© 2017 by William Perez

William Pérez

The relations of the eternal

                                                             They accused him of being unreal, of not having the feet on the ground. But he had been thinking, the imaginary was not the unreal. The imaginary was the possible, what is still not.

Ricardo Piglia, Blanco Nocturno

 

By Rigoberto Otaño Milián

I have always liked the idea that each artist is the translator of his own world, one who recreates truths that he cannot avoid revealing; a sort of demiurge capable of glimpsing the small threads that move men. His is an almost pathological need to transmit the beautiful, his experience, and the basic meanings of life. The artist – at least the true artist – only exists in that balance between Order and Chaos, between Eros and Thanatos in which cosmos is formed. Only his work torments him. Everything else is circumstantial for him.

I have known few people who are closer to this idea that William Pérez (Cienfuegos, 1965), a young man who, already in his fifties, still refuses to accommodate on the chair. His work process is atomic. Since he graduated at San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts (1986), he has not failed to create one single day. Amid dozens of exhibitions, museums and galleries, his career involves Grupo Punto (1995-1998), one or the other rhinoceros, much drawing, metal, acrylic and lines of light.

On the other hand, when I analyze William’s work I do not like to think of separate pieces, but of one only Pantagruelic, monstrous work that contains them all and renews itself according to the moment; that adapts, like him, to each instant.

Made in Cuba

This story began a while ago, not as much as it seems, but more than I managed to judge with full conscience. The 1990s were dark years. At least, that’s how it was in Cuba, where the availability of one or the other material traced more guidelines in art than any academy or critic. Even so, things were said silently, with the possibilities offered by the metaphor and double meaning. The review of history, the intertextual quotation, the creation of heteronyms or the displacement toward the technique, were among the resources employed in this period. Perhaps for that reason a large part of the critics began to focus their discourses within formal precepts and debates on this or that form. The legacy of the golden generation of the 1980s remained changed round in subterfuge, in irony. “Cultural energy seems to be one of the last things to disintegrate”, Mosquera tells us in Las metáforas del templo.

Those were definitely precarious days. But also – and perhaps precisely for that reason – they were days of friends, of sex, of much sex, with books to keep hunger in oblivion. Those were the years of the novels by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez and Reina María Rodríguez, of the skinny figures bicycling across the malecón in the dark; the moment when the art work of ruins was to fill all spaces.

By then, in Cienfuegos, a recently graduated William Pérez was beginning to consolidate his own aesthetics. Admirer of surrealist paths, his self-proclaimed Dibujos fríos[1] ranged from playful to irreverent. Besides, these initial works already denoted something remarkable: his work did not belong in this world.

More than actual drawings, these series became a kind of hyperbolic sketches of the sculptures he could not stop thinking of. Thus, numerous nightmarish scenes began to appear, a twisted world in which Christian images (Jesus Christ, the Sacred Heart) coexisted with caricaturized historical figures and deformed animals – everything under a surreal halo impregnated with that dense, somber and grotesque atmosphere.

Several creatures were thus born. They emerged from his hands and started taking shape amid the shades and shadows of the cold glue. In the same way that a child makes the laws of his games, William began to pay attention to those implausible situations whose sole border was the surface of gigantic canvases. Incidentally, he mocked both Church and State, and served Salvador Dalís’s head as main course in La última cena. He played with them and enjoyed the process.

In those days he had the opportunity to travel to the city of Cologne, in Germany (exhibition Utopías del Caribe, Gothaer Kunstforum Gallery, 1994). What he saw in that context, diametrically opposed to the Cuba he knew, enabled him to extend the borders of his ambitions. When he returned, something had changed in him. His hometown Cienfuegos was already small for him. It was then that “the third dimension appeared”, as he admitted to me years later in his Alcázar Studio.

