Ricardo Viera, curator
with Guido Llinás
Wifredo Lam was a mentor, an inspiration and a friend to you over the
years. How did this relationship develop and grow?.
GL: The first time I saw Lam and his painting was in his show at
the Vedado Lyceum in 1943. I did not live in Havana; I went from
Artemisa, where I worked as an elementary school teacher. I had seen
reproductions of his works in magazines and catalogues. I was amazed,
the reproductions did not give you any idea of what the paintings were
like. I believe it was the first time I saw the painting and not the
subject. I had been painting on my own for several years. I was self
taught. I had already seen paintings by Amelia (Pelaez) in which the
colors were surrounded by black and the background and the subjects
evidenced the same interest in chromatic intensity, without natural
representation of light, just as in Lam's work. Rather, it was painting
over the plane of the canvas. I knew the theories from books and
magazines, but it was the first time I had it in front of my eyes.
Years later I met him when The Eleven/ Los Once was trying to exhibit
work and become known with works outside the tradition of so-called
"Cuban painting" or ''Havana School." With the help of
Manolo Couceiro, who was able to find places in which to exhibit, The
Eleven/ Los Once opened the first openly abstractionist show, with
variants spanning from postcubism to geometric abstraction. Seven
painters and four sculptors participated in the exhibition. The
newspapers named us "The Eleven". This group continued to
exhibit for two years, creating somewhat of a stir in artistic circles.
Lam supported us and attended our openings, and there I become closer to
him. In 1957 I returned to Paris and frequented his studio almost
every Sunday with sculptor Cardenas, while Lam prepared Spanish dishes
for lunch. He helped me to show my work in gallerjes.
RV: How did you keep in contact with Lam after the 1959
GL: When Castro came to power in 1959, I returned to Havana in
January and in September I was already bock in Paris, on a scholarship.
I had to justify the scholarship, and Lam suggested Hayter's printmaking
studio, which was very difficult to get into, but a call from Lam was
sufficient. And so for several months I learned the technique of
etching, with only one plate and only one pass on the flotbed press to
obtain many colors. I kept in touch with Lam until his death. I
pushed his wheelchair many times, accompanying him and his wife, Lou, to
restaurants years later. I went into exile in 1963, on the same plane in
which they arrived in Prague, where a mob of photographers and reporters
awaited him. I was in the entourage, entering through the VIP area. I
attended his cremation. And I have continued to visit Lou and their
children up to this day.
RV: I have watched you attack a piece of plywood with
the guataca cubana. This is a forceful and direct method. How does
your approach to printmaking differ from that of painting?
GL: For me there is no "conceptud" difference, they are
just two different media. In printmaking it is easier and more
comfortable for me to use automatism, and the surprise is more complete.
When I paint I see what is happening; the surprise comes when I take
away with a stream of water the areas or strokes made with the
RV: Usually printers carefully place registration and colors.
Your work possesses great spontaneity and has an eclectic appearance.
How is this possible?
GL: I attack the wood plate, pointed with India ink, tearing off
areas, making slits that expose the wood. Later I ink with thick
block and then put it through the flatbed press. Up to that moment
I do not know what it is going to look like, since it is the inverted
image of what I engraved on the plate. With color the process is the
some, but I have to use two or three different plates. This process
makes everything more complicated, takes away spontaneity, etc. I
have devised some tricks to avoid the super- imposition of hues, but
even so, I prefer making prints in black and white.
RV: You have made your home in France for 40 years. Why did you
GL: Fate or luck. From my adolescence I have had encounters that
have decided the direction of my life. From age 19 to 24 I lived in
Artermisa, a city a[ the Pinar Del Rio Province. I worked as an
elementary school teacher and I met and become friends with the Nardo
brothers. Our friendship has lasted up to the present. Helio Nardo was a
librarian and a leader of the Libertarians lanarchists), who gave me the
whole process of the Russian Revolution to read, so that when I arrived
in Havana, and the last dictatorship period of Batista was already in
place (which was nothing compared to the one that came later) I knew
what to expect from the situation. I have never been a believer. I have
only believed in painting.
I knew Fifo (Fidel Castro) frorn the Cadenas Square at the
University of Havana. I was studying Pedagogy and he was studying Law
with my brother Rene. When the myth of the Hero started I knew it was a
mystification. Since adolescence I had paiticiparted in student
political activities, with the orthodoxy of Chibas, and in the 26th of
July Revolution Movement that promised a Republic.
When He declared himself a communist and placed himself under the
Russian wing, I could not just stay to say that I had been deceived, so
that when he set the famous limits: "with the Revolution
everything, against the Revolution nothing", and it was He who
controlled the limits, I realized that I had to leave.
I was a Professor of Visual Arts at the School of Architecture and in
two years I sow what was coming full speed ahead. On May 20, 1963, I
landed in Prague on a Cubana plane (also carrying athletes) that
Lam suggested, in case I had "problems" at the airport.
During the trip, one thousand feet in the air, he came to my seat
to ask me: " Llinás, do you think we will get
there" I told him: "Wifredo, sit down and don't make
In exile everything went well. Altmann paid for my trip from Prague to
Paris, Arcay got me a job at the Denise Rene Gallery, one of the most
important ones. I arrived in May, and in July I was already working with
Denise Rene, with my papers in order, legally in the country, and with a
RV: What is your philosophy that makes you consider black a
color, equal to all other colors?
GL: For me black is a color as any other, and even if racists do
not believe it, there are many different kinds of black. At Denise Rene
I was in charge of the stock. Vasarely, who aspired to immortality,
wrote in detail on the back of his paintings the mixture he used in his
squares, circles, etc. To the eye they all look the same but in the
simultaneous contrast with other colors that were mixed in, the visual
effect he was looking for worked,
I use black with Prussian blue, with dark red, etc. and even the pure
black-black can be different. It is not the same when you dilute it with
turpentine as when you use it straight from the tube. Motherwell,
Kline, (and) de Kooning have used different kinds of black. You know, a
painting is like a symphony, in music the "colors" vaiy.