Angel Acosta Leon (1930-1964)

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Disregarded as a painter of Cuban themes, brought up in a poor family and otherwise forgotten by critics during his lifetime, Angel Acosta Leon led a tragic life.

Studying at San Alejandro in his youth, Acosta created art for only nine years, five of which were after he matured as a painter. His earliest paintings were oils of the sea and harbor and of tree lined parks. He is generally not well-known for these early works, so there is an excellent chance of one of these paintings surfacing somewhere.

From the very beginning, Acosta struggled as a painter. His family was poor, and did not understand his need to paint. He often lived in cramped situations, and not until he was much older could he afford to move out of his family’s house and into a room at a Havana mansion. This familial alienation would become an underlying current in his works.

Acosta had many themes in his work, another of which was sickness and death. He often painted syringes and crosses along with faces in his art. Some people say crosses were a sign that he had syphilis, therefore making these very powerful statements. A great example of his inclusion of crosses is “Rostros y Cruces” (1959), which translates into “Faces and Crosses.” Take notice of how the smaller crosses appear to almost look like syringes.


Faces and Crosses


Interestingly, from 1958-1959, Acosta painted an extensive series of self-portraits, much in the same way that Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh did. To this day, Acosta has painted more self-portraits than any other Cuban painter.

Throughout the many struggles in his life, Acosta was never able to fully support himself with his art alone. To make ends meet he became a tinsmith, a welder and a conductor at a bus station. This work made a heavy impact on his art, and he began to incorporate metallics in his compositions. He also used machinery intertwined with organic elements. During his lifetime, Acosta also created pottery. Toward the end of his life, he began to paint more abstractly and infused Cubist ideas into his work.

Acosta won a number of awards and exhibited his work all over Cuba and Europe, but his critics failed to see the true potential of his work. He was not typically seen as a part of the Vanguard movement, and was lost among other more famous painters of the time such as Lam. In truth, he is just as much a part of the Vanguards as anyone else. His use of machinery in place of organic elements echoed the political unrest of the country at the time and was truly a social statement.

On a trip back to Cuba from Paris, Acosta attempted suicide a number of times, and finally succeeded by throwing himself into the sea. He left behind him a large oeuvre, which is now housed all over the world.

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