Wifredo Lam

Art on This Day

The Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, who sought to portray and revive the enduring Afro-Cuban spirit and culture. Inspired by and in contact with some of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, Lam melded his influences and created a unique style, which was ultimately characterized by the prominence of hybrid figures. Though he was predominantly a painter, he also worked with sculpture, ceramics and printmaking in his later life.

In his early years Lam studied at the Academy of San Alejandro in Havana 1920-3, then went in 1924 to Madrid where he worked in the studio of Fernando Alvarez de Sotomayor, the Director of the Prado, and also in the evenings at the Free Academy. In 1938 he left Spain after taking part in the defence of Madrid, and moved to Paris. It was in Paris that he presented is first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Pierre Loeb 1939. Lam also developed a friendship with Picasso, who enthusiastically encouraged him, along with Breton and the Surrealists. Lam also started to became interested in African sculpture. Lam dramatically synthesized the Surrealist and Cubist strategies while incorporating the iconography and spirit of Afro-Cuban religion. For that reason, his work does not belong to any particular art movement.

He fled in 1941 to Martinique with Breton, Masson and Lévi-Strauss, then returned to Cuba where his work was influenced by savage rituals and the tropical jungle. He visited Haiti in 1945 and 1946 and discovered the Voodoo cult; later in 1946 met Gorky and Duchamp in New York and returned to Paris. 1947-52 in Cuba, New York and Paris; left Cuba in 1952 to live in Paris. Since 1960 has also worked regularly at Albisola Marina, Italy. In 1964-5 Lam was awarded the Guggenheim and Marzotto Prizes.

Wifredo Lam died on September 11, 1982 in Paris. Having had over one hundred personal exhibitions around the world, Lam had a well established reputation by the time of his death.

This year Tate Modern presented a retrospective of the Cuban modernist painter, the first museum exhibition in London since 1952.