Thursday, April 19, 2018
Arts

'Tomás Marais: Artist in Exile' at Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

TARPON SPRINGS

We last saw the work of Tomás Marais (1931-2004) in 2002 at the now-closed Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo, and I wrote in my review that it had the feel of a retrospective. "Tomás Marais: Artist in Exile," now at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, is a similar show, beginning with early works and continuing to a work from 2004, the year he died. Though it is life-spanning, the show is a survey because it's more representative than comprehensive.

Like many Cuban artists, Marais suffered from the repression of the Communist government, which took over in 1959. He moved to Paris, then relocated to Tampa in the mid 1980s to be closer to family.

The 37 works in this exhibit come from those three phases of his life. More than half are woodcut prints he created as a young man in the early 1960s before he departed Cuba, and they're wonderful. Even in the most representational ones in which people inhabit landscapes, the fantasy and profusion of patterns that would define his later paintings are evident. His homages to great artists such as Picasso, whose masklike faces influence those of Marais, are straightforward. One of the earliest works, from the 1950s, is a color drawing titled Thoughts, in which the top of a man's head is replaced with a gramophone. It is a precursor to the surrealism he embraced once he reached Paris, but it also looks back. The room in which the man stands is a ringer for Vincent van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, minus the furniture.

Marais' angular faces become more exaggerated during his Paris years. Narcissus, a 1965 oil painting with a nuanced blend of tones, has the young man in profile resembling a Thai shadow puppet. His eye suggests the ancient Egyptian practice of depicting humans in profile while painting the eye as a full view. This treatment becomes more pronounced in later works.

In the final decades, Marais wrapped the elements and themes that he had explored into a singular and exuberant vision. He uses combinations that sometimes seem to defy color theory, but, swirling around their canvases, they work. Many artists, as they get older, get darker. Marais' paintings are full of joy and generosity. Machine to Pick Up Beauty, for example, is a whimsical interpretation of a garbage truck with a flower as its scoop. The subjects in Fashion Show Mannequins are dressed like circus performers with the familiar, jagged profiles and Egyptian eyes in a riotous setting. Even Fidel Castro, who was the cause of Marais' exile, is treated with humorous rather than savage satire, depicted as an old goat. (The painting from the 1980s revisits a very similar print from the 1960s.)

Marais needed to work his way through art history to arrive at his style. It became the visual version of the literary magical realism that was a part of his cultural heritage. It seems simplistic, but only a mature artist who had paid his dues could have pulled it off.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.

 
Comments
Look inside the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, opening Saturday

Look inside the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, opening Saturday

ST. PETERSBURG As in the landscape of the American Southwest, the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in downtown St. Petersburg has a particular grandeur.This dream of philanthropists and collectors Tom and Mary James has a "soft" public openi...
Updated one month ago
Art this week: Artists celebrate Dia de los Muertos, Danial Ryan's cats are back and so are 100 more films

Art this week: Artists celebrate Dia de los Muertos, Danial Ryan's cats are back and so are 100 more films

Celebración de la Vida: Dia de los Muertos Just hearing the words Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) conjures up colorful images of painted sugar skulls, masks and paper flowers that are central to the Mexican holiday that celebrates deceased love...
Updated one month ago
Art this week: Visual history of protests, last chance for Star Wars and the Power of Costume

Art this week: Visual history of protests, last chance for Star Wars and the Power of Costume

AT MFA: BONNIE SIEGLER, STAR WARS ENDINGBonnie Siegler, an influential graphic designer, has compiled a comprehensive history of the visual language of protest in her book, Signs of Resistance: A Visual History of Protest in America. It’s a fascinati...
Updated one month ago
What makes an effective protest sign in the era of marches and memes?

What makes an effective protest sign in the era of marches and memes?

ST. PETERSBURG — While protesting is an intrinsic part of American culture, protests have had a huge resurgence in the past couple of years, with events like last year’s Women’s March and this weekend’s March for Our Lives. These movements inspired a...
Updated one month ago
Two Tampa art exhibits celebrate baseball in time for spring training

Two Tampa art exhibits celebrate baseball in time for spring training

TAMPA America’s favorite pastime is up to bat in exhibitions at two art institutions.One show is full of the fun and obsessiveness that devoted fans bring to baseball. The other focuses on the solitary intensity of young players trying to break into ...
Updated one month ago