“Knock on wood” is one of the world’s most famous traditional sayings.
Even those who don’t consider themselves superstitious can hardly resist the temptation to tap a piece of wood three times to ward off bad luck and attract good fortune.
The myth is ancient. The Greeks associated Zeus with the oak; Celts believed that elves and fairies inhabited trees; and Christians seem to attribute protection to the wooden cross of Jesus.
That is, wood, a noble material, has always been associated with gods, but accompanying human beings. Touching it to thwart bad omens or prevent good luck from taking a turn for the worse, is not only a personal act, but found in many artistic expressions, as well. In contemporary times, the Catalan Joan Manuel Serrat says in one of his songs, of the same title, “Cross your fingers, knock on wood.”
Cuba’s Arístides Hernández, the renowned cartoonist, or Ares, as he signs his pieces, inaugurated a show in the Union of Cuban Writer and Artists’ Villa Manuela Gallery of his paintings filled with his ironic humor, in which nothing is sacred.
Its title? Knock on wood, a personal exposition of 19 pieces: paintings, a single installation - “Habana 6 am” - andsculpture, executed on… wood.
The notes that accompany the show feature an evaluation by art critic David Mateo who states: “The exposition… puts his formulas and artistic devices to the test. Unusual approaches in his artistic career, like the installation, the re-contextualization of objects, or painting on wood, are used on purpose and at risk in this collection without the substance of an iconographic profile being lost…”
Wooden doors play a predominate role, and serve in many cases as the surface on which the artist paints, but the colonial relics constitute a common element that distinguishes the pieces.
Mateo recalls that “Ares comes from a tradition of Cuban cartoonists and illustrators among whom the relation between the concept, the intellectual implications, and the power of synthesis of the graphic representation are essential.”
It is evident that Ares is knocking on wood with several intentions, asking for good luck, but also delving into other issues, like religion (Buddhism, Catholicism, and Yoruba), Cuban identity (the flag, shield, José Martí) and other more current topics (restaurant and hostel publicity that is now inundating Havana).
Ares (Havana, 1963) again shows he is an artist who, now with more creative assurance, is also a painter who knows how to synthesize complex issues in a humorous fashion.
Exactly what he has been doing in his cartoons, which have won him more than 150 international prizes, including those for his illustrations of dozens of books and his own 20-some titles.
Everyartistic expression seeks its validation. Cartoons published in the press can reach millions of people, but an exposition means direct interaction.
Thus putting on an exhibit is not only hanging pictures in a gallery. Thoughtful curating is evident in Tocar madera, from the works themselves to the organization that favors the thinking the artist wants to convey.
Following Intracorpora (also in the Villa Manuela);Primeros planos, primeras planas (a mix of painting and graphic humor exhibited during the Biennial of Havana) and now Tocar madera, it can longer be said that Ares is leaving his customary work to take up painting.
The exposition’s paintingsreveal poetry, his cosmic vision of contemporary reality, just as he has done with his cartoons, until now, the trademark of Arístides Hernández, Ares.