Landscapes, Water Spaces

By Maeva Peraza

The worst of the prisons
is the one that stands by the sea.
Because the sea offers the prisoner
the widest of horizons,
and by the indomitable nature of its waves,
is continually suggesting
the idea of freedom.1

It is perhaps insularity, among all the self-referential phenomena that our country has experienced -even unconsciously- that has had the greatest impact on its inhabitants. The island as a cultural concept has overcome the geographical dimension, becoming a way of facing existence, a sort of identity that in the Cuban case extends to multiple spheres of daily life.

It would be exhaustive to systematize all the criteria raised around this phenomenon, which has been a latent substrate in the cinema, in the turbulent tide of literature and in the promising world of visual arts. Coincidentally, most of the reflections find a common epicenter, which suggests a prison condition in the islands, where geographical isolation and inward gravitation of beings create a collective psychology that tends to self-absorption. The cursed circumstance of water everywhere, enunciated by Virgilio Piñera2, glimpses the confinement and limitation of life experience, confining space to the routine, to the immobile and, finally, to impossibility.

But there is another element that links the islands to the impermanent, to the circular becoming of time and to oblivion understood as vastness, as an apparent nothing. The frontiers of water produce a feeling of remoteness and inexplicable nostalgia before the rotund character of the sea, which paradoxically gives the islands the contrasts of expansion and freedom. It is a mythical space, with bucolic and paradisiacal resonances; a space of social injustice, of men who are forced by the most peremptory and elementary needs, mistreated by tyranny and economic exploitation.3 These are the reasons that have made the island to be besieged and rebuilt from multiple imaginaries.

In the case of Antonio Espinosa we find a sui generis artist who does not camouflage his influences, his taste for landscape has led him to experiment for more than two decades in the study of the genre. But his approaches do not come directly from the Cuban landscape tradition, far from it, they respond to a personal reformulation of its codes. In the first place, the pictorial display starts from photography, which is also reformulated since the images are recomposed and fused with others to result in a hybrid full of influences -explicit and implicit- finally assembled on the canvases. These works are conceived from the evocation; the artist understands that the landscape communicates beyond its retinal quality, that is why his work has evolved towards large seascapes that implement a peculiar symbolism.

Antonio Espinosa conceives insularity as history, as an experiential mark that affects everyone in one way or another. The sea is the metaphor that he finds to discuss the ambivalence of the island, while giving the mole the possibility of fluctuation. In this sense, his pieces stand out for their technical purity and the absence of color; the artist chooses the gray tones giving the sea an attractive visuality and his almost hyperrealistic recreations are also based on photographic appropriation. But the absence of color is not free, it responds to the aesthetic that has characterized the work of the creator and alludes to a conflictive context, where the dialogue is dramatized and mediated.

On the other hand, seascapes have changed the technique and the support evolving towards drawing, generating another invoice and a new way of facing the representation. The artist uses the means but not the modes, the intentions are outlined in his series Territorial Waters, which from the title assumes the space as consciousness, as mental status. The images recreate a visual metaphysics, in which the limits of what we understand as territory or property seem to be blurred; everything is shipwrecked in the grayness of those waters, so real that they seem to warn of the flood, the ultimate destiny of an entire nation.

1. Dulce María Loynaz: Un verano en Tenerife. Editorial Letras Cubanas, La Habana, 1992.

2.  La isla en peso. Obra poética. Compilación y prólogo de Antón Arrufat. Editorial Letras Cubanas, La Habana, 1999.

3.  Margarita Mateo y Luis Álvarez. El Caribe en su discurso literario. Editorial Capitán San Luis, La Habana, 2005.