Silvio Gayton, Santa Barbara, 2013, Mixed Media on canvas, 73 x 59 in. Rodriguez Collection.
When I conceived of the curatorial concept for “Cosmogonies”, the current exhibition that assembles the creative works of Silvio Gayton and Vicente Dopico-Lerner, I took as a starting point every human being’s inherent desire to attempt to find answers relative to the origin of the universe and of the diverse phenomena that govern not only the physical and natural environment, but also the logic of the way in which society functions. The exhibition highlights the idea of the artist as observer and decoder of his environment, with the capacity to visualize, interpret, assimilate and filter external stimuli, and return them materialized in the form of works of art. As a matter of fact, “Decoded” by Silvio Gayton constitutes the expression of the cognitive and creative process through which this artist of Cuban origin explains reality. The works assembled on this occasion are the result of his work over the last ten years.
Gayton studied the visual arts formally at the Academia de San Alejandro in Havana. He later studied graphic design, illustration and advertising. At a young age he had the opportunity of working with Luis Martínez Pedro and several of the most important mid-twentieth century Cuban designers and admen. Upon emigrating from Cuba at the beginning of the 1960s, Gayton lived and worked in Spain, Venezuela and Chicago, where he earned a living as a graphic designer and illustrator, eventually settling in Miami.
Gayton defines himself as an “archeologist” who explores history, politics, society and the history of universal art. His task is to observe, recognize and immortalize in his works moments and personages that in some way have helped him shape his vision of the universe. In this respect he comments, “In my paintings, you will see a variety of images that challenge perception and even lead you to the discovery of new worlds where forms inspire one’s own imagination of those worlds. Urging people to think in the here and now––without regard to the past or to the future and beyond color, composition, theme or artistic conventions, is how I want my work to be experienced.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle placed in the mouth of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet a reflection that in great part sums up the essence of Gayton’s creative strategy: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.” Gayton believes in the role of the artist as observer, as investigator of his environment, but also as provoker. A contemporary work of art is always the product of a process of decoding reality and presenting it to the viewer so that he may reflect. Otherwise, it is a mere imitation and crude copy; nothing could be further from the pieces presented in this exhibition. Gayton’s paintings are open to a wide spectrum of interpretations, as extensive and rich as the experiential universe of the viewer.
A work of art only attains an aesthetic level when it is experienced by a human being. Gayton identifies personages and moments that appear to him to be starting points to initiate a dialogue with the public at a visual and perceptive level. The works we see in “Decoded” do not deny their referents, nor do they imitate them. Gayton is inspired by the teachings of Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism to deliver to us a group of pieces through which he captures and synthesizes key elements of the subjects and situations that have piqued his interest. The titles, brief, but full of meaning, help interpret the message.
In writing this text, the word “storyteller” assails me constantly. Gayton is not precisely a “narrator” in the strict sense of the term; rather he is an “igniter of stories.” In this manner, we see in his extensive pictorial repertoire compositions that refer us interchangeably to personages like the bloodthirsty Pizarro brothers; the horse Hidalgo––who inspired the homonymous movie by Joe Johnston in 2004;––art dealers who know nothing at all about art, but do know how to profit from the work and the needs of the artist; preachers of questionable doctrines; dissidents who escape transformed into worms; emigrants; Dante in a red hell; real and imaginary animals; mechanical heads; blue forests; tables who await dinner guests; magnificent ceibas; jungles; personages that appear half human half machine, among others.
Gayton does not feel tied to any artistic movement; only color presents itself as a given constant throughout his entire journey. His work is enriched by his knowledge of the history of art; the legacy of Picasso and Cubism; Surrealism and Abstraction, by his studies of the achievements of Paul Klee, Antoni Clavé, Rufino Tamayo, Wifredo Lam, Wassily Kandinsky, and Fernando de Szyslo— whom he met and admires profoundly—among many other artists. In this respect he explains, “I’m not an artist of any time period; I have no commitment to phases in my life or my work; all of these phases co-exist and express themselves with their own identity.”
Octavio Paz said of Roberto Matta that he was “…a stretcher of mental spaces in perpetual motion, a cartographer of his thoughts and interior images.” I rescue that reflection to end this commentary about the oeuvre of Silvio Gayton. In his painting reality is deconstructed as in a kaleidoscope, the result of a long process of intellectual and personal evolution.