Tuesday, January 23, 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
How to make your own Gasparilla wreath

How to make your own Gasparilla wreath

The denizens of South Tampa sometimes refer to this time of year as Christmas-arilla, extending the life of Christmas decorations. With just a slightly sinister twist, trimmings are repurposed for Gasparilla and the parade of pirates that will wash a...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Glass art shines at St. Petersburg’s new Imagine Museum

Glass art shines at St. Petersburg’s new Imagine Museum

ST. PETERSBURGThe bay area’s thriving glass art scene adds another member to its ranks today when the Imagine Museum officially opens in downtown St. Petersburg.Dedicated to the movement of studio glass, the museum is the brainchild of benefactor Tri...
Published: 01/22/18
BMX riders to showcase their artful sport on Gasparilla weekend

BMX riders to showcase their artful sport on Gasparilla weekend

TAMPA — There’s more coming to pile on Gasparilla weekend than just the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game. On Sunday, the day after the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and just as the world’s top hockey players compete at A...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/19/18
‘Woke’ artists return to Tampa, explore Steven Kenny’s surrealist landscapes

‘Woke’ artists return to Tampa, explore Steven Kenny’s surrealist landscapes

TWO-FER: UTOPIAS AND UNFILTEREDMark Thomas Gibson and William Villalongo are New York-based artists whose individual work explores the black experience in America, in both historical and personal contexts. Their work was showcased in the powerful but...
Published: 01/17/18
The Ringling’s ‘Aftermath’ photography exhibit shows horrors after war

The Ringling’s ‘Aftermath’ photography exhibit shows horrors after war

SARASOTAThere’s no question that war is hell, but as a civilian living in a country that hasn’t had a war on its soil in many, many years, images of the horrors of war can easily be avoided.Not only the act of war itself, but the consequences of it, ...
Published: 01/10/18
Cuba/US relations are explored at CAM and Cass gets Naughty by Nature at the Epicurean

Cuba/US relations are explored at CAM and Cass gets Naughty by Nature at the Epicurean

Societal Shifts: Climate ChangeThe new exhibition opening Friday at USF’s Contemporary Art Museum is not concerned with the hot button issue you’re thinking of. Instead, in "Climate Change: Cuba/USA," Cuban and Cuban-American artists explore the rece...
Published: 01/05/18
Updated: 01/10/18
Best of 2017: 10 phenomenal art exhibits from this year

Best of 2017: 10 phenomenal art exhibits from this year

At the close of a year that many are referring to as a dumpster fire, it’s actually refreshing to look back at the great visual art exhibitions shown in Tampa Bay in 2017. While a few were political in nature or included pieces that were, the e...
Updated one month ago
Find your favorite author’s portrait at the library, and donate your art to make room for new ones in Downtown Dunedin

Find your favorite author’s portrait at the library, and donate your art to make room for new ones in Downtown Dunedin

WELL READ: LITERARY HEROESEvery artists needs a muse, and Sarasota artist Mike Hanlon’s are the world’s great authors. So it’s fitting that Hanlon’s exhibition of large-scale portraits, "Literary Heroes,e_SDRq is on display in Kotler Art Gallery at t...
Updated one month ago
Six local art exhibits you were too busy to see during the holidays

Six local art exhibits you were too busy to see during the holidays

The threshold of a new year is a good time to catch the art exhibitions you may have been too busy to check out. Here are few suggestions. TAMPA MUSEUM OF ART 120 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa; (813)421-8380; tampamuseum.org. TMA has several exhibits ...
Updated one month ago
New Port Richey gallery exhibit features local photography

New Port Richey gallery exhibit features local photography

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Gateway Gallery and Emporium on Grand Boulevard starts off the new year with a new exhibit featuring the digital photography of David J. Wright. An opening reception will be held Jan. 5 at the studio. The varied works of 24 gal...
Updated one month ago