Fidelio Ponce: ethics, passion and creation

February 20, 2011 20:18 0 comments

He was unprecedented in Cuban painting. His greatest challenge was painting in his own way, with the courage of his convictions.

Mabel Guerra García

Camagüey, Cuba – Despite commencing his studies at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, Havana in 1916, he later abandoned them in order to create a new art movement in contrast to the “academicism’ that was prevalent in Cuban visual arts.

At the time, the Cuban ‘art academy’ was so firmly transfixed by the Old Continent that it was alien to the expression of Cuba’s internal culture in art.

For Fidelio Ponce de León Henner, who was born in 1895 and died at 1949, his creative ethic could not be compromised.

The painter believed that the validity of art came from within the creator and not from nature.

Fidelio Ponce believed that an artist could not be content with imitating reality, however virtuous his technique. Therefore, he rejected the use of rich tropical tones and forms in his painting, because his ingenuity laid in his ability to instil soul into his work. It is not by chance, therefore, that his work is a palette of whites, okras, light and melancholy.

Characterised by this sensitivity, Ponce created images that were unusual, downtrodden and mystical. His images were original, but brilliant and beautiful, and made the painter one of the Vanguardia.

In his paintings, he knew how to evoke the suffering and despair of a country in decline.

As the critic Guy Pérez stated, he was the type of painter that created art “as if driven by a fateful destiny, one that was blind to the landscape, deaf to all words, and was capable of ripping an immense and whole world from deep inside him”.

And so it was that this slim, bloated and spontaneous man, with a very prominent nose, a wide hat covering his forehead as if he were hiding from the sun, abandoned art school. He plunged himself into a world of shadows to lead a nomadic and solitary life, one which was unsociable and awash with alcohol.

It is said that pain and incomprehension made Alfredo Ramón de la Paz Fuentes Pons, his real name, the man that he was.

Born in Camagüey in January 1895, the painter grew up in a traditional, conservative family that practised Cuba’s most ardent form of Catholicism. He grew up in the midst of tumultuous economic and political times in the country.

When he was just eight years old, Ponce suffered the loss of his mother, a sorrow that he expressed with his paintbrushes.

Critics claim that reading into the significance of his work allows us to understand his approach to life and the constant restlessness that made him walk his life alone.

Because Ponce’s world of pictures is “strange and full of pain, in shades of white, grey and sepia and other hazy tones”, reflects his biographer Juan Sánchez.

Life in the provinces perhaps also aided him on his journey to hone the refined style that defined him; his painting exudes a strong sense of identity with the life, attitudes and culture of the city where he was born.

Without baggage or money, he made a pilgrimage through Cuba, taking only his art with him; he was unconcerned with money or praise from the public, his only concern was his art.

On his slow ramble through Cuba, he dedicated himself to travelling through small villages in the interior and the gloomiest districts of Havana, leaving his creative and nostalgic stamp on many forgotten places. On his travels, he gave lessons to poor children and on many occasions painted in bars and taverns in exchange for a meal.

In his imagination, Ponce travelled to Europe; he soaked up the universal art and life of this continent using only reproduction images in catalogues. However, he could recall “visits” to Paris museums with such clarity that those who didn’t know him would believe him.

He had a wide knowledge of Italy, France, Spain and other centres of European art and admired the great artists of his era whose influences are visible in his works.

Scholars have compared his style with the Italian painter Amadeo Modigliani (1884-1920), and because of the mysticism that prevails in his work have associated him with Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco (1541-1614), a master in capturing the religious fervour of 16th century Spain.

Experts have stated that even his artistic pseudonym ‘Fidelio Ponce de León Henner’ was borne of his prodigal creativity, which could go a long way in explaining his personality, the origins of the man himself.

As for Fidelio and Ponce, according to the writer Sánchez, the narrow phonetic distance between these names and the original ‘Fuentes y Pons’ is very clear in both respectively.

Whilst ‘de León’ is in line with a kinglike personality; a ferocious, solitary, and independent man who was fond of walking, ‘Henner’, however, stems from a dreamy fondness for nostalgia. He borrowed it from a European painter, a character, that according to him, was his own grandfather.

Others claim that the name Fidelio came from Beethoven’s only opera. This would explain the painter’s passion for music that could rouse him into elevated states of emotions and moods.

At 39, he made his debut in the art world with his first personal exhibition at the Liceum in Havana. Dos mujeres, Two Women (1934) and La familia está de duelo, Family in mourning, (1934) are works that are moving in their expressive ability.

