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Focal point: A critic's view

The Cuban-born Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) was a traveling man who happened to be in Paris when surrealism hit the world with its dreamlike vision. He was born of a Chinese father and a mother of mixed African, Indian and European descent. His art often had a ritualistic strain to it -- he was interested in Santeria, an African-based religion -- with its images of humans who could seem to sprout limbs like plants or take on the characteristics of birds or animals.

His suite of etching/aquatints "Visible/Invisible," an example of which is shown above, is bursting with horned monsters, strange winged creatures trailing feathers like jet streams, half-humans decked out in odd ornaments, and menacing thorny and sharp-edged shapes hover in the air. Lam's figures have the beautiful clarity that Picasso (who encouraged the young artist) gave to his drawings and some of the older master's crazy mix of body parts. But he imbues these suspended creatures with a very individual if bizarre mood that would be almost comic if it weren't that so many terrible transformations were happening to these hapless (and maybe helpless) beings.

-- Richard Huntington

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