To define Tomás Núñez as a sculptor would be to disregard a big part of his creative process. While some of his work definitely classifies as sculpture, other pieces resist definition within established categories. If they had to be classified, the most reasonable description might be to call them works that aim to conquer space.
On this journey towards the third dimension, it feels as if we are being invited to be enraptured by the textures created by the paint; to travel over every inch of the canvas, a peculiar mise en scène stained in places by dripping, while traversed in other places by the gestures of brushstrokes. It invites us to delight in the subtle fusion of the elements that nod unequivocally to Núñez’s previous work as a sculptor.
Broadly speaking this describes the latest line of work that he began in 2014. Among these sculptures Núñez has continued to use techniques and materials that he is decidedly familiar with: cement and metals, mostly recycled as well as some iron.
Likewise, he has maintained the broad stylistic range that sweeps from figurative to abstract, sometimes passing through hybrids of both in a single piece. In these instance the union is very organic and the resulting work is enveloped in a great sense of mysticism. Without a doubt the setting also contributes to this sense, in a garden attached to the Johny studioworkshop (Johny is Núñez’s artistic pseudonym).
Emerging from the exuberant flora, we feel as though we have come across ancient totems of ancestral cultures. As a rule such cultures focused their symbolic productions on human existence and everything that positively or negatively affected it. Núñez’s work is analogous, but rather than taking human existence in a broader sense as his starting point he takes the experiences that have most marked him personally to create a discourse where the intimate becomes universal.
Are the paths of our lives not crisscrossed by the losses of loved ones, the admiration of people who have marked out professional careers, love, unkindnesses, the happy moments, the pendulum swings of different fashions?
In short, life with all its comings and goings is Tomás Núñez’s chief source of inspiration. One might mistakenly think this means his artworks reflect the most stirring or dramatic of life’s experiences. In fact he is more governed by sobriety and balance since his aim is less to produce theatrical visual impact and more to provoke reflection.
This doesn’t mean we can’t fall in love with his pieces. His technical mastery, the fluid symbiosis of different materials, the tactful way in which the pieces converse with each other and their environment—all ensure empathy.
Equally they activate the mechanism that lifts us up beyond mere aesthetic contemplation to strike up a more profound relationship with the work, to which the titles he gives the pieces often contribute.
This work refuses to be typecast within the bounds of what is known as painting, and there are various elements that can identify themselves as responsible for the uniqueness of the whole. Firstly his use of collage is notable, he distributes it wisely across the whole piece, a significant part, or small stretches, but always focused on the theme. As he had been for many years in his sculptural work, he calls on recycled elements of many different materials, visually homogenized, so elements that are not metallic are given a sheen to make them look like metal, and all the elements are subjected to an ageing process. This also functions as an obvious stamp referring to Johny’s ecological concerns, the need to protect our fragile and exposed natural environment and the importance of recycling as a strategy for protecting it.
Another distinctive feature is his use of medium and large formats, which are the ideal canvas for these dissimilar techniques and draw a thread from his prolific previous large-scale sculpture work in Cuba and abroad.
To sum up, they are peculiar installations that manifest the interesting conjuncture at which Tomás Núñez’s career stands today, both thematically and in his experiments with form. Without doubt these pieces and others which are still in the throes of creation will be well talked about at next year’s Havana Biennale, when the artist will be formally opening his new studio-workshop.