An Art Show To Hook All Kinds: José-María Cundín

LAKE CHARLES, LA (AP) — As much as Imperial Calcasieu Museum Executive Director Susan Reed likes singing the praises of local artists, she's also proud to present a double-barreled show of works by Spanish-born José-María Cundín on display through December. "Our mission is to support visual arts and artists," she said. "It's local artists first. But through the years we've had Warhol, Picasso and Matisse on exhibit."

         Cundín's work spans over half a century and is recognized worldwide. He's lived all over the world. Galleries in Spain, Mexico, Canada and Columbia have featured his work. U.S. shows have included exhibits in Miami, Fla., Houston, Texas, and most recently in New Orleans where he's been featured in various galleries since the early 80s.

         "But he lives here in Louisiana now. He's one of us," Reed said.

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         The show includes a series of 12 paintings under the title: "Novísimo Pastelario Vasco" and a set of sculptures: "PISCIS, A Marine Bestiary." Don't worry about the translation. Reed described both as "whimsical, satirical and strong."

         For Lake Charles to have such an exhibit of this caliber is a sign of the Museum's commitment to provide a quality of life through its cultural offerings that's on par with much larger cities. For Lake Charles to have Cundín here is a real coup. One art writer referred to him as "elusive" because his public appearances are rare.

         Swimming among his fish and appreciating Cundín's humor is bound to be fun for all and an artist like Cundín offers art experts and political history buffs a deep end. Art experts because he talks the talk. Here is his artist's statement from this past summer's Southern Review Quarterly: "In 1990, I took a sharp turn toward a more 'fitting' plastic realm in order to explore, unhindered by any storytelling, the abstract expressive possibilities of my chromatic and compositional tendencies."

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         Cultural history buffs will appreciate Cundín's roots and possibly how these roots are reflected in his work. He was born in Bilbao, Spain. The Basques may be the oldest ethnic group in Europe. About the time Cundín turned 21, the Basque nationalist and separatist organization ETA was launching its initiative against the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

         Freedom of expression takes many forms for Cundín. He also produced a unique hand-engraved Declaration of Independence, the first engraved on handmade paper and printed and released during the last 150 years. Each of the limited edition sheets weighed about a pound. George Bush was president and he got the first. His Majesty Don Juan Carlos I of Spain got the second.

         A local collector said about Cundín: "For me, art is a very personal subject. When I discovered the work of artist Jose-Maria Cundin, I was immediately struck with emotion. I never cared much for portraiture. Cundin's work made me look at the genre in a new way. His use of vibrant color and geometric shapes to convey a semi-abstract work is very entertaining."

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         Not an art or history aficionado? No worries. The fish are fun. The composition and colors of the paintings are appealing. The content is novel. But perhaps it is the man's soft-spoken nature and good humor that will charm. His visit for the November opening wasn't his first trip to Lake Charles. He was here 35 years ago when the Vincent family hung his work in the Woodring House and opened the doors to invited guests.

         Cundín recalled the "unrehearsed behavior of the peacocks that the organizers had included for the opening event. Perhaps somewhat bored by my presentation, they began to peck at some visitors, causing some alarm but no damage."

         Reed didn't book peacocks. But there is one bird among the fish. It's "Minnow Maximus." He's holding a fish in his long yellow beak. Another is at his feet. (It's Reed's favorite of the PISCIS.) But Imperial staffer Devin Morgan picks out Bony Fish. The detail in the skleletal red-eyed Pez Huesitos combined with the fact that the exhibit was hung around the time of the Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead, made it a standout.

         Jose-Maria Cundín's El Novísimo Pastelario Vasco and PISCIS: A Marine Bestiary will be on display in the Gibson-Barham Gallery of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum through December 30. A 28-page full-color booklet that includes information about the artist and photos of each exhibit piece is available for purchase, as are copies of Southern Review featuring Cundín's work.

         For the last 50 years The Imperial Calcasieu Museum has worked to increase awareness of and participation in the fine arts and cultural experience that is unique to the state and particularly to Southwest Louisiana.

         The museum is located at 204 W. Sallier in Lake Charles. Admission is free to members, school groups, teachers and students with student IDs. Admission is $7 for other adults and $2 for children, military and seniors. For more information about the opening or the museum, call (337) 439-3793.

         The work of local artist Robbie Austin, Glimmer Twins, is scheduled for January.

         – by AP/ Reporter Rita Lebleu with The American Press

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