In “Screaming Heads and Still Lifes: The Late-Career Art of Carlos Alfonzo,” Janet Batet (independent curator, art critic, and essayist) explores details from the life and work of Carlos Alfonzo, whose show of late works—“Carlos Alfonzo: Paintings”—closed today, Saturday, July 14, at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami, Florida. I recommend reading the full article at Cuban Art News.
Carlos Alfonzo: Painting is the latest exhibition devoted to this Cuban-born artist, currently on view at Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami. Painting traces the final years of Alfonzo’s life and art, in which his dialogue with death becomes the central theme. Having barely reached the age of 40, at the peak of his career, Alfonzo died in Miami in February 1991, from AIDS-related complications. His prolific output—which included drawing, painting, sculpture, pottery, and public artworks—is the testimony of a tormented individual on a perpetual search for reconciliation.
Alfonzo embodied, in highly visceral terms, the odyssey of contemporary existence: split identity, solitude, misunderstanding, illness, death.
Carlos Alfonzo was born in Havana in 1950. He graduated from the San Alejandro Academy in 1973, and later from the University of Havana in Art History. His work quickly achieved fame on the island, and was acquired by the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. In 1977, the museum presented the exhibition Experimentos de Carlos José Alfonzo.
Alfonzo was part of the iconic 1979 exhibition Pintura Fresca (“Fresh Paint,” Cienfuegos Art Gallery), widely regarded as the precursor to the groundbreaking 1981 exhibition Volumen Uno (“Volume One”). Artists in Pintura Fresca included iconic figures like Flavio Garciandía, Tomas Sánchez, José Manuel Fors, Gustavo Pérez Monzón, José Bedia, Juan Francisco Els, and Rogelio López Marín (Gory), among others.
At the time Alfonzo left Cuba, the University of Havana was working on an exhibition of his work, which was immediately suspended. [. . .] Scorned as a dissident and a homosexual, Alfonzo left the island in July 1980. In his last days in Havana, when he was under house arrest, he created murals—now vanished—on the walls of his home, a defense against not only a ruthless outside world but his own anguish.
The sea would be not only a physical transit between the close but divided poles of Havana and Miami, but the expression of that anguished inner world, and the endless search for harmony, beauty, and reconciliation. [. . .]
As his art evolved, the latent jungle of symbols in his work gave way to a focus on the body. Specifically, the head—a head chopped off at neck level. As an expression of Alfonzo’s inner world, this solitary head always includes Elegguá, one of the main orishas of Santería. Ruler of paths and crossroads, closely related to destiny and creation, Elegguá had already appeared in previous work. Alfonzo’s universe became progressively darker. The atmosphere became an ominous prediction, and the head, a desperate scream.
Important events took place in Alfonzo´s life in 1990. A visit from his mother, Delia Espina Suarez, brought news of his father´s death. In December, weakened by AIDS, Alfonzo was hospitalized for the first time at South Miami Hospital. [. . .]
In Alfonzo’s final chapter, martyrdom became an essential topic. In works like Home (1990), supplicant figures on their knees are supported by ethereal beings, recalling the theme of The Annunciation. Eminently monochromatic, these paintings are directly related to Habitual—Alfonzo’s only artist’s book, also from 1990—as a summary of his life and work. [. . .]
[Shown above: Still Life with AIDS Victim, 1990. Courtesy Fredric Snitzer Gallery (via Cuban Art News)]