“On the one hand, there are artists whose craft leads them to learn the necessary skills in a certain way. There are teachers who see a piece of artwork within the context of the student’s comprehensive development, and there are also those who lecture the students on the field of art, trying to make the best pieces come to life and explaining how they manage to exert their magical influence.” These words by Rudolf Arnheim describe the pieces Gustavo Pérez Monzón (Cuba, 1956) has been doing since the beginning of his career. Art and epistemology are intertwined, achieving an end result that aims to stimulate the perception of those who consume and learn from art.
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After the effervescence following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, where epicness and propaganda were the main characters, the country’s art scene was renewed. During the 70s, the broadening of artistic languages was a breeding ground for new ways of creating and teaching, which climaxed with Volumen I, 1981. The first references to conceptual art, abstraction and geometry were some of the tools with which this important generation of artists –Gustavo Pérez’s generation– built discourses that moved from the most basic aesthetic experiences to the complexity of socio political issues. Their work’s contents lead to understanding and consideration in a context of restructuring.
How was your experience as an artist and educator between the 70s and 90s in Havana? Do you feel like your work as a teacher influenced your work?
Simultaneously teaching and producing art was something I enjoyed. In the beginning, teaching was a means for survival. My first job after art school was doing workshops for children. Little by little, this job became a creative space to which I dedicated myself daily with a lot of passion and determination. Looking back, I’ve spent more time educating than creating my own work, although I believe both aspects are linked. On the one hand, you feel the need to be coherent while teaching, which forces you to think and become informed. On the other hand, you feel a connection to an educational human work that is dif ferent from what you can find by yourself in a studio. By carrying out workshops or working with others, sometimes you feel like what you create has a broader scope
than individual work.
In your work, as well as your teaching projects, you grant importance to the space and the sensory stimulation that comes from changing it, using geometry. Do you consider this to be the basis of your work?
I think being aware of the space is fundamental when creating anything within visual arts. I have started most of my courses by setting the implicit task of considering the peculiarities of a specific place. Likewise, the installations that I have devised, though simple, need to be gently adapted to the space they’re on. In regards to the artistic production in the early 80s, I have previously said that this was artwork seduced by geometry and numbers, much like ancient esoteric thinking, where shapes and numeric symbols are linked to concepts. You can also notice my admirationover the fact that modernist geometric art was been present for over half a century. Nowadays, geometry is still a tool that’s useful to have on hand.
The lines between a more perceptible aesthetic communication and the experiential quality of educational processes are joined together in a stimulant representation in Tramas, 2015. The exhibition was a retrospective that revived the artist’s production in the 12th Havana Biennial after 25 years of “creative exile.” The pieces created during the last third of the 20th century highlighted his prolific career, aiming to liven up the space inside and out a space that acquires volume when the viewer and the perspective partake in this game. The poetic quality of his compositions urges us to decipher their diversity, as if they were materialized verses that want to keep on after his last exhibition in Havana:
I’ve restructured my commitments and my work in the studio became vital.
We will see new materializations again, perhaps following a different line or continuing his previous work, in which geometry and organicity prompt a reflection about balance and imbalance, movement and stillness, the earthly and spiritual. Whatever the case, we will just have to wait.
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