Inevitably influenced by the povera aesthetics of the 1980s, he made small installation-sculptures in which the line was predominant; specific representations of that dark universe that had been exposed to a greater extent on the canvas up to that moment. Pacifism and social inequality gradually became part of his concerns, and the themes became less local. He was fascinated by the reason-passion conflict, and obsessed by the way in which it rules all aspects of human life creating a balance between scientific and objective questionings and the subjective universe that overflows artistic creation.        

 

These were the days of the First Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art, where William Pérez participated with more refined forms. In Cuando el gallo cante (1995) we witness a structurally complex scene, an altar full of symbolic references (something we will repeatedly see in his work), and visually located hierarchies. The image of the clown, the sad clown, emerges as a kind of self-representation. From a certain angle it could be he, but it is also an entire country with which he identifies himself. The work is a monument to the gods of his worshipped absurdity, a synthesis of the laws that combine structured thought and irrational causality in his alternate universe. Space is trapped between its jaws, entranced between its bars and cables.

“At the end, specific and emotive fragments of reality are trapped in this frozen space. They are the fragments that have led the author to the most profound meditations on the flesh-spirit alternative. We are all saturated from “natural elements”, and only suggestions or associative details are convoked in passing by on this “arena” – the symbol loaded with meaning shines –; they are treated with aggravated melier, although in the end these may be surreal resources that appear mainly in the field of ethics: irrational sex, treason, fetishism, longings, and power vices.”[2]

From that moment on, William betrays doubtless complaisance for morphological hybrids. His works contain objects of diverse nature, photographs, drawings, and written language. His training is that of a sculptor, but he is fascinated by drawing. He is evidently reluctant to accept his limits. He also has an extraordinary ability to be ahead in the use of non-conventional materials. In installations such as Remedio Santo (1993) or Cristo, Martí, los perros y yo (1994), he was already assembling wood, metal, and acrylic.

“About this young creator, I cannot distinguish between the painter’s and the sculptor’s creative zone. The forms have been freely superposed on purpose, transmitting certain apocalyptic distinctiveness of planes, integrated by “small” and big things of the surrounding world […] improvisations that will remain behind in the process of maturing and refining of the most “classic” among our young visual artists.”[3]

He also became aware that, with others, he multiplied the scope of his voice. Thus, one slightly cloudy afternoon of mid May 1995, together with Yalili Mora, Alain Moreira, Pável Jiménez, Daniel Rivero, Oriol Guillén, Santiago Hermes, Adrián Rumbaut, and Juan Carlos Echeverría he founded Grupo Punto. The reason for this alliance was partially exposed in a sort of manifesto drawn up by Oriol Guillén:

Our actions aim at decoding the status that excludes almost all artistic creation produced outside the country’s capital. We are seeking a center of our alleged isolation to operate as coordinator of this type of art.[4]

Gradually the group began to gain space. During the Sixth Havana Biennial they presented the exhibition Sobre Carga (1997) at the International Press Center. William exhibited Armadura: a gigantic chess horse whose forms alluded to the false gift of the Greeks. On the base, a carved “1965” betrayed the self reference in the work. “A man’s image – he used to say – is nothing but the deformed reflection of his circumstances.” In this case, his representation became a complex metaphor of the moment. It was his version of the helmet we all use to protect what we really are.

As time went by, the magnitude of his gestures increased. Those small altars led to ever bigger creations. This was the period of Carga subjetiva (1997), an ambitious installation that covered a large part of the Provincial Museum of Cienfuegos (exhibition Primer reportaje). In the work project, the technical data listed the materials: wood, melted iron, sawdust sacks and a live horse.

“I want to recall some of William’s remarkable performances at the Provincial Museum of Cienfuegos that the forgetful and discourteous Havana did not consider necessary to highlight. Particularly the impacting installation Carga subjetiva from 1997, which seized the museum space creating a disturbing  palisade of wood and 10x8 sawdust sacks, surrounded by a rustic, 3-foot tall catwalk for the viewers. This tour, full of uncertainty and in precarious balance, ended in a zenithal view of the museum hall and the discovery of a horse inside the palisade.”[5]

Years later William told me how, after all the paperwork, secrecy and one or two encounters with the police, two horses refused to climb the Museum stairs. Beyond the monumentality of the piece, I am caught by the way in which he foresaw the viewer’s reaction, and by his concern to recreate certain impulses in those facing it. “The text unity – Barthes tells us in The Author’s Death – is not in its origin, but in its destiny.”

