By Bruce Helander
Cuban born artist Fredy Villamil’s new works exhibited at Onessimo Fine Art provide an exhilarating optical experience that can be compared to a cinematic jump-cut where multiple repeat images often converge to present a central thematic, idiosyncratic and narrative message. The artist’s work has developed into a well-defined visual language that is uniquely personal and often provides an abstract story, hand-crafted with a mutual similarity of subject matter that blends together like a complicated jigsaw puzzle of pieces that all fit together convincingly. From a distance, some of the works take on a figurative abstract expressionist context reminiscent of the early paintings of Willem de Kooning or Marcel Duchamp’s groundbreaking “Nude Descending a Staircase.” Like the silent films of the 1920s, which coincidently parallel the cubist narrative experiments of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Villamil presents an intricate albeit illustrative repetitive painterly documentary with a complicated storyline while his individual images produce their own individual vocabulary.
Born in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba in 1980, Villamil has become one of the most acclaimed and distinctive artists from a country with a rich cultural heritage, which the artist welds together with elements of Spanish, African, South American and European traditions. Other pioneers before Villamil embraced cubism, modern primitivism and surrealism as artistic styles, which matured into the Vanguardia (avant-garde) movement and generated celebrated artists such as Amelia Peláez, Víctor Manuel García Valdés and Wifredo Lam (who was a friend of Picasso’s) capturing the proud spirit of their native country in murals and canvases. Also in the 1920s, Cuban artists worked to rediscover the identity of the resident people by depicting everyday life and rural scenes inspired by Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera, often spiced with African and Caribbean iconology. Cuban artists who trained abroad were influenced by European picture-making as well as adapting cubism’s geometric planes, modern primitivism and narrative storytelling.
The pictorial common denominators that are inherent in Fredy Villamil’s compositions are foremost an all-over painting of ambulatory arrangements that inventively merge meandering lines, purposely connecting to shape a recognizable image accented by pattern and repetition.
One of the more memorable works on view is “City,” where a handsome combination of Gothic archways, pathways, rooftops and a variety of other delightful architectural elements devoid of figuration, and spatial illusions coupled with darkened cavernous spaces all mixed together to create a colorful cubist-inspired harmony of juxtaposition and architectural magic.
In works titled “The Flight of Aphrodite,” “The Blessing” and “Forest Nymphs,” the artist has restricted his palette to black and white with shades of Payne’s gray. In these examples, reminiscent of 16th century copper engravings and woodcuts, Villamil’s instinctual talents and inherited vision (his father was a distinguished artist as well) stand out as convincing evidence of a true natural command of exploring the remarkable assemblage of numerous figurations in a convincing and unusual perspective. In these ambitious patterns, Villamil shows his mature strength in articulating the human form and understanding of perspective.
Several paintings could be connected to Picasso’s famous “Blue Period,” where canvases were saturated with various shades of cobalt pigment. Two works, “Blue Girl” and “Life is a Blue Cloud,” stand out as exercises in limitation and figuration camouflaged in a jungle of tinted shades of indigo and sharp black accents that become ambitious masterpieces. Villamil also engages in art about art with his interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting, “Mona Lisa,” where the seated subject’s legendary stare has been the subject of debate for centuries. In Villamil’s version of this famous face, she is portrayed in several different cubist-like perspectives that bring a fresh viewpoint to a renowned icon in historic picture-making.
Villamil has one up on Gene Kelly in his canvas titled “Singing in the Colorful Rain,” where a large group of pedestrians wade through a downpour, protected by a colorful sea of umbrellas that display a repeat pattern of mushroom-like forms. It should be noted that the artist obviously has an accurate perspective on art history and often his compositional comparisons have a distant connection to the abstract expressionists. Although narrative in nature with figuration and a background utilized to build depth and perspective, there is a slight visual aroma of familiar flow back and forth and inside out that in the abstract can be attached to early works by de Kooning and Franz Kline as well as cartoon portraits by Philip Guston.
A thoughtful and careful examination of this recent series brings the viewer into a make-believe surrealist world of interlocking figures with a dreamlike atmospheric sequence that is not only impressive but singularly memorable and handsome.
Bruce Helander is an artist who writes on art. He has been a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Forbes and ARTnews as well as providing illustrations for The New Yorker. He is a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the former editor-in-chief of The Art Economist and is a former White House Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts. His work is in over fifty permanent museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Metropolitan Museum.