himself. And he emphasizes that he wouldn’t be satisfied if the viewer didn’t feel anything before a given piece, if he weren’t moved: “It wouldn’t make sense. Luckily for me people identify my work and say, ‘that’s by García Peña,’ even if it’s not signed, so I think my spirit is palpable in my artwork.”
In Cuerpo, the chiaroscuros set patterns and the color is less insinuated than in previous exhibitions, so a great dilemma for this artist is more acute: how to communicate through fragments. García Peña owes his certain expertise to those who gave him the first tools in his youth, and he thanks his teachers —Fayad Jamís, Fernando Luis, Antonia Eiriz, Antonio Vidal, Adigio Benítez, Orlando Llanes— and another group of professors: Argentines, Poles, Germans and Czechs who came to the island to teach in the 1970s and 80s.
All that inherited knowledge —along with the craft he boldly carries out on a daily basis— has helped him attain a trained hand that allows him to move comfortably between large, medium and small formats, which requires much preparation: “There’s a tendency —since I was a student and that hasn’t diminished with the passage of time— of wanting to do work in large formats, which is wonderful and fun, but there are pieces that look good in large formats; others that don’t.”
On the other hand, he explains: “Life teaches you that pieces must be conceived thinking about where they are going to be exhibited or placed. Nothing is achieved by making large works and then hiding or storing them because there are no walls to display them. That must be considered, because life imposes its logical rules.”
An essential element to take into account when analyzing García Peña’s work is that, over a long period of time, he produced a cluster of lithographs at the Taller Experimental de Gráfica (Experimental Graphic Workshop) in Havana and that format requires reducing the dimensions and ways of mastering space.
Although he is a long-standing creator, Ernesto García Peña is always throwing himself into new projects, so that his work is always growing. The best example is Cuerpo, a way to give up the harmful comfort zone that obviously doesn’t constrain him.