Carlos Alfonzo (1950-1991)
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Born in Havana, Carlos Alfonzo attended the San Alejandro School, and later attended the Cuban Academy. Alfonzo eventually graduated from The University of Havana in 1977. After he graduated, he also taught at the San Alejandro School for some time.
He was at times a colorful Expressionist but mostly a fantastic graphic and abstract artist. Above all, Alfonzo was perhaps the Cuban equivalent to Frida Kahlo in terms of expressing his internal suffering and the suffering of others on canvas. He would often incorporate nails, spikes, knives, anguished faces and other frightening images into his work to create an effect that was both scary and intriguing. A classic example of Alfonzo’s style is depicted in his painting ‘Murano Waters” (1987).
In 1980, Alfonzo fled from Cuba to Key West, Florida, to seek political asylum. He eventually resided and worked in Miami. From that point on, his paintings took the theme of exile and suffering that had become his entire existence.
Prior to 1980, Alfonzo felt that his work was somewhat limited due to Cuba’s internal political struggles. He had to be very careful with what he painted, for fear of being reprimanded by the government. Some of his earliest work pre-dating his exile features swarms of little people, combined with literary text. This had become a sort of formula for him, and he often painted in this way. Alfonzo was always afraid that his themes would be too controversial and wanted to avoid suspicion or harsh criticism. These early works are housed mostly in Cuba.
Alfonzo’s earliest work was very graphic in nature, and almost had a print-like quality. He even established his own style of print making that was similar to using stencils. His earliest work also included stencil prints of palm trees, whimsical objects such as stars, and even themes that subtly expressed his homosexuality. He would draw upon his own experience, as well as his heritage, and paint symbols of Cuban mythology, Santeria and Catholic imagery.
By 1980, Alfonzo was tired of having to suppress himself within Cuban government standards. He had to hide his homosexuality in Cuba, but was able to live his life freely once in the United States. It took Alfonzo nearly a year to begin painting once he reached American soil, and from then on his formula was broken. He began to paint themes of exile, and the trauma and sense of displacement he felt in a new country.
Once Alfonzo was an established painter in the United States, he began to take on ambitious projects. He would paint large-scale paintings by piecing together different canvases. Alfonzo even dabbled in Surrealism at this point, painting bizarre dreamscapes, such as in “Sea Bitch Born Deep.” He would also incorporate images of fetuses, or pregnant women in many of his paintings. Look closely at this painting, “God Turned Backwards” (1987), and you will notice that the swirl in the center of the painting turns into the head of a fetus.
Some of his paintings were not as dark as his usual work, though they still included sad or disturbing images. For example, he would incorporate bright tropical-colored backgrounds with an image of a fetus, such as “Embryo II” (1990).
In the last couple of years of his life, Alfonzo began to paint in a black period. These paintings were, in a sense, a foreshadowing of his young death due to AIDS or HIV (it was never disclosed which level of the disease the artist had). This series truly explored his final feelings and were the final chapter to this truly gifted Cuban artist’s catalog. His 1990 painting “Told” was the artists’ expression at the horror of finding out that he was diagnosed with AIDS.
Before his death, he was listed as one of “The Ten Artist’s to Watch in the 1990s” by ARTnews Magazine. Today, Alfonzo’s work is housed in Cuba as well as all over the United States. Because he lived and worked half of his artistic career in the US, there is a great possibility for someone here to own one of his works.
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