"Amelia Pelez is the most solid name in Cuban painting along with that of Lam; she is in the forefront of Latin American art, her work shining with ever greatest intensity...," this assessment of Pelez by the late art critic Marta Traba, written thirty years ago (1967), has withstood the test of time. Since her death in 1968, Amelia Pelez has increasingly been recognized as one of the most original pioneers of modern art in Latin America. In recent years, she has been the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Centro Wifredo Lam in Havana (1996), she was included in the prestigious exhibition Latin American Women Artists, 1915-1996, which toured the United States in 1996, and she was featured in one of the major exhibitions presented in Spain in 1997, Tarsila Frida Amelia. (Tarsila do Amaral, Frida Kahlo, and Amelia Pelez). This last exhibition paid overdue homage to the most important women pioneers of Latin American modern art. All of the aforementioned exhibitions are accompanied by first-rate catalogues, which document and examine the importance of Pelez's work in the context of Cuban and Latin American art and culture.
Pelez graduated with the highest honors from Cuba's San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, then proceeded to finish her artistic education in Paris, where she studied from 1927 to 1934. The significance of Pelez's contact with European art was succinctly described by David Alfaro Siqueiros as "the most extraordinary example of how a vigorous artist should get close to the modern currents of art in Paris. She went to Paris and for some time painted thinking of Picasso, etc. always with magnificent professional effort, solid craft, and insuperable discipline. Later, filled with knowledge, she returned to her country, saturated herself with its native things, studying them with the same solid method she studied painting in Paris" (Ultra, July 1943)
Soon after her return to Cuba, Pelez developed a highly personal style, which combined elements of Braque's cubism, Matisse's decorative arabesque, and Cuba's colonial architectural ornamentation. She used her synthetic abstract language to transform her most intimate domestic reality--her home's architecture, her close relationship with her mother and sisters, her flower garden, Cuba's fruits, and Havana's tropical light--into art and culture. This "great magician" of Cuban painting turned raw canvas and paint into highly refined aesthetic objects and converted her own private world into collective signs of Cuban (white-creole) identity.
Pelez's mature style went through different phases, corresponding more or less with the decades of the 1930s through the 1960s. In the 1950s she dedicated most of her time to ceramics and murals which, according to the curator Ramn Vzquez, brought about changes in her work: "the creation of a new femenine topology, growing abstraction and geometric simplification, a new approach to space, and a different color dynamics" (1991). All of these characteristics are evident in Perfil de Mujer, a fine example of her easel work from the early 1950s. In this painting she represents an elegantly dressed, half-length female figure shown against a decorated wall, as if standing in a balcony. Pelez's continued interest in the 1950s in representing bourgeois women in domestic environments differs from her earlier versions in that the female figure is more abstract and generic, particularly in regards to facial features, but it is also more monumental, independent, and assertive in relation to its architectural background. The latter, made up of simplified geometric patterns suggesting the decoration of Cuban colonial architecture, now frames rather than crams the figure. This bolder and simpler approach to figure and space carries over to her color schemes, which in the case of Perfil de Mujer relies on the dynamic contrast of the complementary blue and yellow, held in check by a profusion of black outlines. The will to ornamentation, Pelez's trademark, still dominated the composition of her early 1950s paintings, such as Perfil de Mujer. In execution, style, and subject matter, Perfil de Mujer represents a significant example of Pelez's early 1950s production.
Juan A. Martnez, Ph. D.
Miami, April 1998