The artist Jesse A. Fernández (Havana, 1925 - Paris, 1986) is internationally known for his photographs but, along with his famous portraits of various personalities, he also creates at the same time drawings, paintings and box-objects. A selection of his work is on display in this exhibition which the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía dedicates to one of the most charismatic Cuban artists.
Jesse A. Fernández spent his childhood in Asturias, the land of his parents, and returned to his hometown of Havana in 1939. He soon moved to New York in this way starting a series of travels through the American and European continents that were to be a constant in his life.
Life magazine photographer, among many other publications, the Cuban artist tests his camera reinforcing the portrait technique that he spontaneously executes. The lack of planning, the naturalness of his photographic scenes and the popularity of his subjects, make Jesse A. Fernández a reference when speaking of Cuban photography. Julio Cortázar, José Lezama Lima, Ernest Hemingway, Dámaso Alonso, Severo Sarduy, Susan Sontag, Emil Michel Cioran, Jorge Luis Borges along with his mother or his close friend Guillermo Cabrera Infante, are some of the characters from the literary world who pose before the lens of Jesse A. Fernández. They are joined by renowned artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Joan Miró, Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis, David Hockney, Antoni Tàpies, Amelia Peláez, Salvador Dalí and Ronald B. Kitaj among many others. These portraits do not belong to a comprehensive attempt to immortalise a particular collection of artists and intellectuals, but are the result of chance and because of their friendship with the Cuban artist who photographed them as life put them along his erratic path.
Among the photographs in this exhibition spanning from 1955 to 1979 are those taken on his travels of the streets and people from Havana, Guatemala, Colombia, Puerto Rico and New York, as well as several dedicated to Van Gogh which show his grave, next to that of his brother Théo, the church of Auvers sur Oise, his house and his room.
The whole photographic work closes with the series on the mummies of Palermo. A selection of eighteen images of those published in the book entitled Les Momies de Palerme from 1980 are exhibited. They display the mummified bodies of the Sicilian catacombs from the late nineteenth century. Jesse A. Fernández’s obsession for Palermo kept him there for a month taking pictures of dissected corpses that are closely related with drawings by the artist in the early sixties. These drawings, present at the exhibition, show his interest in skulls into which he often adds handwritten backgrounds. While in Toledo in 1974, at the home of his friends Román Arango and Pin Morales he returns to drawing with themes similar to those developed in his New Yorker period.
The boxes made by Jesse A. Fernández refer to those made by the American Joseph Cornell and represent the most symbolic element of his production. The exhibition includes some examples such as Mousetrap shaped like masks (1974), Torments invented by several tyrants (1975), Los Angeles (1970), The pendulum (1962-1971) and Status and Dreams (1971).
To conclude there are notebooks and a library of books whose covers have been illustrated by the artist such as Paths Taken, Paths Opened by Martin Heidegger, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Tears of Eros by Georges Bataille or Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. They are also some dedications from friends intended to form part of the book that Jesse A. Fernández was preparing but which was left unfinished because of his death.
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