By Karen Parr-Moody
There the aristocracy resides, for all time, in strict profiles on canvas like insects suspended in amber. Idealized in Renaissance portraits, they are the doges with stiff collars, the women with impossibly long necks, the dukes in their wedding finery. In profile they resist communicating directly with the viewer. These impeccably dressed subjects decline to be explored but instead demand awareness of their place at the center of the historic universe.
The sitters in the oil paintings and watercolors by Carlos Gamez de Francisco, with their lavish frippery and their profiles reminiscent of ancient portrait medals, borrow much from such Renaissance portraits. In them one sees the echoes of Filippo Lippi’s Woman with a Man at a Window, Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Lady, and Piero della Francesca’s Portrait of Duke Federico da Montefeltro.
Despite possessing similar DNA, however, Gamez de Francisco’s subjects maintain a modernity that renders them open to psychological exploration. Their foreheads are not unnaturally high; their lips are not pursed; their clothing does not constrict—and they are touched by the gossamer wings of insects, a Surrealistic touch.
These sitters eschew the solemnity of the ideal and, in doing so, evince a hint of the vulnerable. Such paintings are a beautiful homage to the voice of reason in the face of blind allegiance to autocratic powers.
Are they revolutionary? It’s possible. After all, the Cuban-born Gamez de Francisco knows a thing or two about revolution.
Nonetheless, while making a modern statement, Gamez de Francisco borrows from the great masters’ techniques. He compares this to perfecting the discipline of ballet. “When you go to see the ballet, the concept, the idea, is important,” he says. “But if you don’t have the technique, the knowledge, you won’t be able to be a good ballerina. I think the same is so with art.”
Hailing from Holguín, Cuba, the 26-year-old Gamez de Francisco began deconstructing and reconstructing Renaissance portraits in his own mold several years ago, and his next show is a continuation of that theme. The exhibit, Cactus Petals, Fluctuating Asymmetry, and Crimes of Passion, is set to debut at Tinney Contemporary Gallery in Nashville on March 22. In addition to paintings, photographs, and three videos, the exhibit also includes a silk dress designed by the artist in which the fabric is printed with his paintings.
Gamez de Francisco, who is represented by seven galleries worldwide, also has twenty works in the esteemed collection of the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, the city to which he immigrated five years ago.
The show at Tinney Contemporary will, in many ways, continue the theme of Gamez de Francisco’s 2012 series French Radical Fashion in 1789. Make no mistake about the date; it is consequential. In it, Gamez de Francisco ties France under Louis XVI to notions about Cuban politics, the rigidity of court life, and the burgeoning democracies seeded by the French Revolution.
“I was thinking about the Cuban revolution,” Gamez de Francisco says of his work for this show. “When you live in Cuba you ask, Is this a revolution? A revolution is a symbol of change, and in fifty years in Cuba you don’t see any change. So how is this a revolution?”
His works also tip a hat to the city of Louisville. It was named for Louis XVI, a supporter of the American Revolution.
The idea of revolution also plays into Gamez de Francisco’s photography, in which he captures figures reminiscent of courtiers. They don the white wigs and grand costumes of the idealized aristocracy, but Gamez de Francisco redefines the boundaries of expectation with the setting, a Colonial-style Cuban hotel in ruins. As a non-human subject, this once-beautiful hotel underscores what it is to retain dignity in a vanquished country.
“Everything looks so destroyed,” Gamez de Francisco says. “That was the idea, because I was taking reference from the French period. With the French royalty, everything was so extravagant. But I was doing the opposite; I was taking a scenario of all these destroyed Cuban buildings.”
Gamez de Francisco, in choosing such disparate inspirations as aristocracy and ruin, takes a nuanced view of human nature. He chooses not to err too far on the dark or light side of existence. In doing so, he has achieved transcendence—which one might argue is the very essence of Renaissance spirituality and painting.
Carlos Gamez de Francisco is represented by Tinney Contemporary. His exhibit Cactus Petals, Fluctuating Asymmetry, and Crimes of Passion will be on view March 22 to April 26. For more information visit www.tinneycontemporary.com and