Carlos Enriquez

El Rapto de las Mulatas - The Abduction of the Mulatto women

Carlos Enriquez. Born in Zulueta, Cuba 1900. Died Havana, 1957

Carlos Enriquez's formal artistic training was scant, yet he had a college education and was an avid reader. In 1918-19 he took painting classes while in high school at the Escolapios in Guanabacoa and in 1924, after graduating from business school in Philadelphia, he briefly attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He returned to Cuba in 1925 with the painter Alice Neel, whom he married that year. In Havana, Enriquez worked at the Independent Coal Company, drew and painted in his spared time, and participated in the earliest manifestations of modernism in Cuban painting. Conscious of the need to expand his artistic knowledge and potential, he left Havana for the United States and then Europe.

Enriquez lived in New York from 1927 to 1930 and in Paris and Madrid from 1930 to 1933. Among the most important experiences of those formative years were his visits to the Metropolitan, Prado, and Louvre museums, his endless conversations with artists and intellectuals of many nationalities at the cafe Le Dome in Paris, and his contact with surrealism. Given the evidence of his work, he was attracted to the surrealism of Federico Garcia Lorca, early Salvador Dali, and late Francis Picabia as far as their use of superimposed images and erotic subject matter is concerned.

Enriquez returned to Cuba in 1934 and, like the case of the other vanguardia artists, the rencounter with his native land provided the catalyst for his mature style and his commitment to express Cuban realities and myths. Using a personal visual language of fluid lines, overlapping color forms, and dynamic figure compositions, he represented the Cuban countryside, its inhabitants, and folklore. Poor peasants, heroic legendary and historical figures, sensual women, restless horses, and windy landscapes of palm trees and rolling hills are the main characters and setting for "creole ballads" of confrontation, eroticism, and conflict. The subjects were often inspired by popular myths and social realities. He also painted portraits of friends, many nudes, and some still lifes. Although basically a painter, Enriquez was an estimable writer. He published essays and letters on his art as well as three novels: Tilin Garcia (I939), La vuelta del Chencho (written 1942, published 1960), and La feria de Guaicanama (written 1942, published 1960).

In the 1940s, Enriquez's style moved toward expressionism as his palette became brighter, his brush strokes visible, and his distortion of forms more prominent. During this decade he also expanded his American subject matter as a result of a 1943 trip to Mexico and a 1945 visit to Haiti. In both cases he recorded his experiences in drawings and paintings that range from the anthropological to the visionary. He paid close attention in these works to details of nature-landscape, ethnic types, and native myths and rituals. In the last decade of his life, Enriquez's art suffered a steady decline due to alcoholism related sickness and increased social alienation.

During his lifetime, Ennquez's art received a good measure of national recognition and some international exposure. He participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Havana attracting positive critical attention and at times controversy. He won purchase awards at the First, Second, and Third National Salons (1935, 1938, and 1946) for El rey de los campos de Cuba (1934), Rapto de las mulatas (1938), and La arlequina (n.d.) respectively. His drawings appeared regularly in the avant-garde magazine Revista de Avance (1927-30), and he illustrated a number of books including Alberto Riera's collection of poems Canto al Caribe (1936). He also executed a few fresco paintings, the most ambitious of which was La invasion (1937, destroyed soon thereafter) for the pedagogical school Jose Miguel Gomez. At the peak of his career in the late 1930s and 1940s, his art reached out into the international arena with personal and collective exhibitions in Mexico ( 1938, 1944, and 1946), the United States (1939, 1943, 1944, and 1946), Haiti (I945), Guatemala (I945), and Argentina (1946). However, the international recognition he sought, and that his art deserves in the context of early Latin American modernism, still eludes him. In Cuba, where he is considered one of the most significant national artists of the century, his work has been the subject of two major posthumous retrospectives in 1957 and 1979. His paintings and drawings are in the collections of the National Museum of Cuba, El Huron Azul (his home turned museum in the outskirts of Havana), the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Cuban Foundation Museum in Daytona Beach, and the Cuban Museum of Art and Culture in Miami. The latter institution organized a major exhibition of his work in 1986. His paintings and drawings are also in private collections in Cuba, Latin America, the United States, and Europe.