He thus contaminates not only the space, but the person who returns home with some of that art on his shoulders. He allows them to trespass for a few seconds the threshold where his magic comes from, he attracts them to his den, where neither time nor any element of the ordinary world succeeds in entering. Torre Invertida (1998) continues his line of work – a burnt space, with impossible access and surreal laws. It results from the secrecy and social self-destruction of the times.

William has created in his mind hundreds of works such as these, thousands of sketches, projects, variations that use space to provoke states of mind. At times they are nothing but scattered lines, coded on the paper, ideas than tense the surrounding atmosphere. They overflow the Alcázar Studio.

The Seventh Havana Biennial, in which he participated as official guest, was a crucial point in this regard. Sin título [Reverencia] (2000) consists of a huge tunnel. The melted aluminum plates, carelessly joined, form a mass to recreate the structure’s lack of safety and irregular nature. The sound of constant dripping aggravates the oppression. From its borders, the prevailing darkness welcomes all the spectator’s fears. As he penetrates it, this fear must decrease, submitting to the ever smaller space. A subtle reverence is imposed by coercion and violence. It was here that William added the imagery of aluminum to his art form, where he discovered that intermediate degree between abruptness and gentleness inherent to the material.

On the other hand, his untiring fascination led him to investigate the lyrical potentiality of the analogical image and the technology of electronic circuits. In “Juego para adultos” (2002), Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center was intervened by three pieces that somehow contained all others. Galvanized zinc, melted aluminum, mirrors, glass, paper prints,  drawings, TV sets; everything harmoniously structured in the visionary idea of video games, of the interaction with the public, of the artist as architect of the discourse, or even of the State’s maneuvers with power. Each one of these interpretations enabled the viewer to create his own universe and laws: “Every game defines a world, a playful, encapsulated, self-defined and self-sufficient world.”[6]

In a subsequent Darwinian moment (approximately between 2004 and 2006) emerged his kinetic art. This was an opportunity to reanalyze former concerns and readapt them to his new art form. Caleidoscopio (2005), from the series Implementos, is the achievement of one of his childhood dreams. Using the screen of images reflected by the colored glass, he could now transmit to others his image as a child and how his eyes saw the world. In other works such as Paisaje cubano (2006) we are again in the face of eroticist references, now subtler, presenting the sexual game as inseparable element of our culture.

On the other hand, he went on adding unscrupulously written texts in ever more sensitive pieces. Thus, the language structures complemented the creative drive and act as bridges to the spectator, to their “destination”. It was at that time that Albert Einstein became one of his favorite gods (series El hombre es la medida de sus sueños. He also exhibited the results of his “neuro art” [7] and constructed his first automats. He even recovered the heart motif (probably conceived in the distant days of the Sacred Heart images.) He began to use them as self-representation forms diluted in the symbol.

It is also interesting the way in which his production replaced wood with metal without losing the coherence of his aesthetic line. Irregular trunks and wires are now visually exposed screws, circuits, and cables – a transition as subtle as capable of maintaining the univocal meaning of his entire work up to the present.

It was in those years that, without knowing exactly why, William’s hands began to invoke one of his most sublime interpretations of that other world of his. Made in Cuba (2008) was inspired by Durer’s rhinoceros using Yambo’s[8] proportions and face as model, coupled to the well- outlined forms of the Indian subspecies, and made of pots and aluminum scrap, even reusing Reverencia’s leftovers. Installed for the first time at the Provincial Art Center of Cienfuegos, the piece filled the space completely. From its aluminum cuirass emerged horns connected to cables that came out of its stomach and ended in buttons scattered in the room. The hazardous outcome captivated the spectator, who attempted to find out which button activated chaos and disordered reality. They varied, alternated, and with their sequence of circuits answered the game established with the public.

