Over many years Alcides Pérez Toledo has made engraving his expressive vehicle par excellence. His confessed passion for etching rests on the many-faceted possibilities of that medium and there isn’t a mystery of the universe that is unknown to him if it has to do with presses, moulds or engraver’s chisels.
Lately his career has taken a turn towards an exploration of form, born from two decades of continuous, uninterrupted work combined with teaching.
This new direction is in plain view in some of his latest works, installationlike paintings that are constructed in the manner of matrices that fuse not only diverse materials but also different forms of artistic expression giving rise to a suggestive symbiosis of painting, photography and of course engraving.
In this idiosyncratic work (which is still very much in progress, CubaPlus readers are getting a privileged advance view!), Pérez Toledo “paints” pictures by digitally manipulating photographs, which are then printed and placed onto canvases like a collage and then further modified with oils or acrylics. This gives an image that blurs the lines between painting and photography, in a way analogous to the way in which he blurs the photos.
He deliberately sets out to confuse the viewer with this digital and manual double-manipulation of the images as a strategy to draw attention to the question he wants to tackle—the influence of distance on family ties.
This theme has arisen out of a personal necessity, having lived many years abroad enjoying only brief periods with his family. These moments along with other happy times he hasn’t been physically present for are the family’s emotional capital. They become his raw materials for something that is more than reflection on the theme, a way to answer the questions posed by separation and to overcome the ghosts of forgetting and being forgotten.
He transforms the image in the name of removing the impersonal sheen that photographic portraits often hold; could this transformation not be interpreted as restorative therapy? The artisanal form, for want of a better word, of creating these pieces has its roots in Pérez Toledo’s experience as an engraver. On the canvas, just as when he is carving a piece of wood, a sheet of metal or cold stone, the piece develops step by step. Each step without exception leaves a lasting trace that irreversibly shapes the final result. And it is not only this but the whole process that is important to the artist. This shows in the painstaking care he puts into each piece including the preparatory stage where the idea starts taking shape, be it as a sketch on paper or a small canvas, or on the computer.
As a finishing touch he will include the signature feature he has been adding to his engravings for many years: a stamp made with a press he has in his workshop. The peculiar insignia actually shows the leather wallet that was his father’s.
In something that seems so simple, many key themes that identify Pérez Toledo’s work come together. The first is the importance he places on engraving, both as a favoured technique and as a working method when he is making inroads into other techniques. Secondly, it shows his love of incorporating poetic elements from outside the sphere of fine art. Last but not least it demonstrates his interest for ancestral cultures in general, and pre-Columbian and African cultures in particular (the motif etched onto the leather wallet is an Aztec calendar).
Those are in broad terms the points where his previous work converges with his new direction. Amongst the new features of his current work, perhaps the most striking aspect is the manipulation that he subjects the photographs to—both the images he attaches to the canvas as collage, and those that function as the point of conception from which the creative process is born.
A parallel line of work sees him choosing the airbrush for the range of textures and finishes this tool offers. In this line he is investigating equally human subjects but from a less autobiographical point of view. This is exemplified in a piece entitled Collapse recently acquired by CubaPlus for its contemporary art collection. In it Pérez Toledo picks up a theme he has explored in previous etchings—the relationship between humans and architecture—but this time he shows the fusion between them in a new light. He demonstrates that he is an artist whose work is a dialogue where the past becomes a driving force for reinventing the present.