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 Wifredo Oscar de la Concepcion Lam  (1902 - 1982)

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Lived/Active: Cuba/France/Europe      Known for: figurative drawing-voodoo and spiritual themes

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

The following information was submitted December 2012 by Jose Angel Acosta Buxado:

Exhibition of 72 works of Wifredo Lam will be opened in Havana
 
Exposure Wifredo Lam: “Between painting and printmaking” will be inaugurated on December 12th at the Centre For Contemporary Art as part of the program of activities designed to mark the 110th Anniversary of Wifredo Lam, the most international Cuban artist   Of the 72 pieces that will be on display, 68 are from the thesaurus of the National Museum of Fine Arts and four are lithographs series “Green Fire”, which are on loan from Alexys Leyva, Kcho. All were created by Lam between 1941 and 1976. Their artworks had not been returned to exhibit, in such a wide range as announcing, from the exhibition organized to commemorate the centenary of the artist. The exhibition will contemplate known artworks, some that have never been exhibited, shows like “The altars”, “Portraits HH”, “The Ocher and Sienna”, some works of the period in Haiti, and inks, pastels, tempera, collage prints and albums.
 
On December 11, 2012, there will be the screening of the documentaries: At the crossroads of the World 1902 – 1946, In Search of the Lost Unity 1946-1982, Wifredo and Ooets and Atom Dust, produced by Seven Doc (France), produced by the filmmakers Fabrice Maze and Barbro Schultz Lundestam and donated to Wifredo Lam Center by the collector Gilbert Brownstone.

The first two visuals are of 87 and 80 minutes, respectively. These are chronological materials that recreate the life and artwork of the Cuban painter, from his birth on December 8 1902, in Sagua la Grande in Villa Clara, until his death on September 11, 1982 in Paris. For Wifredo and poets (55 min), refers to the 60s, when he worked etching and lithography, closely related with writers and poets such as André Breton, Antonin Artaud, Aimé Césaire, Gherasim Luca, Alain Jouffroy and Jean-Dominique Rey, among other artists.  Powder atoms (48 min), captures the time when he lived in Albisola Mare, Italy, where he made more than 300 ceramics at the workshop San Giorgio.

The exhibition will be open until February 23rd, 2013, and until then the aforementioned documentaries will be projected, in addition to Wifredo Lam from Humberto Solas, and It was already autumn in Paris from Jorge Aguirre.
 


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Wifredo Lam was the youngest of nine children and the only son of a Chinese father and an Afro-Cuban mother.  He was born in 1902 in Cuba.  His father adhered to Confucius and Lao Tse, his mother raised him as a Roman Catholic.  Had his godmother had her way, he would have become a Santeria priest-healer.  He left Havana when he was twenty-one to study art in Madrid.  There he was exposed to modernism: Surrealism, Picasso and Matisse.

In 1930, Lam married a Spanish woman, but a year later both his bride and their newborn son tragically succumbed to tuberculosis.  He remained in Spain, fought with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.  Injured, he was taken to a Catalonian hospital where he met a German chemist, Helena Holzer.  Later they were married.  In 1938, after being wounded while fighting for the Republican army during the siege of Madrid, he moved to Paris, where he established a lifelong friendship with Picasso.  In 1940, with World War II and the internment by the Nazis of his wife, Lam fled with her to Marseilles and in 1941, boarded a ship back to Cuba.

In the Paris years, Lam has assimilated the Surrealist and Cubist vocabularies.  Then, during the decade in Cuba, he fused the modernist elements with his Afro-Cuban heritage, forging his mature unique style.

In 1952, having divorced Helena, he moved permanently to Paris.  His international reputation began to soar.  In 1960 he married a Swedish artist with whom he had three sons.  He supported Fidel Castro, and he enjoyed two tributes at the Museo de Belles Artes, in Havana.  He died in 1982.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Susana Torruella Leval in ARTnews, Summer 1994
From the internet, Electric Library

Biography from GallArt.com:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Wifredo Lam, Cuban (1902 - 1982)

Born: Wifredo Oscar de la Concepcion Lam y Castilla, Sagua la Grande, 2 December 1902.

Education:
Academia San Atejandra, Havana, 1920-23; Free Academy, Madrid; studio of Fernando Alvarez di Sotomayor (director of the Prado), Madrid, 1924-28.

Military Service: Fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.

Family: Married 1) Eva Piris in 1929 (died 1931); 2) Elena Hoizer in 1944 (separated 1950); 3) Lou Laurin in 1959,3 children.

Career: Painter, Academia de Quatre Gates, Barcelona, 1936-37. Moved to Paris, 1938. Associated with Surrealists, especially Andre Breton and Max Ernst, Paris, 1938. Traveled to New York, Cuba, and Paris, 1946-52.

Awards: First Prize, Salone Nacionale, Havana, 1951; Gold Medal for foreign painters, Premlo Lissone, Rome, 1953; Guggenheim Award, 1964: Premio Marzotto, Milan, 1965. Died: Paris, 11 September 1982.

After leaving his homeland, Havana, Cuba, where he concentrated on painting still lifes and landscapes, Wifredo Lam traveled to Spain where he thought that his work could be freed from its academic constraints. He became familiar with the work of Pablo Picasso and equally with the Republican cause, which he supported in the Spanish Civil War. He did not actually meet Picasso until 1938 in Paris, but much speculation and myth has grown around the supposed influence that this looming figure had on Lam's work, almost ignoring the impact that Henri Matisse's decorative style had on Lam's compositions.

