Luis Martinez Pedro: surrounded by water: Cuban painting on show in Havana

Aguas Territoriales 1967 series by Luis Martinez Pedro c. UNESCO

by: La Jiribilla, Cuba

The work of Luis Martínez Pedro can be appreciated in all its splendor in Havana right now. An exhibition at the Museo de Bellas Artes (National fine art museum), entitled “Water everywhere,” enables viewers to enter the world of someone considered one of the great visual artists of Cuba.

Various series of paintings are presented, made during an intense career. “The eye of the water”, of 1960; “Playa de Jibacoa”, between 1946 and 1948; “Men of the sea”, made during the 20s, 30s and 40s; “Women and sea”, made over several decades; “Ojos” and “Flora cubana”, from the 70s (the latter belonging to the MOMA collection, in New York); “Other signs of the sea”, also from the 70s; “Nudes and landscapes”, from the 80s. And finally, what is perhaps best known in its vast production, “Aguas territoriales” (territorial waters).

Walking through the room is a joy for the senses. The colours and their different tones, the variety of techniques used, the diversity of approaches to the theme and the number of works on show, are breathtaking and, at the same time, provoke reverence for a poetics where abstractions and figurations converge, geometric lines and lines that create volume.

One of the most extraordinary moments is in the sketchbook of the artist, which still remains unpublished, and which attests to how productive Martinez Pedro was. Hopefully one day it will be published and we will be able to look at it to understand some of the habits and obsessions of the artist.

According to Manuel López Oliva, with the work of Martínez Pedro “the sea penetrated his art”. Because it was one of his greatest inspirations, one of his most constant fascinations. The sea: its movements, its colours, the fishermen, the people who live close to the beach. To contemplate the sea, to understand its waves, to try to unveil its mysteries, to capture it as he saw it, to put it on canvas or paper, was the artist’s obsession throughout his life.

There is a sentence by Loló de la Torriente that accompanies the exhibition and that can shed light on the life of the painter: “Only a refined sensibility could find, in the expression of the signs of the sea, the passionate, dreamy and absolute soul of our orogenic (mountainous) island.”

Luis Martínez Pedro was born in Havana in 1910 and studied at the San Alejandro Academy in 1929. As he approaches his biography, it is possible to see that he was a very industrious man, who participated in a large number of exhibitions, so many that it is impossible to list them here. He designed covers and drew vignettes for the Cuban magazine ‘Origins’. Cuban writer Lezama Lima wrote the words of the catalogue for the exhibition of Martínez Pedro in 1971, “Other signs of the sea”, and there the poet exclaimed:
“Those exercises of Pedro Martinez where the eye is drawn to trace every last movement of the story which reveals the inner secret of the seashell”.

At the Sao Paulo Art Biennial, in 1953, the artist won a prize; UNESCO also gave him an award. Between 1958 and 1961 he was part of the group Diez Pintores Concretos. He taught at the National School of Art. He illustrated the poetry book ‘Cuatro canciones para el Che’, by Cuban national poet Nicolás Guillén. He made two murals for the Vladimir Ilich Lenin Vocational School. In 1981 he received the prestigious Félix Varela Order from the Cuban state. He died in Havana, in 1989.

You can appreciate the command that Martínez Pedro had of techniques such as oil on canvas, ink on paper, pencil or crayon on cardboard. There are few but beautiful examples of his ceramic work, but the drawings on show confirm what numerous critics have pointed out about his extraordinary skills as a draftsman.

As a viewer, I loved “The feet of the fisherman”, made 1942, with ink and gouache on cardboard. I was amazed at the whirlwinds he drew, for they are like a magnet to the eye. You can not remain impassive before beauty, since it unfolds a mystery that provokes strong emotions.
The exhibition of Luis Martínez Pedro will remain on display through the summer. Writer Miguel Barnet once said that the painter’s eye is “the light that leads to reflection, which illuminates the dream”. Whether you love his work or have still not seen it, you now have the opportunity to spend time with the artist of the sea.

link to original report in La Jiribilla

The exhibition is on until 30 September 2018 at Museo de Bellas Artes, Zulueta y San Jose, Old Havana, Cuba

link to exhibition at the Museo here