Today, Made in Cuba is at the entrance of the Museum of Latin American Art of Los Angeles (MoLAA) in the United States. Like any other work, it is a part of William, I suppose it is the one we see when we search in the mirror for the impetuous young man, for the witness of the 1990s, and the specimen of the real marvelous inside any Cuban. The piece unifies like few that essence of diversity latent in the Caribbean subject: the mixture, surreal disorder, and participation that violates the consensus. But it also betrays that undeniable longing for a simpler past, for those days of friends and books, and that feeling of belonging aroused in some people by the contemplation of ruins.

Cartographies of the Soul

Already in those days William succeeded in polishing key aspects of his work. His language became subtler, as well as the scope and maturity of his judgment. The passing of years makes men ever more universal, and compels them to see beyond the immediate. A new wave of materials (acrylic paint, plastic and resin) enabled him to freshen up his art form, repeat motifs, and reinvent himself.

His arsenal of symbols has grown with the image of the rhinoceros (he admits “it is always Yambo”), the corroded heart, the Island of Cuba; they are all his fragments, self-portraits he does not fear to share with the world. Series such as El hombre es la medida de sus sueños (2008-2010) and Soñar no cuesta nada (2009) specialize his drawing, directing it toward a different surface. He creates new sketches, employing all his strength on small, acrylic, lined tablets. The once crowded scenes of Dibujos fríos change into refined images that make the best of each element. His self-portrait starts repeating itself in every possible situation, as if he were fascinated by experiencing each of them in his own flesh. He reminds me of the boy who is allowed to speak to the world of his imaginary friend, who can finally play out loud. He paints his image next to Albert Einstein’s, to Dali’s. He sits next to his gods.

On the other hand, he started perceiving space as an extension of himself. He confirmed more than ever that causality between the subject and his circumstances, and therefore, the continuity and relation between both. La libertad mora en la zona más íntima del pensamiento (Freedom Dwells in the Most Intimate Zone of Thought) (2009) is a landscape of his psyche. It is the origin of his fragments, fears, and wishes. It is where he secludes to create freely, where he locks in his rhinoceros, his hearts, words, and heroes. It also sustains the mainstays of an entire work line to be developed soon. Acorazado (2009) and Iceberg (2010) extended toward geopolitical planes. The search of what we are according to the form in which we modify our context, the way in which we succeed in making it mean something to others. A world that only exists – and I think it is worthwhile to explain it – in those who are capable of appropriating it.

He also discovers in History an ironic melody executed by cruel hands. He tells us that in his piece Mil novecientos diecisiete (2012), an excellent combination of his talent for illustration and the three-dimensional vision of the sculptor. The piano as visual element, its entire lyricism, is successfully merged with the violence of the acrylic lines. The First World War images juxtaposed in the transparency of the material, unified in an instant. Essentially multivalent, he combines movement, theme, and image in the same chord.

By that time, it was very easy for William to cross between dimensions, create from the void, and share his achievements; broach and quit any theme, and later return from a different perspective. Thus, he comes back to series from previous years, updating and adapting them. His work process is chaotic, as chaotic and simultaneous as the reality that surrounds him. He finds a fragment of art, a possible work in each moment. He also practices drawing as never before. He irrupts in a thousand directions. He traces lines that go back to the past in search of rhinoceros, of Che, of his childhood home. Others get lost in the future, in motifs revealed to him diffusely, in themes that come out to meet him in New York or a Cienfuegos corner.

