Born in Cuba, where he continues to reside today, Roberto Fabelo is member of a generation of artists trained under the newly established pedagogical programs following the Cuban Revolution of 1959. He attended the Escuela Nacional de Arte, characterized by its liberal approach; while also graduating from the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), where he studied drawing and painting with academically trained Soviet instructors. These seemingly opposing, yet complementary programs enhanced the artist’s imaginative spirit providing a robust knowledge of European academic tradition with a passion for the fantastic and surreal narratives that spread throughout Latin America after the literary boom of writers like Gabriel García Márquez. Confident in his skills as a draftsman, Fabelo embarked in large-scale drawings early in his career, some of which earned him numerous international awards, including the first prize at the First Havana Biennia in 1984.
Ovo (Egg) is an enigmatic painting about contemplative silence. Despite its neo-Baroque aesthetics, where a complex composition coexists with controlled strokes and limited palette, stillness reigns in this picture. Fabelo translates the linear qualities of his drawing into painting by using oil sticks and the dry brush technique. Over a deep dark background, a group of birds, depicted in myriad poses from several vantage points, surrounds two large human heads adorned with bird-like helmets. Situated nearly symmetrically at the center of each panel, the heads seem lost in deep thought. Even the bird visible along the top left panel seems to glide across the canvas rather than flap its wings. By rendering silence, Fabelo draws the viewer’s attention to another sense, that of sight.
The clustering of figures in the foreground underscores the painting’s flatness despite the subtle volumes of the eggs, pearls, eyeballs and heads. It is the interlacing gazes in the picture, from both humans and birds alike, that imbue this work with a sense of three-dimensionality and depth that extends beyond the pictorial surface. On the left panel, an intensely red male face, turns slightly toward the lower center, his eyes gazing beyond the foreground, where a white pelican with red crest sits in profile. Next to the man, a yellow egg floats like a halo over the head of a white bird facing the viewer. On the right side, where shades of gray prevail, a female head appears adorned with pearl necklace. Despite her downcast eyes, she seems to engage the viewer more than her male counterpart for both her bird-like helmet and the birds around her point outwards towards the spectator.
A sense of the surreal permeates throughout and is further accentuated by the various birds rendered by the artist with human-like characteristics. Depicted frontally, despite their optical impossibility, the birds (or sitters) seem to look out at the viewer. Their feathers each distinctive from one another, are akin to drapery; and just like in traditional portraiture, they are an opportunity for the artist to demonstrate his skills. But Ovo may also be a painting about the fertile nature of viewing. Like an oval sun that nurtures, the suspended egg resonates in the eyeballs that look out in suspense, like human-birds trapped in a cage. The picture becomes an opening into a space of expectant, yet potentially simmering visions.
Elvis Fuentes, independent curator and Doctoral Candidate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey