Praising Che

José Ángel Toirac pays skillful tribute to Cuba's folk saint

Hanging to the right of these portrait paintings are two additional smudgy oils of photos Che used on a Uruguayan passport, in which he is convincingly disguised as a balding, bespectacled, clean-shaven, middle-aged businessman. Guevara had used the passport to surreptitiously come back to Cuba after he had left for Bolivia ("After you've burned your ship," says Toirac, "how can you return?"). Between the two portrait diptychs appears a large oil painting of the graffiti-marred laundry sink, Che's metaphorical tomb, upon which the dead revolutionary was put on public display. It was the last place he would ever be seen before his body was dumped into a mass grave.

Carrying through with his major allusion, Che's "shroud" is gracefully draped on the gallery's last unfilled wall. Like the Shroud of Turin, once reputed to be the cloth in which Christ was wrapped and buried and upon which his imprint appears, Toirac's version is a sheet on which he projected Che's full-body death photo, then painted the projected form using red wine.

Like stories and parables in the Bible, the media images and letters used by José Toirac in his work are the only tangible records the artist and his generation in Cuba have left to construct a chronicle about their favorite political martyr and folk saint. "My generation didn't live this part of history," explains Toirac. "We know about Che's history because we grew up with this history. Che is very close to us, but he came from history -- and what is history but some text and some pictures?"

In Portrait of Fidel, Castro is shown reading a farewell letter from Che Guevara. "It is the moment at which the tragic prophecy is made public," the artist notes.
José Toirac
In Portrait of Fidel, Castro is shown reading a farewell letter from Che Guevara. "It is the moment at which the tragic prophecy is made public," the artist notes.

Details

On view through November 10. For details call 480-990-7342.
Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 North Marshall Way, Scottsdale.

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In the end, José Ángel Toirac's work compels us to critically analyze the very nature of history itself. Myth mingled with fact interpreted subjectively on all sides, history is far from an objective compilation of cut-and-dried data. Easily manipulated, revised and reformulated with time and circumstances, it invariably filters out all the defects, arrogance and stupidity of figures and events, leaving us finally with flawless holy men and eminently just causes.

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