The modern diversities

The proliferation and mixture of tendencies, the freedom in the use of international styles and the ways of interpreting the Dominican universe in images reveal the uselessness of applying precise stylistic classifications to what Dominican art was showing as creative alternatives. 

It is a critical effort that distorts the essence of the issue: the artist operated with great heterodoxy in the selection of his artistic statements within the cultural cartography of his own motivations and interests. In such a way that the subjects and the environments, the social concerns and the racial conflicts participated in the structuring scaffolding of the artistic text from a multiplicity of resources that denote a regenerative capacity of the visual systems that the artist uses. according to your aesthetic intentions. Essential figures of Dominican art have been indisputable precedents for all the artistic production that continued and for contemporary work.

In this universe of so many artists there are four creators who opened the range of the diversity of tendencies for the Dominican modernity: Celeste Woss and Gil, Jaime Colson, Darío Suro and Yoryi Morel. Each in his own way made outstanding contributions to visual renewal before the institutional field of the plastic arts existed in a structured manner. They did not integrate group processes and acted with relative independence in their specific contexts. Seen the matter retrospectively, it is the history of art that integrates them to focus on them an essential moment of change. The Dominican plastic of those years did not have a controversial antecedent with which to argue, these artists more than oppose rebelliously their predecessors, they lived for a time that made them protagonists of dissimilar aesthetic-artistic exploits, which gave their work the transcendence inspiring to become a critical legacy for future generations. They exhibit for the first time between the twenties and thirties, going through artistic searches that guided them to the paths of diversity that could be found in Dominican modernity. They acquired international projection, as happened with the Bronze Medal awarded to Yoryi Morel for her participation in the International Exposition of San Francisco, at 1939. Some of them collaborated in cultural magazines where they illustrated or published their works.

The moment did not stop being complex for the Dominican culture and its visual universe. The establishment of the dictatorship of Rafael L. Trujillo, shortly after ending the military occupation of the United States, kept the country in permanent uncertainty, aggravated by the economic crisis that was reflected on a continental scale with the banking crack of 1929 and the capitalization of the country, growing, by foreign interests; all were factors that impacted Dominican society by widening the gaps between social sectors with an increase in the spaces of marginality, marked by poverty, racism and exclusion. In this sense, the early narrative works of Juan Bosch - such as Camino real (1933) and La Mañosa (1936) - are evidence of how these problems permeated the national and intellectual consciousness of multiple fields of Dominican thought and culture.

The variety in terms of the territorial and social origin of the creators mentioned, in terms of artistic training and the countries of their choice to carry out studies and develop work stages, can be understood as a fact that also contributes to the modern Dominican diversities by these years; This is the case with the relevant presence of a woman who, without being the first in the history of Dominican art, founded her own school and transcended as a transgressor. Celeste Woss and Gil inaugurated for its creative position a distinguished place for women artists in Dominican art as a contribution to contemporaneity. He studied in the United States, Europe and Cuba, and with his female nudes he paid a sure legacy to the arts of his country for daring and for opening the diapason of Dominican multiethnicity in his images of women.

Meanwhile, Jaime Colson studied in Spain; From there he moved to France, where he observed the panorama of the avant-gardes and perhaps in these years he came too close to them, especially Cubism and certain surrealist tendencies. In those first twenty years of successive trips without returning to the Dominican Republic, Colson made a pilgrimage through the most diverse artistic trajectories, on the path of seeking his own creative personality. In that sense, the Mexican and Cuban stages - especially the first - were of singular importance in his artistic itinerary, now through American lands. His stay of several years in Mexico helped him "to realize that both from an ethnic and aesthetic point of view, the Antilles are something apart from the continent."

If one looks at the most important works of Colson while he goes through those experiences of two decades of travel and studies, a piece stands out without a doubt in the whole set, Merengue (1938), which we can imagine made upon his return to the Republic Dominican Republic, although it is not known where it was painted, because in that year "Colson was in Mexico, Havana, Santo Domingo and Paris," 8 according to Ricardo Ramón Jarne. It would be worth believing that it is an evocative piece of the reunion "with the native country", in which although a composition strongly inspired by its cubist antecedents and the importance of the pictorial space as a structuring box can still be appreciated - as it appeared in the Catharsis series–, on this occasion the author seems to open an access door to unprecedented popular culture in Dominican art. Referring to Merengue and other later works on the same subject, Sara Hermann affirmed that by the way of revealing the customs and the actions of the Dominican, the scene can be given "the character of a national stamp" .9 The work remained as a a milestone in those years and yet it will not mark an epoch in Colson's immediate artistic itinerary; we still have to wait to appreciate the artist in this dimension of solid creation on popular culture themes.

Another novelty of his artistic work was the treatment of the male body. In his unprejudiced way of representing it, especially the nude, a theme of great importance for Dominican modernity emerged in national art during these years, which, with its different tonalities, provided an anticonservative and strongly liberating look at the representation of the subject - both the figure of the man as of the woman- with the works of Jaime Colson and of Celeste Woss and Gil.

For their part, Darío Suro and Yoryi Morel are made in the local environment and build a universe of their own references with a plastic language that announces a visual path towards vernacular typicality. The first in La Vega and the second in Santiago de los Caballeros, not only show another facet of modern Dominican diversities in terms of the territorial origins of the artists, but they also provide a look towards the deep country, towards the countryside and the rurality, and a work with light that also marks an initial moment for a new observation of national realities. Darío Suro experiments with a palette veiled by the effect of a rain, a downpour, on public squares –Rain in the La Vega Market (1940) - and landscapes with palm trees –Rain landscape (1940). From the inclemency of tropical storms, the artist evokes a very personal treatment of the image that impresses the viewer to motivate other possible reflections. From nature, the artist is the provocateur of a sublime image –artistically– that can be the generator of polysemic versions based on the popular imagination, when with all intentionality the people say “it rains, but it does not clear”

Yoryi Morel, identified by his versions of costumbrismo and tropicalidad, uses light with colorful intensity, making the imagination a means to select the motive and the fragment of reality that defines the environments and spaces of a visual identity that stands out in the diversities modern of Dominican art. The expression of a visual nationality expresses itself from the Creole universe with deep emotional exaltation, which personalizes its landscapes through the gestures of its brushwork and the seduction of its palette. In that sense, Paula Gómez proposes certain keys that put the accent on the treatment of light, but highlighting "its gradations and the qualities of color. In the work Landscape (1927) and Untitled (1928), the artist's interest in reflecting the changes that the luminosity provides in the landscape at different times of the day is appreciated ". The author also refers to "the fillings and textures", and states: "The work Rancho de framboyán (1938) is a living example of this". Its essential contribution is in the vibrant nature, where the selected motive is not a lost image in the landscape but a leading element. The peasant rurality and the streets of suburban neighborhoods in the works of Yoryi Morel turned nature into pictorial material for art and this meant a great "enrichment of the inventory from which plastic creation works", 11 as well as a substantial contribution to the history of Dominican and Antillean art, due to the special significance that nature and landscape will have in the configuration of their visual processes over time, in the context of the Caribbean insularity.

Taken from the Book Braiding a History in Progress, Contemporary Dominican Art in the Context of the Caribbean

Yolanda Wood, Historian, critic and Art Researcher.
Full professor at the University of Havana

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