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Elisa Turner

"I have never seen a tube of Cuban paint."

- Guido Llinás, Cuba-born artist, age 73 That arch comment perfectly sums up the international wit and nuance in Guido Llinás and Los Once After Cuba, which opened Friday at The Art Museum at Florida International University.

Llinás, an artist of Afro-Cuban descent who has lived in Paris since 1963, uttered his pronouncement in a recent telephone interview with Juan Martinez, FlU professor of art history.

In the catalog for Guido Llinás, a show organized by FIU, Martinez weaves this wry observation into his fascinating essay on the careers of Llinás and the painter's contemporaries Hugo Consuegra, Raul Martinez, Antonio Vidal and Torrias Oliva. The four are represented by a smatteriq of works in this exhibit, providing a brief context for the main focus: the 28 paintings by Llinás, from 1957 to 1994.

Numbers varied

During the 1950s, all were core members' of a group based in Havana, known as Los, Once (The Eleven) - althouqh the numbers of' the group varied throughout the decade. Like Llinds, one of the group's founders, the artists were all barely 30, opposed to Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship and impatient with an art scene they considered moribund and mannered ' larded with tropical sweetness.

Llinás and Los Once pioneered abstract painting in Cuba. They mounted exhibitions challenging the prevailing tradition of Cuban modernism by such already established painters as Amelia Pelaez, Wifredo Lam and Mario Carreno, as well -as by many other less innovative artists loyal to their version of long-accepted European models. The elders of Los Once held on to representative and symbolic imagery, while young artists like Llinás wanted to sweep the canvas clean of all 'that "Cuban paint."

Ironically, it was a movement that has yet to enjoy widespread recognition in this country, even though Miami's Cuban Museum did exhibit Los Once artists in the late 1980s. Llinás, for example, has exhibited far more in Europe and Latin America than in the United States.

Noticeable Influence

'Still, his formal legacy whether or. not a direct influence is involved, arises in the best work of such contemporary Cuba-born artists as the late painter Carlos Alfonzo and the photographer Maria Martinez-Cañas..

As this thoughtfully paced exhibit work shows, Llinás has made the language of Abstract Expressionism solidly and fluently his own. He concentrated on form, rather than on the huge, heroic scale favored by the American painters, and he worked with distinctive palettes of brick red and smokey greens, as well as blues, blacks and white.

As Llinás himself once commented, "a painting does not represent anything. It is a direct expression. Something must be felt through its color and form."

That direct expression took particular shape after Llinás moved to Paris, where he became friends with fellow Cuban artist Larn. Following Lam's example, he was encouraged to mine the visual. riches of the Afro-Cuban culture. But, unlike Lam, Llinás was less literal, remaining true to his.sense of abstract form.

For example, he developed a vocabulary derived from the symbols of the Abakua, a fraternity for Afro-Cuban males. His frequent use of a diagonal cross inside a circle and a triangular arrow tip come from those symbols, adapted to his own love of the rhythmic, brushy gesture. They are especially visible in the dense, shifting lattice of geometric shapes in the mid-1960 works Peinture Rouge (Red Painting) and Signes (Signs).

Lightens up

Gradually, that tight network of shapes opens up, as his paintings become lighter, more fluid throughout the 1980s and '90s. The recent Par François Sauvage (For François Sauvage) is a stunning example, with its energetic intersection of black lines laid over wing strokes.of blue and white!lo. The piece is, briefly remi-niscent o Amelia Pelaez's famous, radiant scenes of leaded, stained windows. Yet the circle, cross and arrow remain, pulled and pushed into Llinás own compelling abstract language.

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