It’s not often that an experienced critic finds himself confronting the work of an “unknown” painter—unknown, that is, to the critic—only to discover that he’s looking at the paintings of a master talent. But this was my experience upon visiting the exhibition of paintings by the Cuban artist Tomás Sánchez (b. 1948) at the Marlborough Gallery. I somehow missed Mr. Sánchez’s first New York show, but I can now caution everyone with a serious interest in painting not to miss this one.
Mr. Sánchez’s landscape paintings have been likened to the work of Caspar David Friedrich as well as the American painters of the Hudson River School. This is itself very high praise, but not any higher than the work deserves. Like Friedrich and the Hudson River painters, Mr. Sánchez brings an epic vision to the depiction of landscape—a vision that combines the most meticulous depiction of nature with a metaphysical comprehension of its spiritual implications.
From the clouds in the sky to the majestic waterfalls that flow into the leafy, rocky terrain of a virgin wilderness, Mr. Sánchez is a master of everything he surveys, and he never hesitates to pack his paintings with a surfeit of detail that affords every rock, tree and sunlit vista its share of pictorial brilliance.
Who, then, is this remarkable painter? Born in the village of Aguada de Pasajeros in central Cuba, Mr. Sánchez studied for two years at the San Alejandro School of Plastic Arts in Havana in the mid-1960’s and later at the National School of Art. He won the Joan Miró Prize (awarded by the Miró Foundation in Barcelona) in 1980; in 1984, he won the Amelia Peláez Award for painting at Havana’s first biennial. His first retrospective exhibition was at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana in 1985. Four years later, he left Cuba for Mexico, and afterwards moved to southern Florida. He now divides his time between Miami and his home in Costa Rica.
Surely we would have heard of Mr. Sánchez long ago had it not been for the troubled political relations that have obtained for so many years between Cuba and the United States. But now that we’ve been given the opportunity to see his extraordinary paintings, it’s safe to assume that he’ll enjoy a good deal of attention in this country.
Tomás Sánchez: Buscador de Pai-sajes, New Paintings and Drawings remains on view at the Marlborough Gallery, 40 West 57th Street, through Dec. 30.