In the National Salon of 1935 Beatas was awarded a prize, a work in which the painter further validated his strong sense of identity; later on he was awarded first prize for his painting Los niños, The children, (1937).

Although his paintings hardly appeared in Havana exhibitions and he was not one of the most recognised of painters, his pictorial story allowed him to reveal himself as one of the most genuinely original and substantial artists of Cuban painting given the sober nature of his art.

Between 1935 and 1940, a period in which he reaffirmed his unique style, he created the works Rostros de Cristo, Faces of Christ and Mi prima Anita, My cousin Anita.

In 1941, Rostros was born, two years after he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. In spite of his illness, however, he kept painting whilst he still had the strength.

Fidelio Ponce, the painter of human misery, waited with patience and resignation until the end of his days; although his physical condition deteriorated, first through alcohol and then later Tuberculosis, his lucid mind continued to evoke the fantasy of Cuba, his art and desires.

A symbol of humility and art, the painter died in one of Havana’s oldest districts on the 19th February 1949, leaving the Cuban visual arts scene with one of the most singular and authentic expressions of his art, one which continues to inspire reflection in generations of Cuban artists to this very day.

Alone and mysterious, from the depths of a grave in the Cementerio de Colón in Havana, Ponce still traces with a heavy soul new images of life and the Bohemian world that exalted him and made him immortal.

And this is because Fidelio Ponce is the painter of the Cuban ‘Vanguardia’ movement who, in the words of the French art critic Pierre Loeb “will always be honoured as having sung his own song, of having been an example to all of a noble and quality man”. (PL)

(Traducido por Rebecca Beswick – Email: rebecca_beswick@yahoo.co.uk)


Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Reply


*



The Prisma News

  • Culture, Human Rights, On Stage, Politiks The Grandson… Argentina and its’ missing people

    The Grandson… Argentina and its’ missing people

    The Theatre for Identity “Teatro x la Identidad”, a movement that for 15 years has seen actors, directors and people from the theatrical world bring the message of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to the stage, returning to The Calder Bookshop and Theatre, this time with the stage play “The...

    Read more →
  • Comments, In Focus Women!

    Women!

    People say sometimes the first thing that comes to their minds (we all do, I guess; however, some of us try to avoid it or at least to rectify when we get it wrong).   Mabel Encinas   Saying things like ‘excessive traffic is migrants’ fault’, ‘English people have also the right to...

    Read more →
  • Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus What does UKIP mean?

    What does UKIP mean?

    Last year’s Rochester and Strood by-election victory for the United Kingdom Independence Party candidate, Mark Reckless, was a game-changer for British politics.   Steve Latham   It came hard on the heels of UKIP’s Clacton win by Douglas Carswell; both new MPs standing for seats they had previously...

    Read more →
  • Comments, In Focus The illustrators of life

    The illustrators of life

    “There is too much blood; too much violence”,  Albert Camus.  I had thought that I would start the year with good memories and nostalgia. However, the Charlie Hebdo massacre has brought back memories of when, in the late 80s, Castaño’s paramilitaries shot down ‘JUCO’ militants –...

    Read more →
  • Culture, Multiculture, Our People, Visual Arts Angelika Berndt and the invisible culture

    Angelika Berndt and the invisible culture

    She has worked on projects in Africa, Asia and Europe, although her work is based mainly around Latin America, the region in which she grew up.   Juanjo Andres Cuervo Photos by Angelika Berndt    She first started in photography by helping the non-government organisation Anti Slavery International...

    Read more →
  • Comments, Culture, In Focus, Pages Words to remember Clarice Lispector

    Words to remember Clarice Lispector

    Writing, says Lispector, is not knowing what’s coming next. To find out, we throw another word out, as bait: which words will take the bait, if indeed any? Or will nothing follow but a void?   Carlos Skliar*   If it’s true that the world started with a yes, wrote Lispector, if it’s true...

    Read more →
  • Culture, Globe, Latin America, Music Danzón: a dance that overcame discrimination and racism

    Danzón: a dance that overcame discrimination and racism

    The first night of 1879 was calm and fresh, and those attending the Artistic and Literary School, currently the Sala José White, rested after performing a dance.    Wilfredo Alayón   At the conductor’s signal, an orchestra that had regaled those at the soirée on 1st January began to play...

    Read more →
  • Comments, In Focus Power, for whom?

    Power, for whom?

    I met Isidoro Morantes on that 2nd day of January, at the age of 84. People say on that day his age was not noticeable like other times. In spite of his vitality making you forget for moments his advanced years, he was an old man.   Armando Orozco Tovar   That night Isidoro seemed younger asking for...

    Read more →
  • Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus Birdman flies

    Birdman flies

    As we came out from the cinema, my wife commented that “Birdman” is the kind of film any man in his fifties is bound to identify with – she, of course, meant me.   Steve Latham   The movie is centred on the emotions of a man in the midst of his mid-life crisis, wondering whether his life...

    Read more →
  • Comments, In Focus, Migrants, Multiculture The great battle announced by women

    The great battle announced by women

    Yesterday I found myself on a pavement in Las Aguas, where – amongst other books for 1000 pesos (30p) – I saw “Memoirs of a Standard Bearer”, by the 19th Century writer and painter José María Espinosa, and published in the 71 volumen15 by the Banco Popular.   Armando Orozco Tovar   They...

    Read more →
  • Culture, Screen Ventura Pons and Ignasi M: “Films are what directors are”

    Ventura Pons and Ignasi M: “Films are what directors are”

    The Catalonian director took a gamble on a documentary about the true-life story and difficulties of the life of a famous gay HIV-positive museum curator.   Virginia Moreno Molina   The idea of the documentary “Ignasi M” emerged by chance while Ventura Pons was trying to picture a “silly”...

    Read more →
  • Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus Greeks bearing gifts

    Greeks bearing gifts

    As I write, Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is traveling across Europe, trying to woo European Union leaders to grant Greece a bail-out from their obligations under the debt rescue plan.   Steve Latham   This is the second act of the drama unfolding after the election victory of Syriza,...

    Read more →
  • Comments, In Focus Faces and traces

    Faces and traces

    Faces are part of the individual and collective imaginations. They are invented. This is especially so of those belonging to characters who have made a strong impression on others.   Rostros y rastros – Rostros Borrados by Juana la Loca flickr.com/photos/74049931@N07/6839899278/ Armando Orozco...

    Read more →
  • Comments, Globe, In Focus, World Terror & democracy in Islam

    Terror & democracy in Islam

    The key issue is the development of moderate political Islam. Violent repression of Islamic movements only removes the possibilities for integration of the deeply rooted religion into the political processes in those countries which were in the hands of westernised elites during the colonial period,...

    Read more →
  • Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus Parallel London

    Parallel London

    Recently, a friend of mine awoke to find that his street in Bethnal Green had been the site for a battle between two rival gangs.   Steve Latham   Instead of the black-on-white violence which characterised the 1990s, this was a fight between two Asian gangs. In parts of London, the chequerboard of...

    Read more →
  • Comments, Globe, In Focus, World Young Jihadis: fighting the good fight… or the bad one?

    Young Jihadis: fighting the good fight… or the bad one?

    In the current hysteria about jihadi attacks in Europe, a sober analysis is important, to assess the real risks we face while also understanding their sources. What are the deeper psychological and social motives of volunteer jihadis? What part does the Islamic theory of war play, and what happened to...

    Read more →
  • Culture, Visual Arts Art and aftermath of war in Colombia

    Art and aftermath of war in Colombia

    “There is an aesthetic precariousness, poverty, and neglect in the open desolation where the dead have neither surnames nor temples.”   Reina Magdariaga Lardue   The Colombian artists Bibiana Vélez and Cristo Hoyos express in their art a reflection of the consequences of the armed...

    Read more →
  • Culture, Music “Hay quien precisa”: a song about identity and roots

    “Hay quien precisa”: a song about identity and roots

    Venezuelan folk singer Cecilia Todd and Cuban singer-songwriter Liuba María Hevia are combining their unique voices in a compilation album that includes some of the most successful songs of their careers.   Cecilia Todd, photo from corriente-alterna.net Martha Sánchez   For them, 2015 began in Havana...

    Read more →
  • Comments, In Focus And seventy years ago the Red Army liberated Auschwitz and released its stench

    And seventy years ago the Red Army liberated Auschwitz and released its stench

    The “work sets you free” sign remains at the entrance of the Nazi hell… The camp´s prisoners endured cruel forced labour on top of the intense cold, all types of hunger, torture, a variety of illnesses, and their bodies were subject to physical and chemical experimentation.   Armando Orozco...

    Read more →
  • Culture, Pages, Visual Arts Grito de Mujer 2015: a festival across 34 countries

    Grito de Mujer 2015: a festival across 34 countries

    Photo from www.gritodemujer.com The Movimiento Mujeres Poetas Internacional Inc. (MPI, International Female Poets Movement) in the Dominican Republic has already published the list of countries that have confirmed their involvement at the Grito de Mujer (The Cry of Women) International Poetry Festival...

    Read more →