Juan Francisco Elso Padilla: Por America
Juan Francisco Elso Padilla was a Cuban sculptor who died of leukemia in 1988 at the age of 32.
Despite his short life, he set an influential example. He sought to know himself, his particular culture, and the complex convergence of traditions—Caribbean, African, Socialist, Western—that bound them together in suffering and hope. His art embodied an odd mixture of secularism and mysticism.
He was part of the Cuban Renaissance of the late 1970s, a group of artists who introduced experimental styles and new content into the prevailing figurative realism.
Elso Padilla produced For America, a three-quarter size, wooden effigy of Jose Marti, the Cuban revolutionary hero, which was studded with red and green darts, the first signifying the blood drawn by aggression, the second representing sprouts of fertile rebirth. During the last year of his life, he worked on The Transparency of God, an ambitious, three-part sculptural installation involving a two-meter-high heart constructed of twisted branches and an equally monumental hand with its lifeline interrupted. Both are seen through the eyes of a huge suspended skull of twigs and canvas. In Elso Padilla’s vision, the face signified the search for one’s own way, the heart gave energy to the way, and the hand represented the tools with which the world was created.