René Francisco Rodríguez (Born 1960 in Holguín, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Cuba and in Madrid, Spain)

René Francisco belongs to the generation that grew up under the impact of the US embargo policy, on which the Cuban regime has based its domestic political legitimation. The artistic creation of this generation centers on its own living conditions, the islands culture and its history, and also on the multitude of unchecked, unheeded, and unbounded fantasies belonging to the perpetual repetitiveness of everyday life on this tropical archipelago. All sorts of untenable utopias and fictions and escapist illusions are common practice; they are part both of official and private life.

Illusion and reality

René Francisco’s artistic creation wavers between illusion and reality, which tend to be antithetical opposites in our everyday perception. His art swings freely to and fro between alleged reality and so-called illusion, opening up vast spaces replete with fictions and projections, defying both detailed definition and clear-cut classification. Is art «real» in any sense at all? Or is it perhaps more real than what we perceive as reality? Such are the questions René Francisco explores in his critical confrontation with the utopian promises and ideals of the «revolutionary» politics and culture of his country. Playfully and full of humor, sometimes mixed with irony and sarcasm, René Francisco approaches his surrounding in his works, which seduce us to a more conscious perception of what the difference between reality and illusion could be.

Tubes and penises

One of René Francisco’s main themes is the civic subject, not so much as an individual but rather as an amorphous, uniform, undulating human mass presenting itself as compulsively subjected. Over several decades, we have been encountering an important iconographic component in his works: toothpaste tubes—a rationed commodity in Cuba—which the artist provides with limbs and genitals, thus anthropomorphizing them. Yet, without a head, these tube figurines remain deindividualized. Alluding to the Kama Sutra, René Francisco created his «Tubo Sutra», his ironic adaptation of the ancient Indian love guide. Tongue in cheek, he even uses the term for his e-mail-address: tubosutra@yahoo.

Gato, 2001, Ink on linen, 118,5 x 209,0 cm, Photography: Mario Grisolli, Rio de Janeiro, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

A wonderful drawing from 2001 takes up on the tube iconography: «Gato» means not only «cat» but also «car jack», which here is holding a—not quite—flaccid penis in its position. A close look just above the root of the penis reveals a detailed, orderly succession of tube-people streaming downward and gathering for a rally. Further to the right, this demonstration turns into a wild turmoil, which at first seems to be a mere brawl, but upon closer inspection becomes an outrageous orgy where everyone is copulating with everyone else. At the point where the head of the penis droops limply, this ferocious activity transmutes into a state of collective, post-coital exhaustion. Were it not for the support of the «gato», the swarming crowd would fall into the abyss, unrestrained. Though the tube-people are in a precarious situation, they remain together as a homogeneous heap—propped up from below, but also somehow supported from within itself. The mass and the individual in a totalitarian regime: the theme is implemented here full of irony and with a good deal of grim humor.

Cuba and USA 

Fábrica de utopías 3, 2010, Oil on canvas, 250 x 180 cm, Photography: Peter Schälchli, Zürich, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

«Fábrica de utopias 3» is a deeply ironic and conceptual painting, full of verve and relish, and another superbly appropriate metaphor. The purported discrepancies between the adversaries of old, Cuba and USA, here represented by their respective flags of identical colors, are simply sewn together and enmeshed into one another, resulting in a red-blue-white color chaos where we quickly lose track of what belongs where. The individual national emblems of both states drown in a churning turmoil. It is not clear on whose behalf the seamstresses are working, but they are certainly diligent about interweaving the two systems and cultures more and more into each other, almost becoming immersed themselves in the flow of flags and colors. By virtue of their geographical vicinity, the two countries have de facto been culturally interconnected far closer and for much longer than it seems. In René Francisco’s painting these apparently very different systems resemble each other to a degree where they become almost indistinguishable. One day, both utopias – “The American Dream” as well as the “Cuban Socialism” – will drop by the wayside. After all, they cannot easily be reproduced by sewing machines as on René Francisco`s canvas… 

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