On 24 May 1979 at the collector's home, the artist re-signed the backing of the work. It is inscribed with signature, date 1938/1939 and 'Resigne le 24-5-1979'.
Untitled, (1938-39), dates to an important period in Wifredo Lam's artistic production when he first began to re-discover his African roots. Freshly arrived in Paris, one of the important artistic centers of the world during the first half of the twentieth century--Lam, like his Cuban contemporaries--found himself searching for a national identity.(1) In the French capital, Lam faced his African heritage and articulated it through the modernist aesthetic he had assimilated during his years in Spain and would further develop into one of the most recognized artistic expressions. Lowery Stokes Sims has described his artistic achievement as "the fusion of Cubist and Surrealist stylistic strategies with referents from Santería, a traditional African-based religion with which he was intimately acquainted"(2) After years in Spain, Lam had left the war torn nation and settled in the French capital where he would become a recognized modernist and surrealist. There, embraced by artistic and intellectual figures of the day such as Pablo Picasso and André Breton, Lam was to become the most international of all his Cuban contemporaries.
By 1938, the artist's work began to assume distinct characteristics based on African motifs.(3) This is evident in works such as this gouache on paper, which exhibits an obvious but angular description of the human form. The face resembles an African mask, (similar to those he had seen in museums in Spain), with incised parallel lines as eyes. "In Lam's paintings, the hieratic pose that transforms the face into a mask, reveals a quest for essence, not merely form," as Stokes Sims writes. (4) In constructing a new figurative expression--the artist sought to describe humanity rather than render individual portraits. The entire form is rigorously minimalist; he has exorcised the superfluous and summarized the body through an almost uninterrupted fluid line that would endow his work with elegant structure. For Lam, the years in Paris allowed him to elaborate and continue to work on the human figure as universal symbol. He explored ways with which to express new strategies in his compositions all the while incorporating influences and creating works that are precursors of his most famous paintings.
1) G. V. Blanc, "Cuban Modernism: The Search for a National Ethos," in L. S. Sims, Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries, 1938-1952, New York, Harry Abrams, 1992, 58.
2) L. S. Sims, "From Spain Back to Cuba," in L. S. Sims, Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries, 1938-1952, New York, Harry Abrams, 1992, 20.
3) Sims, 18.
4) Ibid., 14.