Introduction to Liber Fridman´s work
by ERNESTO SABATO
In "ABADDON EL EXTERMINADOR" ("Abaddon, The Exterminator"), I made some statements which still retain their validity today, even more than ever before. The arts -with some dramatic exceptions- have been transformed into an elitist art in the worst sense of the word, into a sort of ironic rococo similar to that which dominated the French salons of the 18th century. That is, far from being an avant-garde art, it may be deemed as a rearguard art. And, as always under these conditions, it becomes a minor art: it serves to entertain, to pass the time between winks among those who are involved in the subject. Ladies and gentlemen, bored with life, met in those salons to gossip and make a joke of everything. Witty acrostics, epigrams and puns, parodies of the Aeneid were elaborated, topics were proposed for the participants to write poems. On one occasion, twenty-seven sonnets were written on the (hypothetical) death of a parrot. An activity which, to major art, is as fireworks to the burning of an orphanage. Musique de table , nothing to disturb the digestion. Serious issues were ridiculed, ingenuity replaced genius, which is always in poor taste. While the poor died of hunger or were tortured in dungeons, an art of this nature can only be considered as a spiritual perversity and putrefact decadence. However, in defence of this race, it must be said that they did not see themselves as the paladins of the revolution that was emerging. Even in this regard, they had good taste, something which cannot be said of those who call themselves revolutionaries today. Some thirty years ago, right here, in Buenos Aires , the project of a novel which could be read either from beginning to end or from end to beginning, was joyfully welcomed. Just like those marquises. At a Biennial held in Venice , somebody exhibited a Down syndrome person on a stand. When these extremes are reached, one can understand that our civilization is crumbling.
Liber Fridman, whom nobody or almost nobody gave a thought when he held an exhibition, a man who has spent the past 84 years of his life studying the archaic cultures of Latin America -including the Amazon region-, a man who also undertook major restoration projects of the paintings in the temples there, one the kindest and most generous persons I've been lucky to meet, undoubtedly is a painter who shall go down in the history of our artistic continent.
Ernesto Sábato, Santos Lugares, May 1995.
Liber Fridman, Custodian of the Primordial
by RAFAEL SQUIRRU
This brief essay shall omit the biographical details of the artist Liber Fridman, masterfully reviewed by Pilar Vigil Cartagena, a young woman from Lima , who received her training in Barcelona , and who has, in fact, accurately delved in the work of this maestro.
As I understand it, the main challenge for any art critic is that of determining the style of a creative person in such a way that it becomes useful for the reader to approach the work of the artist from a perspective quite different from that of the work of art itself. Let it be understood that we are dealing with a task that may be justified in the extent that the work of art provokes the enthusiasm of the writer.
This condition is completely fulfilled in my case as to the work of Fridman, which, in other words, encourages me to take the first step (let us hope I start out with my right foot).
The Fridman case, on one hand, becomes complicated and, on the other, becomes simplified. Let us never forget Buffon's phrase: "Style is man himself".
Fridman has been an endless wanderer touring all of America and Europe, starting first with a puppeteer's wagon while dividing his time between being a restless painter and a scholar of the historic past of the nations he visited, going from the Argentinean Santa Fe, north through Paraguay and the Guarani missions, then to Brazil and its baroque and up to the Amazon jungles.
This artist also travelled through North America and Europe, as well as Caracas and the interior of Venezuela , before finally reaching port in Peru , setting himself up in the city of Lima , where he became authentic researcher into the Pre-Colombian past, from whose incomparable abundance he garnered profound experiences and lessons.
As of the decade of the sixties, Fridman was accompanied by his wife, Mirna Meluso, a woman of rare beauty from the Argentinean Pampas, who fully shared all his concerns.
If we also add that simultaneously to his creative efforts, over the years, Liber Fridman became an excellent restorer, we have the foundations upon which we can develop a view of this rara avis, who in his path through life would leave us a marvellous series of even stranger birds who emerged from his own inspiration.
But, in my opinion, the notes which I have just jotted down regarding the famous style of this artist would be lacking a decisive brush stroke: Fridman's Russian-Jewish origins. His father had been a baker during the period of the Czars and landed in Argentina during the first years of this century, carrying the symbolic baggage of his trade and the anarchist ideas, which sent him to prison on the same day on which Liber was born in Buenos Aires in 1910. His mother, Amalia Schlafman, served for both, the boy and later the man, as that star which guides our best steps in life.
