Beginning in 1980, the artist Tomás Sánchez, became interested in doing landscape paintings about landfills. The first of such works dates to this year. Sánchez, who at the time was still living in Havana, recalled in an interview with scholar Edward J. Sullivan: "This subject has always fascinated me."(1) He mentions how people would carelessly throw away objects that although not useless, were discarded as garbage if partly broken or soiled. Thus, he began collecting these assorted tarecos, (bric-a-brac) and because he could fix them, he eventually would give them away to friends. In fact, he began preparing additional works related to trash in conjunction with an exhibition in Barcelona after winning the Joan Miró Prize. By 1989, the artist was "really immersed in the garbage theme."(2) As he began traveling to places like Mexico City, he discovered additional garbage sites; these he documented and kept as photographic references. When he won the Miró Prize, many in Cuba were surprised as they had little regard for a "landscape artist." Sánchez never set out to be a landscape artist; while in art school he rebelled against this genre or as he prefers to call them "tourist landscapes with their picturesque scenes of the huts, oxen, royal palms, etc."(3)
Sánchez, who claims affinities with the artists of the Hudson River School and also with the Romantic Caspar David Friedrich, however differs--they were Transcendentalists; he does not merely contemplate nature but is within its realm. He credits his exercises in meditation and yoga as significant factors in his spiritual growth. Through his practice of Siddha Yoga, he has communed with a consciousness--in union with the universe and credits the lessons learned under meditation with allowing him to feel a complete state of fulfillment.
The quasi-surrealist paintings of trash sites are urban landscapes and as his vast panoramas of lush forests or still waters by a placid lakes--are contemplative reflections about the human condition and nature. Al sur del Calvario, 1994, is filled with the trash of contemporary materials--the objects we are content to devour when new and discard when they have ceased to interest us. It is the thrill of the new that fascinates this post modernist consumerist society. What appear to be three crosses in the horizon of the painting refer to a crucifixion more than 2000 years ago. Sánchez has often expressed his own concerns about the planet and the destruction of the ecological systems in his many basureros, as these works are known. In viewing these sublime works, we come face to face with destruction but also with a reality that is palpable yet also full of hope. The crosses stand as a symbol of salvation.
1) E. J. Sullivan, Tomás Sánchez, Skira, Milan, 2003, p. 18.
2) Sullivan, p. 18.
3) Ibid., p. 18.