“In six pieces we witness what the creator calls cartography of his soul. Which seems to me is very close to the scrutiny of his own existence, to a moment in which the human being searches himself, senses himself topographically, measures and weighs himself up, reviews his life and feels that he is no more and no less than a being who can, from his sculptor’s workshop, tour the world and advance toward the unknown.”[9]

Cartografías del Alma (Villa Manuela Gallery, Havana, 2012-2013) is undoubtedly a form of presenting that inevitable intensity already present in William’s creation. The gallery seemed to remodel his ego, as part of the game – accomplice and submitted – involved in art. Curioso (2012) recalls kinetic works, the cult to creation through science. Yo solo pensaba en correr (2012) shows us the man, the subject, as metonymic extension of his space, his circumstances, and his journey through life. El hombre es la medida de sus sueños and Secreter (both from 2012) are re-readings of William today. Questions he poses himself, whose answers are to be found dissected into fragments in his mind. The exhibition is a great self-portrait of his different states and demons. As in so many other moments of his work, I regard Cartografías del alma as a unique voice (descendant from that Carga subjetiva) disintegrated throughout the halls of Villa Manuela.

With His Own Light

William had previously discovered the potentiality of exploiting lights and shadows. For him, this was nothing but another turn of the Uroboros, a new form of transmitting his world. Luz propia (2009) seems to me the greatest achievement of these initial approaches. As usual, his experiments began by invoking his tutelary gods. José Martí is acknowledged by all – those who defend the Revolution and those who oppose it – as the messianic image of Cuban identity, one of those figures where diverse opinions coincide, even those totally opposed. Luz propia sustains this idea and at the same time betrays its origin in the intentional aesthetic carelessness. The shadows projected by the careless strokes on the acrylic defend an autonomous standpoint between nationalisms and existential borders. It is not only the voice that identifies a small island, but the entire human race. Once more the structure holding the piece is exposed. William is not interested in hiding what happens behind scenes. “Our wine is sour, but it is our wine.” The spectator knows it. However, when the responsibility of illuminating the space falls on the work, when only its light remains, the feeling is simply sublime.

Horizonte (2009), from the series El hombre es la medida de sus sueños, might be the subtlest piece from this period, an immaterial, dream work that lives in shadows. Fiber optic is another form of experimenting with the third dimension, of feeling its taste on the lips. A brief sketch shows us, from the shadows, a horizon that oscillates with the ups and downs of a tide, readapts to each moment of our lives, and is capable of arousing nostalgia or impetus, of moving or enraging us. However, as light floods the room the slight impulses of the fiber are lost, and in its place emerges the scratched acrylic, the exposed screw – science structured behind the magic that conquers man’s subjectivity.

In time, the use of light became more frequent, just like the transgression of his essence is frequent in William. The complementation with the scratched acrylic and the resin were to grant him a visual balance that defined his author’s mark in the following years. Works like El ombligo del mundo (2011) or Mi padre me dijo (2012) define this line of work.

Tomando el sol junto al volcán y el principito (2014)[10] is another one of those pieces that marks a before and after. Until then the acrylic had been relegated to its two dimensions, mere support exploited because of its transparency; but with this piece it begins to project itself outside and flirt with the third dimension. The folds and heat blows grant it a form never before explored. The resin covers the previously evident structural elements and grants ever greater refinement to his aesthetics.

He thus arrived at the series Siempre hay un lugar (2015-2016). As theme, William has chosen that alter ego he finds in certain spaces. In his mind it comes and goes, adopting diverse forms. Now it will be the house: wooden mansions – typical architecture of the Republican period – analyzed and exhibited with the greatest possible objectivity. The cleanliness of the drawing imitates the laser cuts of industrial manufacture. The reflected light underlines the purity of the line.

Houses are the space the artist comes from. They are his childhood dwelling and, at the same time, that yearned-for home, a hybrid between longing and desire. Now the resin hides the evident neglect. The light lines of the planes and the architectonic measures reveal the structuring of knowledge, the science behind the illusion. Each house is a staging, a game of spaces between real and imaginary. His art form is already leaving behind the povera model. He adapts to his contextual design.

Visually, the works return to that place that subsists between where and when. They play with imaginary tangencies, with memories, with longing. In times of global migrations, of tectonic ruptures and disintegration of nations, William has unearthed one of the basic desires of the human being: the need to belong. Benedict Anderson tells us about each country as an “imagined community […] because even the members of the smallest nation will never know the majority of their fellow countrymen […] but in the mind of each one survives the image of his communion.”[11] Applicable to the fatherland or to any place that makes us feel at home, Siempre hay un lugar somehow evidences this hypothesis.