It is important to remember that Liber Fridman studied in the Academy of Beaux Arts under the guidance of its Director, Ernesto de la Carcova, and renowned teachers such as Pio Collivadino.
Thus, we have drawn a picture of this personality with several ample brush strokes, and based on this image, we must now refer to his already surprising and magnificent artistic production. Without diminishing the value of the stages leading Fridman to Peru , we must bear in mind that, by this time, we are speaking of a man of 50 years of age and that, in fact, these preceding stages are something like a preparatory phase leading up to his own original and unrepeatable style.
I have not disregarded any of the details pertaining to this artist's formation or his production, yet necessarily I shall have dwell on those which to me are the most important and which can be summed up in three basic aspects: his origins, Peru and his tradecraft.
The case of Liber Fridman reminds me quite a lot of Marc Chagall. On a certain occasion, an argument ensued with regards to Chagall concerning which country he owed most to: Russia or France . Settling the matter quickly and decisively, one of the participants immediately answered: "Chagall is essentially a Jewish painter". I believe that something similar may be said of Fridman, even though similar to Chagall, he did not keep a close and exclusive relationship with his religion and the environment of its community.
Although the degree of symbiosis which occurs between Liber Fridman and Pre-Colombian Peruvian art has, in fact, led us to identify this artist within this tradition, we have yet to meet any artist from our vast region who has been able to portray his or her images in a manner similar to that of Fridman. Thus, in my opinion, it is not a matter of determining in which direction Fridman focuses his view, but rather of perceiving from where this vision occurs.
It should be pointed out in this regard that childhood memories meant to Chagall what the legends of ancient Peru meant to Fridman, yet imprinted far beyond his own consciousness by the traditions handed down to him by his own family. We cannot forget that both traditions spans thousands of years and that Israel Fridman, Liber's father, set an example of his own ancestral values through the attitude of honesty assumed throughout all his life. A French writer once said: "The importance of style lies not in the degree of relationship with other styles, but rather in its unimitability".
Liber fulfills this requirement with integrity, and this takes us to the technique, to the skill with which he creates his images. It is possible that some people will be disturbed by the use of remnants of Pre-Columbian cloth to be incorporated in Liber's works. It pertains, as I understand it, to a right he has won. This point is very important. Liber does not practise an external Americanism. In his degree of identification with the implications of those ancient cultures, he has transformed himself into a millinery voice that speaks to us from those very visual instruments. It would be very dangerous to attempt to imitate him in this sense. Liber is practically a vehicle that retains in its own core this dual message, by and in itself, being Jewish and American, from the telluric forces of the continent. It is, in reality, a unique case, and as I believe, a case which cannot be repeated. Even if ancient Peru was indeed the detonating force in this vital explosion, it becomes part of Liber's consciousness and subconsciousness, his entire pilgrimage throughout America, his whole vocation to discover and bring forth a past that for him, and thanks to his work, remains alive for all of us.
This deep inquiry has led him to work with devilishly complex techniques that in their own way nourish themselves with identical worries. The encaustic where with colour pigments, some of which are found in the very tombs, he amasses wax and resin with instruments that transmit heat, joining them in a definitive and indelible way.
If there is an artist who is almost impossible to fake, it is Liber Fridman. If to all of this, we add that the remnants of fabric and gauze that he works with are also authentic aesthetic relics of that remote past, we will see that we are in the presence of something which will never again be repeated.
We still have to answer one last question, one which, in some way, we have already set forth: What is the spirit, of all this?
And by evoking the spirit, we are already talking about that other dimension that separates the type of art that lives in the eternal present from the ephemeral one. And here appears Liber, the prophet, the one who marches ahead of truth. It is contradictory that so much love for the past will transform into prophecy for the future. It is that upon insufflating lifeless matter, the alchemy of his own soul, Liber rescues the creatures of ephemeral time and transforms them into living symbols of eternity. This can only be achieved through the feelings that the artist poured upon his creations. If, in order to create and to read the living symbols, it is essential to have necessary penetration, it can only be achieved from a heart that overflows with understanding, warmth, tenderness.
None of this could have been possible without great character. As his father kneaded the bread that is the symbol of life, Liber kneaded his pigments and resins to convert that life into something that is immortal.
Like those great prophets who preceded him, not in the powerful wind nor in the earthquake nor in the fire, was the voice that asks and, at the same time, responds, revealed to him. This time the voice whispered in the peaceful Peruvian wilderness. From there come his images of sages, busts, fish and birds, his trees of life planted from this faraway branch, fruit begotten of his own fundamental tradition that links us all with that very first Adam.
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