Vital fragments, 1988
It was in 1988 that Roberto Fabelo for the first time presented a solo show at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Cuba. He made his way in those halls with a group of drawings spread out as a dynamic installation. Portions of different sizes expanded in space, in time, extending the force of Fragmentos vitales. The exhibition resumed the period from 1984, when the artist received the International Prize on Drawing “Ar- mando Reverón” at the i Havana Biennial, through 1987, when almost all the pieces were created and also exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City.
The tremendous crayon drawings of that period on the ruggedness and humbleness of kraft paper multiplied the expressive potential of the material itself after tearing and cutting the larger composition they were part of. In that way they doubly favored the gestures contained in the sketched strokes from which the groups of human heads emerged as if anonymous portraits, with the animals, body parts and figures peeking out from the interior of the poorest daily vessels where we might say they had taken shelter. The abundance of that last detail indicated that the “table” theme was a vital element, of symbolical value in wide senses, even in thatfirst elliptic moment in which the whole was narrated by the parts to become a subsequent reiteration in the evolution of Fabelo’s work. The images delivered by the artist presented the extreme precariousness that corrodes beings that because of their exiguous existence seemed to want to escape at all costs from the world they had been confined to. Fabelo’s expressionist drawings lighted up the desolation and anguish of all those individuals outcast by history, in an urgent need to show the rigor that afflicts that part of mankind submitted to the violence of abandonment, indifference, oblivion.
Vital fragments, 1988
Later, Fabelo’s work grew with the creation of an extensive gallery of characters: angels and demons, malformed specimens, mermaids and also women of splendor gone astray, magnificent animals and hybrid entities, knights and madmen. They opened a road that received wide acceptance, in which many enjoyed with delight that contradictory and impenetrable beauty of his creation resulting from his technical mastery, the virtuous craft spelled out in drawings, watercolors or oil canvases, where color succeeded in having the leading role. Spaces devoted to fantasy and coarse realism, environments frozen in the drama, the dream or the eroticism in scenes irrespective oftime or place, were conceived on the basis of strong contrasts, of the confrontation between opposites: beauty and horror, freedom and the absence of it, reason and delirium, cruelty and tenderness, thought and game. However, in the network of that extensive period of baroque appearance, as many like to describe it, multitudes gripped by more than one hunger, by more than one appetite, continued to stick out. Once again the reference to those who grieve with pain, misfortune, loneliness appeared.
Homage to Balthus, 2002
The acrobat in the small theater, 1996
This review has the inexcusable pretext of showing that continuity that few identify in the way in which the artist’s most recent production has been modeled. Within those very vital fragments and in the theatrical nature encouraged by the dreams, an identity was formed along almost twenty years that discovers absurdity, poetry, grotesque and irony. In the meantime, the ideas that forged that widely acknowledged segment did not cease to move the non-conformist spirit of a work whose pristine nature has been and is again the adventure of human survival. What began to indicate the change and transformation was the appearance of his works, following a course that bears the rhythm of his artistic non conformity, the seal of unbelief, of curiosity and, above all, of running the risk.
That was how that disregarded “table”, immaterial but constant in its gravitation, was turned into a sculptural ensemble of large format made up of coarse aluminum. A large hall at the National Museum of Fine Arts was overflowed with the installation of the same name. A coarse crockery (dishes, cutlery, columns of jars and pots, accumulations of diverse materials) pointed to a confrontation of opponents: life/ death, power/helplessness, riches/misery, progress/destruction, and led to an unbalanced and at the same time renovated vision of the still life genre. The exhibition Un poco de mí (2003), to which that piece belonged, started the process of subverting techniques, scale and materials normally used by the artist. La mesa next to La cafedral, the series Un poco de nosotros as well as other pieces that completed the proposal reflected, from an intimate relation to daily life, the vibrations and contingencies of an age.
Shortly after, the same space witnessed an even more daring transfiguration of Roberto Fabelo. Mundos (2005-2006)presented an artist in full possession of his creative ca- pacity, in the force and renewal of the ideas with which he ventured the rupture toward a new vision. Five spheres suspended in the eyes of everyone expressed totality with extreme synthesis using materials of a high symbolic potential to coat them (cartridge cases, animal and human bones, cutlery by the thousands, charcoal and more than 17 000 cockroaches). They were denounces of the most pressing conflicts of contemporary society. Each one of them told of the troubled relation that the human being holds today with an environment about to collapse and destroy life in the planet. The impact of wars was emphatically presented by the artist, particularly those originated by the eagerness to control oil, with all the destruction they have already produced.
The allegories formed on the basis of those Mundos were born of the essential talent as a draftsman that does not abandon Fabelo. An initial drawing on masonite completed their definition. The strokes with chisel and knives on the soot of the convex surfaces of more than one pot scared because of the crudeness in the appearance of those demonsthat the artist confesses rove about his subconscious. Finally he added to the essential some metaphors presented from an eroticist standpoint, using printed textiles as support and thus rounding up a provocative exhibition that completed his broaching of three-dimensional forms (sculptures/installations), the recycling of materials, the use of waste products and the study of each new substance according to the morphological and conceptual value granted to the work and the challenges he was to overcome and which could be foreseen in his future creations.
Portrait of Antonio Maceo, 2005
Among the pieces that followed (essentially large format crayon drawings) stands out because of its unique nature that island of Cuba that took its shape from the volumes of multiple containers marked by overwhelming use or disuse, pots full of very black grease, pans, aluminum jars of very different sizes with the traces left by the water salts after long use for boiling purposes; coffee machines now black from the coating on the originally polished surface when coffee generally spills. Precarious containers with no luster, ill-treated and invaded by a silence that became an eloquent comment by the artist on contextual aspects andthose difficulties that burden and leave the nation in suspense, that island we are obsessed with.
Study for Big Angel, 2003
Island of Cuba, 2006
Casserole towers, 2007
Home sweet home
Following the symbolic roads pointed out by that installation, Fabelo began to create a series that some have called Pinturas negras. An overwhelming darkness covers the whole surface of the canvases, building a hybrid that takes the convenient elements of still life and what is interesting from the landscape, without being one or the other. Its synthesis amazes and its frugality bewilders. Those paintings have the brilliance that is proper of koans, and if we let ourselves be captured by the emotion they arouse, it will not be strange to feel how the reflexive livelihood of the haiku flows in its distinct power of evocation.
His recent work is the result of the definitive stroke of an essential outburst: the concern for the future. A concern inwhich the universal pervades all immediacy and vice versa, in that continuum of swells revealed to us by his thoughts. Thus, multiple contingencies are sighted, like the one that discovers Calentamiento local, a mass of water about to get out of control, and while that inner ocean deals with its circumstances, Fabelo has carried the storm beyond, equaling it to the brute force of that Volcán that is accumulated hunger; roaring boilers being lifted up to noble mouths and then, using resin sculptures, he fixes that metaphor of human consequence with the environment created by Sobrevivientes, a scene whose leading roles were played by his Kafkaesque creatures during the Tenth Havana Biennial. Those hybrid bodies climbing the Museum’s façade in flight toward the light were an eloquent seizure of the restlessness and anguish of the contemporary world, while they also traced the route of that sea which in Roberto Fabelo does not cease to overflow.
Local heating, 2008