For more than ten years, the paintings of Vladimir Leon Sagols have essentially been focusing on “the apotheosis” of the nude body (especially female nudes) as it goes through various moods and positions imposed by Reality and Desire. And if we haven’t been able to see his work that frequently on Cuban visual arts circuits it could be because he has maintained his attraction for the act of painting while the majority of artists of his generation have decided to install, tape, perform, use video art techniques or simply mix everything up together. His nudes are not tame creatures that are easily contemplated; they are conceived within a complexity that mutates and suggests different sets of problems. They are creatures carrying with them the implicit rebelliousness of memory that is always on the verge of bursting out at some point in his paintings.
In his work of these last ten years, faces have common distinctive traits associated with moments in which we perceive tension. In rich stagecraft, faces are dejected, dragged towards veiled violence, contracted by the unexpected or simply captured at their moments of overflowing expansion. Prior to arriving on the canvas or paper, they are gestures hinting at being spied upon with determination. This capacity of spying, discovering and even intuiting whatever is behind the veil lies at the root of the artist’s great virtue. These faces are painted in decaying colors as if someone has regularly spattered the images with some strange mud collected on the periphery. The territory where oil paint and charcoal have cast shadows reminds us of the work of the great Cuban painter Fidelio Ponce de Leon.
Sagols says: I ask the viewer not to try to understand but to feel. This statement strips naked one of the keys to his work. The finale of a process reveals where the flesh transfers to the language of images with an intensity that allows it to become flesh again.
Vladimir explores the ambiguities of pain and pleasure, confessing: Visual images of pain and pleasure are very similar to the point of being interchangeable. This series insists on that relationship precisely because of the passion enclosed by this ambiguity. It becomes difficult to describe physical acts and sensations in the visual universe that mixes pleasure and tension in the face of ecstasy and death, the intellectual necessity of representing the vulnerability of the human being by the solitude of one body.
Solitude narrows the chosen path and makes it virtually risky because it no longer refers to the solitude of what is represented. It instead refers to the solitude that represents external conflicts. Many prefer to recognize this as orphanhood: someone stripped of everything and without protection. The state of orphanhood is much more radical than being unclothed; it refers to a nudity that leaves us completely vulnerable.
In almost all of Vladimir León Sagols’ series the protagonist is a female nude. But the painter has experimented with other treatments as in his sequence called Niños [Children] (2008), a wise mixture of tenderness, longing and doubt. Immediate sensations create an expressive urgency that ends up placing the children somewhere between the celestial and the terrestrial.
In 2011, León Sagols had a one-man show at the gallery in the Museum of Sacred Art in the Convent of St. Francis in the colonial part of Havana: it was called (evas). The name written in lower-case immediately hints that the original person, Eve, is converted into a group of “anonymous weavers”, ready to tell us something. These images of evas take us into female thinking; they are moments when woman attains her full identity reminding us of Sappho, Marguerite Duras, Susan Sontag, Julia Kristeva and Virginia Wolf. I would call this a tribute to women that goes beyond the ideology of her body.
Currently Sagols is part of an exhibition of seven Cuban contemporary artists in Toronto, Canada at the Galleria Siete-7 in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. The collection can be seen at www.siete.ca.