oil on canvas
92.0 x 73.0 (cm)
36.2 x 28.7 (inch)The Cuban artist Wifredo Lam contributed to modernism in significant ways during his long, prolific career as a painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramist. He explored the possibilities of Cubism and expanded the inventive parameters of Surrealism, while negotiating figuration and abstraction with a recognisable iconography and an extraordinary imagination.
Between 1923 and 1940, Lam lived and studied in Madrid, but with the outbreak of the Second World War he fled to Marseille and from there back to Cuba. There, he explored a newfound interest in Afro-Caribbean culture and spiritual traditions such as Santería, traditions from which he had deliberately distanced himself during his time in Europe. In his figures from this period, with their fusion of human, animal and plant-like elements, Lam was responding simultaneously to European modernism and to the artistic heritage of Havana.
Even after his return to Europe in 1952 – he lived first in Paris, and subsequently in Albissola Marina on the northwest coast of Italy – Lam continued to explore Cuban themes. L’Oiseau blanc, with its combination of human and animal figures, and its relation to African masks and sculpture, presents a surreal narrative against the hazy, undefined, dark ground that is typical of Lam’s mature work.