Wilfredo Lam

Wilfredo Lam, (born Dec. 8, 1902, Sagua la Grande, Cuba—died Sept. 11, 1982, Paris, France)

Cuban painter known for his synthesis of Modernist aesthetics and Afro-Cuban imagery. His cross-cultural style of painting, infusing Western modernism with African and Caribbean symbolism solidifies him as an innovative thinker. His traveling life brought him into contact with all the avant-garde movements of his time including cubism and surrealism.
Lam was born to a Chinese immigrant father and a mother of African and Spanish descent. He left the small town of Sagua la Grande for Havana in 1916, where he initially studied law, a path that his family had thrust upon him. Simultaneously, he also began studying tropical plants at the Botanical Gardens. By 1918 he had begun to study art at Havana’s School of Fine Arts, and he soon began to exhibit in annual salons. He went to Spain in 1923 and briefly studied academic painting in Madrid remaining there until 1938. In the mornings he attended the studio of the reactionary painter Fernando Alvarez de Sotomayor, curator of the Prado, who was also the teacher of Salvador Dalí, but in the evenings he worked in the studio where the young non-conformist painters gathered. In 1936 and 1937 he fought for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, fleeing Barcelona for Paris in 1938 with a letter of introduction to Pablo Picasso.
He met Picasso, who became a friend and an enthusiastic supporter of his work, and who introduced him to Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and others. During this period he worked mainly in gouache, producing stylized, hieratic figures influenced by Picasso and by African sculpture, as in Mother and Child (gouache, 1050×750 mm, 1939; New York, MOMA).
Through Picasso, Lam met members of the Parisian avant-garde, and he began to experiment with various Modernist styles. Two Nudes, I (1937), for example, resembles Henri Matisse’s work in its heavily outlined and rounded forms. Other works, such as Composition (1940), utilize Cubism techniques.
After meeting André Breton, Lam became an active member of the Surrealist movement. Surrealism’s involvement with myth, the subconscious, automatism, and, in particular, non-Western art was critical to the development of Lam’s work. African art enjoyed a vogue in Paris in the 1930s, particularly among the Surrealists, and its influence on his work of this period is evident. The faces of the female figures in Lam’s Composition (The Three Oranges) (1940), like those in Picasso’s earlier Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), resemble African masks.
In 1940 Lam went to Marseilles, where he joined a large number of intellectuals attempting to flee France and World War II and the German invasion. He sailed in 1941, eventually returning to Havana.
In Cuba, Lam developed his signature style, which blended aspects of Cubism and Surrealism, African and Afro-Cuban art, and Cuba’s colors and vegetation. The Jungle (1943) depicts a hybrid of four male and female figures, their bodies blending human, animal, and plant imagery within a crowded jungle filled with sugarcane and banana leaves. Lam gave his figures masklike faces, some similar to horse heads, and eroticized them by exaggerating breasts, buttocks, and genitalia. Images of hybrid female figures, particularly those with horse heads, drawn from Afro-Cuban religion, dominate much of his work.
Greatly moved, after such a long absence, by the plight of the black population, Lam set out to express their spirit and religious beliefs in a style initially influenced both by Picasso and Ernst and by African sculpture.
In 1946 he spent four months with Breton in Haiti, where he extended his knowledge of African divinities and magic rituals by attending some Voodoun ceremonies that greatly interested him. In subsequent pictures, such as The Wedding mysterious totem-like people often part animal and part human, express an atmosphere of violence and witchcraft; their linear metamorphic forms, seen against monochrome backgrounds, are sometimes in vigorous movement.
Lam returned to Paris in 1946 by way of New York (where he met Marcel Duchamp, Arshile Gorky and Roberto Matta) and settled in Paris in 1952 after dividing his time between Cuba, New York and Paris. In later paintings he remained faithful to his early imagery while seeking an ever greater simplification of form and richness of color. He continued to travel extensively and from 1960 made regular visits to Italy, where he was encouraged by Asger Jorn to make a number of ceramics. These in turn led him in his last years to model sculptures in the round, for casting in metal, of personages similar to those in his paintings. He remained in Paris till his death in 1982.

1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l Balderrama, Maria R., ed. Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries 1938–1952. New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1992.
2. Jump up ^ Alley, Rin. “Lam, Wifredo.” Grove Art Online. 27 September 1999. Oxford University Press. <http://www.groveart.com>.
3. Jump up ^ “Wifredo Lam.” Guggenheim Collection. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. <http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_bio_83.html>.
4. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Richards, Paulette. “Wifredo Lam: a Sketch.” Callaloo 34 (1988): 90–92. JSTOR.
5. ^ Jump up to: a b Sims, Lowery S. Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923–1982. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2002.
6. ^ Jump up to: a b Nessen, Susan. “Review: Multiculturalism in the Americas.” Art Journal 52 (1993): 86–91. JSTOR.
7. Jump up ^ Victor Moreno – ein kubanischer Maler, Felix Busse, Vielflieger Verlag
8. Jump up ^ Lucie-Smith, Edward. Latin American Art of the 20th Century. 2nd ed. London, England: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2004.
• Benitez, Helena. Wifredo and Helena: My Life with Wifredo Lam 1939–1950, Acatos, Lausanne, 1999.
• Fouchet, Max-Pol. Wifredo Lam, Poligrafa, Barcelona, 1976; Cercle d’Art, Paris, 1976; Rizzoli, New York, 1978.
• Jouffroy, Alain. Lam, Editions Georges Fall, Paris, 1970.
• Laurin-Lam, Lou. Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume I, 1923–1960, Acatos, Lausanne, 1996.
• Laurin-Lam, Lou, Lam, Eskil. Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, Volume II, 1961–1982, Acatos, Lausanne, 2002.
• Leiris, Michel. Wifredo Lam, Fratelli Fabri, Milano, 1970; Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1970.
• Ortiz, Fernando. Wifredo Lam y su obra vista a través de su significados criticos, Publicaciones del ministerio de Educacion, La
• Victor Moreno – ein kubanischer Maler, Vielflieger Verlag