The Unique Style of Wifredo Lam

The Unique Style of Wifredo Lam

Sotheby's Oeuvres sur Papier sale in Paris features a work by Wifredo Lam that is representative of his now signature style.
Sotheby's Oeuvres sur Papier sale in Paris features a work by Wifredo Lam that is representative of his now signature style.

P ainted in Cuba in 1944, this large oil on paper is emblematic of the new style - what can be called the "Lam style" - of Wifredo Lam who was then 42 years old.

Born in Cuba in 1902 to a Chinese father and Iberian - Congolese mother, Lam was back home in 1941 after having spent part of his youth in Europe, travelling from Spain to Paris where he settled for a while in 1938. The stay in the French capital was an important component of his development. Picasso, who welcomed Lam as a peer, introduced him to the leading lights of the Parisian avant-gardes, from Cubism to Surrealism: Andre Breton, Max Ernst and Claude Lévi-Strauss among others.

One year before the present work was executed, Lam painted La Jungle, a monumental oil on paper laid on canvas now kept in the MoMA's Collections. Considered as the alter-ego of Guernica as well as a manifesto of the Tiers-Monde, the work abolishes the traditional representative conception of painting : autonomous figure, non-realistic space, symbolism of the context.

Sans Titre is the next step in terms of idealism and style. From an intellectual point of view as well as from a stylistical angle, Wifredo Lam pulls away from European primitivism and goes back to his ancestral roots of syncretism. Centered on a unique creature which looks like a bird and occupies the main part of the imaginary space of the painting, the work adopts a simplification of the chromatic palette. Around the spaces of the paper deliberately left unpainted, red and blue iridescences contribute to the floating atmosphere of an highly poetic and complex style.

Looking like a bird, the composite creature exemplifies a world essentially and permanently in metamorphosis. Most likely a symbol of freedom, especially in its vertical posture, the bird is moved by the musical thoughts of a Lam as a new Apollonian disciple.

Impressionist & Modern Art

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