Friday, September 24, 2010

Wifredo Lam

“With regard to life, modern painting is a revolutionary activity…We need it in order to transform the world into a more humane place where mankind can live in liberty…We must accept these things with passion. It means that we must live imaginatively.”   – Wifredo Lam

Le Regard Vertical, 1973

Wifredo Lam was born December 8, 1902, in Sagua la Grande, Cuba. Lam’s father was a Chinese immigrant, and Lam’s mother was of African, Indian, and European descent. From and early age Lam was exposed to rites of the African orishas, and Lam’s contact with African celebrations and spiritual practices proved to be Lam’s greatest artistic influence especially in his lithographs, etchings, aquatints, and engravings.

Demons Familiars (Pleni Luna Suite), 1974
In 1916, the Lam family moved to Havana, where Wifredo Lam attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes. During the early 1920s, Lam exhibited at the Salón de la Asociación de Pintores y Escultores in Havana. In 1923, Lam moved to Madrid. While living in Madrid Lam studied at the studio of Fernando Alvarez de Sotomayor, the Director of the Museo del Prado and the teacher of artist Salvador Dalí.

In 1929, Lam married Eva Piriz, who tragically died of tuberculosis two years later, as did Lam’s young son. This heartbreaking event may have contributed to the dark and brooding appearance of much of Lam’s later lithographs, etchings, and aquatints.

Lune Haute (Pleni Luna Suite), 1974
In the early 1930s, the influences of Surrealism were evident in Lam’s work, as was the influence of artists Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Lam moved to Paris in 1938, where Picasso took Lam under his wing, introducing Lam to many of the leading artists of the time, such as Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Joan Miró. Picasso encouraged Lam’s interest in African art and primitive masks, and Lam’s involvement with Santería, a religion rooted in African culture, would become integral to his work. During that year, Lam also traveled to Mexico, and stayed with artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

By the late 1930s, Lam was associated with the Surrealists. Wifredo Lam had his first solo show at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in Paris in 1939, and Lam’s work was exhibited alongside Picasso’s at the Perls Galleries in New York.

The Jungle, 1949

During World War II, Lam spent most of his time in the Caribbean, along with Claude Lévi-Strauss, André Masson, and André Breton, whose poem “Fata Morgana” Lam illustrated in 1940. Lam eventually moved back to Havana in 1941. Lam’s first year in Cuba marked a pivotal point in Lam’s artistic development. In this year Lam was introduced to the theories of Carl Jung, and by the end of 1942 Lam began ‘The Jungle,’ one of Lam’s most powerful masterpieces. In “The Jungle” Lam’s exploration of mythic images paralleled that of the Abstract Expressionists. Lam created his own style by fusing Surrealism and Cubism with the spirit and forms of the Caribbean, easily found in his graphic works.

Tree of Feathers, 1974
Between 1942 and 1950, Wifredo Lam exhibited regularly at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. In 1946, after a four-month stay in Haiti, Lam returned to France via New York. In 1960, Lam established a studio in Albisola Mare, on the Italian coast. The winter of that year Lam married Swedish painter Lou Laurin. Lam and Laurin would have three sons together.

In 1964, Wifredo Lam received the Guggenheim International Award, and in 1966–67 there were multiple retrospectives of Lam’s work at the Kunsthalle Basel; the Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Wifredo Lam died September 11, 1982, in Paris.

See more works by Wifredo Lam.

Select Museum Collections:
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Tate Gallery, London
Metropolitan Museum, New York
Reina Sofia National Museum, Madrid
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

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