Julio Larraz was an immigrant child. Born in Cuba in 1944, he and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1961. In 1964 they settled in New York where young Larraz became a political cartoonist for leading publications, such as the New York Times. Next, Larraz taught himself to paint and turned to art in 1967.
Even though he left the Caribbean at an early age, the region’s sea- and landscape made profound impressions on him. With its depictions of island nations, ships, and canvas-filling sky, his art gives little sign that Larraz ever lived in Manhattan. Instead, he depicts a world much like the one he was forced to abandon as a child.
Perhaps in part because he’s looking back to childhood, his paintings seem to bleed through the walls of documentary reality to present a world that is distant, dreamlike, and slightly incomplete, as if memory had mixed with myth.
This dream-like quality is most obviously achieved through Larraz’ mastery of white; it’s in the use of this most challenging color that his technical prowess announces itself most clearly. In Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, whiteness evoked the terror of the abyss; in Larraz, white works as a kind of erasure, or an eliminator of edges, allowing distinct bodies—whether of two people or of sky and sea—to blur together and become one. And perhaps eventually none.
Larraz’ mastery of white is most evident in Sunset at Villa Anatolia, as the evidently powerful, white-haired man dressed in white is embraced not only by a beautiful woman, but also by the pale sun-bleached sky. The man’s power is intact, but not eternal. In Spy the protagonist of the painting literally emerges from whiteness to enter his target’s home.
The “man in white” and the spy are also examples of how Larraz peoples his paintings. Most of his characters are representatives of earthly and heavenly powers: a Cardinal, several generals, spies, a voodoo/Santeria priestess, all seem to exist within the parameters of an untold story. Or perhaps they are characters in a film that has been chopped up and presented in individual frames, with the connecting narrative edited out.
Surely there is a narrative connection between the spies of Beach Head, Spy, and Uncharted, the corpulent Presidente seen reviewing his troops in Un Desfile Por la Paz, and the other-worldly but powerful African-Caribbean woman shown in Revelations (who perhaps oversees this entire world). But we don’t know what that connection is. Because of this lack of definition, Larraz’ story expands in the mind into a dream of power, intrigue, and mystery.
The story also includes substantial behind-the-scenes characters, such as the faceless Cardinal of The Tailor of Cardinal Richelieu and the impeccably dressed but ferocious madame of a bordello catering to the high and mighty seen in La Doyenne at La Maestranza. Larraz includes more benign figures as well, such as the charming and dandified gallerist of C’est de la Parte de Monsieur Hesiode. An unseen poet surveys the landscape as well, from his observatory-like house shown in Untitled.
Larraz’ world also includes distinctly surreal touches, such as the ship in Nebu at Anchor and The Floating Garden that is practically a floating arboretum.
But if many of these paintings can feel like isolated frames from a narrative film, they are even more like images taken from a larger dream. The paintings’ soft edges, their openness to in-between spaces, almost refute the notion of a frame with its implication of fixed boundaries.
The four sculptures in this exhibition make a different statement. In them Larraz’s vision necessarily takes a much more concrete form. In the bronze sculpture The Strong Man Larraz’s depiction of the faces and bodies of the powerful becomes, as the big-bellied strong man brand becomes ironic, and even humorous, as the weightlifter brandishes a barbell that bends under its own weight.
Art of the World is honored to present this exhibition of work by contemporary master Julio Larraz.