Julio Larraz: an abstract realist

2 September, 2022

Julio Larraz, a native Cuban, is one of the most representative figures of Latin American art today. He has developed in painting, caricature, engraving, drawing and sculpture techniques.

Together with his family, he emigrated to the United States of America in the 1960s; this exile had a great influence on his work, developing his creative impulsiveness.

However, Larraz does not forget his origins and traditions, as his work presents cultural and everyday scenes of life in the Caribbean: bullfights, white linen costumes and maritime scenes. He also, on occasion, uses the brush to allude to the corruption of power and social imperfections; he uses cut-out compositions and obscured faces to make his pictorial narratives a denouncing, powerful, and at the same time, ambiguous enigma.

Larraz creates parallel universes in part of his work, putting them together with a reality full of irony, being called by many a graphic humorist and a dreamer. His beginnings in drawing were as a political cartoonist published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, Rolling Stone, among other magazines: hence his characteristic subtle mockery of social issues.

He is an agile draftsman, but he sketches slowly. The idea comes to him as an illusion, almost like a dream and he says, “They’re like dreams, it’s like when you try to tell someone about a dream you had and it goes up in smoke before you finish the sentence.”

He borrows people he sees in his daily life and idealizes them as characters in other worlds; he uses expressions he knows, moments from his travels, his childhood, his parents’ lives and his daily life to capture them in a realistic yet imaginative world.

The dreamed sketch becomes a narrative painting that steals aspects of reality, but at the same time mixes it with ironies and a non-existent world, resulting in a scene in which its characters come to life and unfold in a space.

Modigliani said: “I will paint his eyes when I know his soul”, it would almost seem that Larraz’s characters, under the same statement, hide something, but they do not lack soul; his poetics hides a certain part of these characters, but the narrative and the context provided by the artist makes the mystery of his eyes not leave more than the necessary questions in those who look at his work.

Larraz’s paintings give us intimacy and an intellectual experience; his works seem to have a literary backing that generates stories that may or may not have passed through the artist’s mind. They are the perfect blend of an ideal world, Latin American reality with the necessary touch of enigma, rawness and sentimental worldview.

His American Realist influence is persistent and unmistakably drawn from his training as a painter in New York. Like artists such as Edward Hooper, Andrew Wyeth and Giorgio de Chirico, he initially presents us with a work of apparent Realism, but the deeper we get into it, the more we will see an evident complexity accompanied by a narrative universe.

The serenity of his works is born from their composition, where the simplicity of the landscape is not overshadowed by the character that inhabits it, but, on the contrary, catches the eye and forces the viewer to detach from the real, thus taking him to a story frozen inside the painting whose clue lies in the title of the work.

To learn more about the artist you can search for his works on the Duque Arango Gallery website and on Instagram: @duquearangogaleria.

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