Cundo Bermúdez Delgado (Secundino). Was born in Havana, Cuba in 1914, died in Westchester,Miami 2008. Although basically self-taught, he studied at the prestigious Academy of San Alejandro for two years.
As a young man, he lived in Mexico at the peak of the Mexican mural renaissance and his work clearly expresses similar interests in the everyday life and local traditions of Havana. Over the years, he developed an intensely personal visual language and a style of painting that captures the spirit of the life, love, music, and color of the tropics. He depicts Cuba’s ornate baroque interiors and the blues of its sky and sea as the background for a cast of silent, mysterious figures dressed in a fantastic array of costumes.
One way to approach the many series of subjects and the chronological phases that have dominated Bermúdez’s work over the years is to begin with the portraits, many of which are in this exhibition. Some of his earliest paintings, those from the 1930s and 1940s, were portraits, and all reveal more than the physical description of his subjects and their personalities. Dos Hermanas, 1940, and Retrato de Heriberto Leret, 1943, are not only among the many references to Havana society at the time, but they also tell us that Bermúdez is not interested in description alone. He uses portraits as a point of departure to explore the many other elements of painting that were of most importance to him as an artist: volumetric forms, color, surface patterns, and abstract designs. Even his famous “ribbons” appear in these early works, strictly as painterly elements. There is intensity in the expression of the arabesques and as the portraits shift from single motifs to compositions that include figures, such as El Billar, 1942, and Romeo y Julieta, 1943, the artist’s amusing view of everyday reality is evident. His sense of wit and reverie is ever-present. One cannot help but wonder who the characters are in Mujer Peinando Su Amante, 1945, and Club de Señoritas, 1995.
Cundo Bermúdez has always been interested in art history and this is evident in numerous paintings and drawings, both as he references its traditions, as in Desnudos al Mediodia, 1945, and Homenaje a Seurat, 1993, and as he encourages the viewer to read the symbolism that becomes his personal pictorial vocabulary. These include musical instruments, clocks, ribbons, ladders, mirrors, hats, and turbans. In Cinco Figuras, 1975, it is as if the multi-paneled altarpieces of the past have been transformed into a commentary about life in Cuba that is as exotic as it is poignant.
The exhibition makes it clear that the female form is as much a favorite of the artist as it is of the viewer. This colorful collection of females is as real as it is fantastic. They strut along the beaches dressed in outlandish ribbons and pose in impossible, yet formal arrangements, often half-exposed. Highly abstracted into flat contours with simple faces, they are but an excuse for Bermúdez to play with the ribbons and colors and sinuous arabesques that engulf their mysterious presence. His most recent works include the same references to the feminine, now obtained through a more simplified painterly approach that is bolder and flatter, but no less colorful. La Jardinera, 2002, is a vision in brilliant pinks and blues.
Over his long, prolific, and highly respected career, Cundo Cundo Bermudez was never content to work on only one subject or series. As the wide range of dates reveal, the same characters and subjects appear over and over. This exhibition provides a mere introduction to the many facets of his remarkable accomplishments. There are portraits, figures, musicians, interiors, sketches from his murals in Puerto Rico and for the new Miami commission, and religious subjects. It is possible to appreciate and take pleasure in each work for many personal reasons, and it is an especially enjoyable experience when one realizes that these are but a few examples out of thousands produced by this most admirable master.