Marcelo Pogolotti: The Most Futurist of Cuban Modern Painters

With Marcelo Pogolotti, an Adventurer of Modernity, the Cuban Fine Arts Museum and the Italian label Liberlab render tribute to the painter.

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2009-08-13

Marcelo Pogolotti, an Adventurer of Modernity is the title of a bilingual edition which brings to us the artistic and intellectual legacy of the Cuban painter (1902-1988). The co-production of the Cuban Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Italian label from the Piedmont region Liberlab, gathers works made in Cuba and during his stay in Europe in the period between the wars.

Reproductions of his drawings and paintings enrich the book. Some belong to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Cuba and other institutions; some are from private collections, as those kept by his daughter, Graziella Pogolotti, one of the most outstanding Cuban intellectuals. The catalogue includes a chronology and a bibliography by Museum specialist and art critic Ramon Vazquez and an introductory essay by Graziella, offering strict coordinates for the understanding of her father’s work and times.

Marcelo Pogolotti’s work is especially etched in Cuban painting because of its fresh visual language. Each of his strokes and compositions materialize his eagerness for human emancipation. He traversed surrealist and futurist trends and culminated in a type of original painting translating his creative concerns into a criticism of social problems.

An intertwining of languages and cultures marked his growth into adulthood. He communicated with his relatives in Giaverno in the Italian he had learned from his father Dino; he spoke with his mother Grace George in English and led his life in Cuba in Spanish, in the working-class neighbourhood of Marianao. Pogolotti had a profound friendship with Carlos Enriquez, another Cuban modern painter.

During his adolescence, he studied mechanical engineering in the United States, but following his vocation he soon was attending the courses in the New York Art Students League and experienced bohemian poverty in Greenwich Village. After a brief stay in Cuba from 1925 to 1928, he travelled to the Paris of the period between the wars. In Montparnasse he met other adventurous Cuban painters like Eduardo Abela, Amelia Pelaez and his friend Carlos Enriquez.

Active meetings with European modernists – futurists, mechanists, surrealists and abstracts – proved fruitful. The Iron Man (1931), a tempera with painted metal collage and nails on paper pasted on wood – which is in the cover of the book – shows the moment in which futurist aesthetics radicalized in Pogolotti’s work. At this time, he shared space with Giacometti, Labisse and Lèger in the 2nd Salon of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists in Paris with The Plan (1934), the work in the back cover of Marcelo Pogolotti, an Adventurer of Modernity.

His analytical spirit and interest in bringing humans face to face with machines emerged first in 1930-1931 in a series of drawings under the title of Our Times, a masterly album of all social classes based on a sarcastic realistic presentation denoting his formal achievements.

His masterful style was defined by the dynamic strength of diagonal and unstable lines, the inclusion of geometric forms, the chromatic balance including transparencies and divided scenes as in comics. With his strokes, he demonstrated his aesthetic and conceptually revolutionary affiliation. A very personal way of doing, combining lyricism and rationality, had already perpetuated him when he lost his eyesight at 36 years of age.

The impact of machine in human life, speed, the traps of progress and social differences were the thematic demands of the historical moment in which he lived. Nothing in the European or national panorama escaped from his view; the evidence of modernity he left can be found in the canvases 20th Century and Cuban Landscape, both from 1933, the latter a portrayal of sad details in the neo-republican regime in the country during the first half of the 20th century.

His physical misfortune did not put an end to his intellectual work. His passion for literature took him to collaborate with Louis Aragon in the review Commune. For two decades he wrote a column for the Parisian daily Le Monde. He wrote a book of essays under the title The Republic of Cuba through Its Writers, the autobiographical text Del barro y las voces (From the Mud and the Voices), and the novel Estrella Molina, an implicit tribute to surrealism, according to Graziella Pogoloti, his closer critic.

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