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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Carlos Enriquez

The Rapture of the Mulattoes, 1938, Carlos Enriquez
Carlos Enriquez, 1920s
Occasionally I come upon an artist whose work I don't really care for, and whose personage likewise doesn't appeal to me. However, it may well be that this artist is important enough in the art of his or her country and culture to warrant further study and exposure. The early 20th century Cuban painter, Carlos Enriquez is one such artist. Strangely, the Carlos Enriquez is probably best known, not for his paintings, but for the fact that he was the first husband and father of the children of the American painter Alice Neel. It was a short marriage, only about five years. Enriquez deserted her moving from New York back to Havana. When they met he'd been a wealthy playboy type. Back in Cuba during the 1930s...not so much. The Great Depression and personal depression (read alcoholism) dissipated the family fortune. He spent the rest of his life dabbling in poverty, living in a small, rural bungalow. He died in 1957 at the age of 57. He and Neel were both born in 1900, perhaps one of the few things, besides the smell of turpentine, which they shared.
Alice Neel and Carlos Enriquez,
Havana, 1925. It must have been
a purely physical attraction.
Virgen del Cobre  1932, Carlos Enriquez
It's tempting, but somewhat unfair, to compare Neel and Enriquez as artists. Their background, their personalities, education, culture, painting styles, and lifestyles were all so different. The only marriage I can think of that in any way compares was that of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (which didn't work out too well either). It's easy to say that Alice Neel was the far better artist of the two, which no doubt contributed to the failure of their marriage. Yet Enriquez's paintings could well be taken as the definitive standard of Cuban art--hot, wild, combative, tropical, emotional, and sensual. His Virgen del Cobre (above, right) from 1932, stands alongside his The Rapture of the Mulattoes (top), painted in 1938 as among his best works. Though deemed by the artist to be Surrealism, in fact, they are much closer to mainstream Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s than anything Enriquez's Surrealist idols, Federico Garcia Lorca, Salvador Dali, or Francis Picabia might have conceived.

Eva and Carlos, 1951, Carlos Enriquez
Naked Velado, 1957, Carlos Enriquez.
Though sometimes barely apparently, much of Enriquez's content centered upon horses and female nudes. Other subject matter, landscapes (bottom), peasants, portraits, and murals are so sparse as to fall under the realm of "dabbling." Even though he spent a few months studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art (where he met Neel) and a few years living the good life in Europe (ostensibly studying Surrealism) Enriquez could easily be termed a self-taught artist. I don't think it would be too harsh to say that Enriquez was a "Surrealist-wannabe" who found his paintings, on their own almost, gravitating to the much less technically demanding style of Expressionism, causing him to inadvertently fall into a mainstream style that was only superficially Cuban. In short, he should have stayed in New York another twenty years.

Creole Landscape, Carlos Enriquez--one of his few.


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