On the other hand, in this series the drawing is transformed into creative performance. William enjoys his work like few people I’ve known. He tries variables in blue, green or red. He traces thousands of lines in a frantic dance, he is fascinated by the way in which they clash against the light and project themselves beyond rectangles and circles. Little by little, those projections begin to take shape. It is then when, like the tide that keeps returning to the coast, the drawing becomes sculpture. The acrylic plates are no longer a mere support. Today they emerge, aided by the resin and the heat.

The outcome is an exquisite, unreal hologram in which the juxtaposition of colors and adding of elements (such as the common “heart”) are already more frequent. The houses emerge irregular and leaning. They differ according to the approach and the perspective. They are materializations that involve a more precise and liberated notion of that place we seek. Their forms involve the impetuousness of the artist, of the creator, but also the hands of the scientist and the architect. From the present it would seem that each step in William’ career has brought him up to this moment.

Sharing the Eternal

When I started to write about William Pérez I saw the result as a concise and harmonious work. I thought I would rely on the context, and that the files would help me. None of it turned out that way. Several times the search lost its course. Several times the text required re-writing, since it tended to get lost in the artist’s traces. Definitely, on occasions creation has its own life.

It was then that I realized that a critical text attempts to capture, in its way, the borders of the work it analyzes, couple with it and delimit it on the way. In this regard William’s work is a hydra of hundreds of heads growing simultaneously. Their evolution is rhizomatous; it is like a whale migration, constantly emerging and sinking. They just advance without specific destination, lifting waves as they move forward, re-writing motifs all the time. Their simultaneity overcomes by far the necessary order in the written language. Mine was a lost cause from the start.

On the other hand, I sustain the existence of that threshold constantly crossed by William. A mental space inhabited by his most unreal offspring, nourished with fragments of his soul, memories, and visions. This cosmos, of diffuse borders, always in continuous expansion, transgresses the mere refuge and fuses with each work. It is as wide as void, as vast as eternity. It appears every now and then in his work, as it grows endlessly. Mine was a lost cause from the start.                  

                 

Havana, May 2016

 

 

 

 

[1] Between 1992 and 1994 William dedicated himself to his Dibujos Fríos, artistic invention resulting from a formal solution: charcoal on canvas, later fixed with cold glue.

 

[2]Antonio Morales D’Armas: “Humano Remedio”. Words to the catalogue of the exhibition Santo Remedio, in Galería 23 y 12, Havana, 1993.

[3] José Díaz Roque: "El agónico David". Words to the catalogue of the exhibition Posdata, in Galería de Cienfuegos, Cienfuegos, 1994, pp.2-3.

[4] Oriol Guillén: “Puntos, retos y ritos de Punto” (1995), in Noticias ArteCubano, special edition,  Sep. 2015, p.2.

[5]Corina Matamoros: "Las geografías de William Pérez". Words to the catalogue of the exhibition Cartografía del Alma. Villa Manuela Gallery, Havana, December 2012 -  January 2013.

[6]F. Xavier Ruiz Collantes: «Marcos jurídicos de mundos lúdicos. Tipologías de reglas en juegos y videojuegos». In Comunicación, Nº 7, Vol.1, 2009, pp. 16-36.

 

[7]Hablar del neuroarte. (Esperando respuesta de William)

[8]Yambo is the name of the solitary African rhinoceros that still lives in Havana’s Zoological Garden, according to José A. Camejo, director of the Zoo clinic.

[9] Corina Matamoros: Op.cit

[10]Outcome of the scholarship at the OMI International Arts Center, New York, 2013.

[11]Benedict Anderson: Comunidades Imaginadas. Reflejos sobre el origen y la difusión del nacionalismo, Fondo de Cultura Económica S.A. de C.V., 1993. p. 23.