The Bestiarium of Carlos Estevez by Edward J. Sullivan
Catalogue text. Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
In countless illuminated manuscripts from the Romanesque and Gothic periods, animals, both real and fantastic, make their appearances. The medieval painter reveled in visual descriptions of these beasts, as both ancillary to the depictions of biblical or historical scenes, or as the principal subjects themselves. The bestiarium, or description of the appearance and characteristics of animals, became one of the most important genres of medieval secular manuscripts. Often the beast depicted would be assigned a characteristic that accorded with human behavior or personality traits; the bee would be described as the paradigm of the model citizen, the beaver as an industrious villager, etc… Such classifications foreshadowed the popularity of the encyclopedias of the Middle Ages and the more scientific compilations of the Enlightenment. Carlos Estevez’s recent work seems to take its cue from these ancient compendia of knowledge. Part scientist, part philosopher and visual alchemist, Estevez creates in his delicate ink and pencil drawings simulacra of inner thoughts, codification of human as well as animal habits and symbols of emotional states. Thus, an octopus with its intertwined tentacles may be understood as an emblem of thought and meditation (La maquinaria del pensamiento), a dinosaur may become a metaphor of experience and knowledge (La experiencia y el conocimiento), or a crab may stand for our conscience (Mutaciones de la conciencia). Humanity, of course, also plays a key rose in this beastly gathering. A meditating man (Mutaciones de la personalidad) ponders the present and future of the mutations of existence. All of these creatures form an integral link – not only in the constant chain of evolution and continuance but in the unending cycles of life’s pulsations.

Carlos Estevez has dedicated his career to creating complex patterns or ,mandalas to signify the unceasing transformations that occur in the universal scheme of existence. His philosophical deliberations have produced a sophisticated, delicate and highly subtle body of work that speaks more to the cosmos than to our mundane quotidian existence. To contemplate one of his drawing, paintings or intricate installations is to place oneself within a realm parallel to that of the ordinary. His visual language expresses concepts and sentiments beyond those articulated by us on a daily basis to express the banalities of life. Estevez creates for his audience ways of seeing that are more powerful than the ordinary potential of our sight.

A student of hermetic literature, Estevez has assimilated the knowledge and theories of the medieval and Renaissance thinkers and dreamers. In his work we observe a reflection of an inner vision based upon the thoughts of the minds of the great elucidators of the human condition, from the ancients to Kant, Hegel and Jorge Luis Borges. Carlos Estevez’s vision is rooted, as well, in an anthropological comprehension of human nature. He is fascinated by the habits and tastes of peoples from a broad variety of cultures. In his three-dimensional installation work he has even created simulacra of other times and places. These pieces serve as multi-media meditations on the state of humanity.

Estevez has emerged from a generation of Cuban artist and intellectuals who are intimidated by neither imagination nor actuality. They create art that often reflects the social and political realties with which they are presented on a daily basis albeit, at times, in a very refracted way. In his work Estevez merges the ancient patterns of empirical investigation (as found in the medieval bestiarium or in Renaissance treatises on anatomy) with the allegorical. The complex allusions in his art may be read on a variety of levels, from the satirical to the enigmatic. Encoded meaning carry, at times, an implicit critique of the dizzyingly mutable society in which he lives, or they may be comprehended on the level of imaginary fabrications of existences beyond our own.

Estevez’s art may be spiritually joined with that of several modern masters of Cuban visual culture, His anthropological fables as well as his manner of drawing and construction (combining and delicately subtle with the durable and strong) remind us of the work of Juan Francisco Elso, one of the artists with whom his sensibility has been connected in the past. On another level, Carlos Estevez may also be observed as personifying the alliance of myth and reality that is at the heart of Wifredo Lam’s oeuvre. While Estevez and Lam differ radically in their visual sources and their artistic objectives, they both embody a dedication to the concretization of myth in a way that conveys recognizable realities of contemporaneity.
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