Antonio Gattorno, born in Cuba, 1904, died in Massassuchets, 1980. One of the leaders of Cuba’s Modern Art Movement, is one of the most underrated artists of the 20th Century.
Antonio Gattorno is the type of obscure yet important painter that art professionals dream of discovering: a hidden master with an impressive provenance. Throughout his career his work was well known and his genius apparent.
Antonio Gattorno earliest works (1927 – 1939) played an important role in the development of a national identity in Cuban painting. His images became the archetype of Cuban Modern Primitivism, setting the standard for the group of Cuban painters known as the Vanguardia, including Wifredo Lam, Victor Manuel and Amelia Pelaez.
He was the first Cuban artist of his generation to achieve an international reputation as a universal contemporary that transcended his ethnicity. He was reviewed in the New York Times and in Esquire magazine. His monograph was written and published by Ernest Hemingway. In the press he was known merely by his surname, Gattorno.
Today he is virtually unknown. Once prominent in the avant garde art movement that helped drive the Cuban revolution of 1923 -1934, Gattorno was always more interested in art than in politics. By 1939 he shifted his interests from showing the exterior social life of his subjects to a greater concern for illustrating their internal psychological existence. He also permanently relocated to New York City where he met and married Isabel Cabral in 1940.
Antonio Gattorno never overcame the stigma of his ex-patriotism in the eyes of those who had once lauded him as a child prodigy. Rather than abandoning his Cuban heritage, as some Cuban art critics claimed, Gattorno redefined or restated it in a new visual style. He was creating a personal mythology, in which his cultural heritage, and the ultimate exile from his homeland became an integral, if oftimes, underlying foundation. Antonio Gattorno work evolved from a primitive style reminiscent of Gaugin to a mature phase, which incorporated elements of surrealistic romanticism, classical composition and abstractionism. He continually refined his technique adding his ideas to the vibrant New York artistuic community that rocked the art world throughout the postwar era.
Antonio Gattorno reacted to, while simultaneously being influenced by and utilizing, the tenets of schools of thought with which he did not always agree. He demonstrated with an unmistakable visual showmanship, his mastery of abstract-expressionist technique and surreal perspective, but maintained his commitment to narrative, subject and the illusion of three-dimensional space. This may not seem a radical idea now, but it was certain commercial death in the heyday of abstract expressionism.
Antonio Gattorno paintings from the 1940s on are perhaps some of his most important yet they are also his least known for reasons that have nothing to do with the beauty or artistic quality of the work.
Now, 20 years after his death and 70 years or more since some of his most currently coveted works were painted, Gattorno’s “Primitive phase”(1927-1939) is considered to be the epitome of 20th Century Cuban Modernism. The few experts familiar with him consider Gattorno’s work from this era, to be more definitive in terms of national identity even more technically sound, than similar work of the same style and era by his commercially successful, better known peers.