By 1936 Lam's paintings had become increasingly influenced by cubism, but with a more ritualistically "Africanized" character. His subjects were more structural, connecting them to traditional African sculpture from Zaire and other West African cultures. The spirit of African mythology and ritualism is evidenced in the accentuated breasts and genitalia, elongated limbs, and pronounced mask-like facial features on figures often placed in a surreal lush environment of leaves and other foliage. Attention to ritualized forms came not from European artists' explorations of Cubism although it may have provided a catalyst-but because Lam's life in Cuba had been grounded in the Africanized religion of Santeria. (Santeria is actually a Cuban-based religion that relates Yoruba deity worship with the Roman Catholic tradition of prayer to saints.)

After the civil war escalated in Spain, Lam left for Paris with a letter of introduction to Picasso. Although he was only in Paris for two years, he continued to be influenced by the avant-garde school there and by his comrades. (Together they had fled Paris for Marseilles when it was invaded in 1940 and subsequently occupied during World War II.) He was later forced to flee Marseilles for Martinique, where he met Aime Cesaire, a disciple of Negritude, whose influence of Africanized themes and philosophy affected Lam's own investigations of his Afro-Cuban culture for the remainder of his life, As Lam himself said "I... wanted to paint the drama of the Negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic and of the blacks, In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters. I knew I was running the risk of not being understood either by the man in the street or by the others [the art world]. But a true picture has the power to Scot the imagination to work even if it takes time."

Lam's interest in African-derived spirituality and mythology was further reinforced by a visit to Haiti in 1945 in which he witnessed a voodoo ceremony and found similarities in worship and a belief system among Afro-Cubans in his own country. He thus took the techniques of synthetic Cubism, which were based on forms of traditional African sculpture, and reinterpreted them through what he knew and experienced from his own Afro-Cuban heritage. What resulted were lush, enigmatic, and ritualized works in which shapes were often outlined in black line, no doubt initially influenced by the linear outlines of Matisse, Joan Miro, Fernand Leger (with whom he had worked in Paris), and Max Ernst (one of his colleagues in Marseilles). Lam developed a personal vision of Cubism, unlike Picasso and others who appropriated structural elements of traditional African sculpture and design. Lain concerned himself not only with the structure of the forms but with the myth and authority that empowered them. His greatest achievement was the manner in which he fused modernist ideals of abstraction with his knowledge, as all insider, of African-derived forms and the context in which they were used in the sacred arena.

Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Wifredo Oscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla was born December 8, 1902, in Sagua la Grande, Cuba.  In 1916, his family moved to Havana, where he attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes.  During the early 1920s, he exhibited at the Salón de la Asociación de Pintores y Escultores in Havana.  In 1923, Lam moved to Madrid, where he studied at the studio of Fernando Alvarez de Sotomayor, the Director of the Museo del Prado (and a teacher of Salvador Dalí).  In 1929, Lam married Eva Piriz, who died of tuberculosis two years later, as did their young son.  This tragic event may have contributed to the dark and brooding appearance of much of Lam’s later work.

In the early 1930s, the effects of Surrealism were evident in Lam’s work, as was the influence of Henri Matisse and possibly Joaquín Torres-García.  In 1936, a traveling exhibition of the work of Pablo Picasso shown in Barcelona, Bilbao, and Madrid proved inspirational to Lam both artistically and politically. He moved to Paris in 1938, where Picasso took him under his wing and encouraged his interest in African art and primitive masks. During that year, Lam traveled to Mexico, where he stayed with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Lam’s own multicultural heritage (son of a Chinese father and a mother of mixed African, Indian, and European descent) and his involvement with Santería, a religion rooted in African culture, would soon become integral to his work. By the late 1930s, Lam was associated with the Surrealists. He had his first solo show at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in Paris in 1939, and his work was exhibited alongside Picasso’s at the Perls Galleries, New York.

During World War II, Lam spent most of his time in the Caribbean, along with André Masson, and André Breton, whose poem Fata Morgana Lam illustrated in 1940.  Lam eventually made his way back to Havana in 1941.  His first year in Cuba marked a watershed in his artistic development; he was introduced to the theories of Carl Jung, and by the end of 1942 he had begun his powerful painting Jungle. Lam’s exploration of mythic images paralleled that of his contemporaries in New York, the Abstract Expressionists, though Lam used specific subject matter.  Lam created his own style by fusing Surrealism and Cubism with the spirit and forms of the Caribbean.

Between 1942 and 1950, the artist exhibited regularly at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.  His second marriage, to Helena Holzer in 1944, ended in divorce in 1950.  In 1946, after a four-month stay in Haiti, Lam returned to France via New York.  He traveled extensively until 1952, then settled for three years in Paris before resuming his travels again in 1955.  In 1960, Lam established a studio in Albisola Mare, on the Italian coast. The winter of that year he married Swedish painter Lou Laurin, with whom he would have three sons. In 1964, he received the Guggenheim International Award, and in 1966–67 there were multiple retrospectives of Lam’s work at the Kunsthalle Basel; the Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Lam died September 11, 1982, in Paris.

QUOTE:
“With regard to life, modern painting is a revolutionary activity…We need it in order to transform the world into a more humane place where mankind can live in liberty…We must accept these things with passion. It means that we must live imaginatively.”

Select Museum Collections:
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Guggenheim Museum, NYC
Tate Gallery, London
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo


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