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Philosophize this:Can a skeletal marionette with hollow bones find his/her soul?

Imagine if Socrates painted surrealism, Descartes picked up a drawing pad, and Nietzsche tried his (nihilistic) hand at sculpture. Well maybe the fusion of philosophy and art isn’t such a comfortable notion, yet Cuban artist Carlos Estevez consistently injects his artwork with a stimulating dose of the metaphysical. Estevez’ exhibit Circo Metafisico (Metaphysical Circus) headlines at the Diana Lowenstein Gallery in Miami.
A mock marionette stands quietly in the center of the room, a myriad number of strings lacing from the wooden block overhead to holes in a statue’s body. On the surrounding walls hang Estevez’ eerie, constellation-like creations, beckoning to the viewer like small, dark closets.
The universal element in Estevez’ work is the skeleton-like figures, done in white chalk lightly scratched over black paper. Spindly, anthropomorphic figures are connected with bolt-like white and red dots, giving an overall feeling of cosmic machinery. Occasionally, the artist jolts the darkness with an unexpected block of color in bright green, purple, or blue.
Seemingly making a parallel between the human race and the animal kingdom, Estevez tunnels through the ever-problematic condition of man and his instincts. In “El Arte de EngaOarse Mutuamente (The Art of Mutual Deception),” animal heads are placed on human bodies, the creatures holding masks of human faces in front of their own. Similarly, in “El Hombre y sus Circumstancias (Man and his Circumstances),” a lion tamer and the beast he subdues have been transposed. The lion’s head sits on the man’s body, its voracious jaw wrapped around the man’s head, which rests on a lion’s haunches.
Circo Metafisico also explores the dark underbelly of human nature, complementing the marionette theme of manipulation. In the startling “El Arte de Encantar (The Art of Enchantment),” a snake charmer lures a serpent that coils out from his own stomach. The sole subject of “El Marabarista (The Juggler)” is one of Estevez’ trademark skeletal figures, juggling tiny versions of himself.
Fortunately, the artist doesn’t confine his work solely to the tortured musings of the internal psyche. “El Individuo en la Historia,” in a nod to Cuba’s explosive political struggles, depicts a decorated military figure literally outweighing a group of common people on a scale. “Deporte Universal (Universal Sport),” a more lighthearted composition, shows two figures wrestling.
Most striking is “Les Risques de l’amour (The Risks of Love),” which stands out not only for its French title, but its implicit theme of romance, from which Estevez has until now shied away. In a well-worn, but still penetrating metaphor, a male and a female figure are pictured swinging on trapezes, in hopes that the other will catch them.
Whether you’re a self-proclaimed deep thinker or just taking Philosophy 101 to fulfill your humanities requirement, Carlos Estevez’s blend of art-philosophy is sure to stimulate your neurons. As Socrates mused, “life unexamined is life not worth living.”
Circo Metafisico runs through November 30th at Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts. Call 305-774-5969 for more info.

Jessica Misener can be reached at jessm02@yahoo.com

November 26, 2002

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