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  • "... none of the bestsellers ever occurred to me as having that potential and the ones I believed would be huge successes never became such." - Kiki Suarez

    Señora Suarez is not the first painter to lament such a conundrum. The vast yawning abyss that exists between artistic sensibility and commercial savvy has drowned many an artist in it's murky waters.

    Cuban Vangardia painter Antonio Gattorno created a body of work in the years 1927 to 1939 that define to this day the genre known as Cuban Modern Primitivism. These pictures are filled with images of old Cuba. Bohios. Guajiros. Men. Women. Children. At work and at play. The stories of the day to day lives of the people of the long, sad, overfoliaged island are the subjects of these iconic paintings. They helped to define a Cuban national identity at a crucial time in the island nation's history. Today they are the most sought after of all Gattorno's works, although he entered a new creative phase in his painting after 1939 when he married Isabel Cabral and permanently relocated from Havana to New York City.

    Gattorno developed a style he called "surrealistic romanticism of the classical discipline". He did not return to painting "the Primitives" as he called them. He shifted his interests from showing the exterior social life of his subjects to a greater concern for illustrating their internal psychological existence. Rather than abandoning his Cuban heritage, of which Cuban art critics often accused him, Gattorno simply redefined or restated it in a new visual style. He was creating a personal mythology, of which his cultural heritage and the ultimate exile from his homeland became an integral if oftimes underlying foundation.

    Gattorno never submitted to commercial pressure to develop his Primitive work into a signature style and only produce that kind of painting for the rest of his career. Many of his peers did just this. Gattorno saw his painterly evolution as an ongoing progression of himself and the work developing more substance, more artistic value and moving forward into areas of visual narrative which he felt needed to be expressed or explored. Gattorno never reconciled himself to the fact that his staunchest Cuban supporters considered his Surreal and Symbolic paintings an indication of the abandonment of his Cuban heritage.

    The most prominent gallery owners and dealers of Latin American art will acknowledge the technical and esthetic superiority of Gattorno's surreal work made after 1940 to that primitive stuff he produced in the '20s and 30s. Those same dealers will then go on to opine that they wish he had painted more of those Primitives because that is what the collectors want to buy. When a Gattorno from the right vintage surfaces and appears on the market the dealers can name their price and get it. The same dealers have such a difficult time moving Gattorno's surreal paintings that they sell them for pennies on the dollar compared to his more commercial peers and contemporaries.

    It's a crazy business.
    Portrait of Tato. Oil on linen. 1938. Antonio Gattorno (Cuba 1904-1980)
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