Serra-Badue Shapes Surreal Reality

Article excerpt

IN THE CAREFULLY EXECUTED COMPOSITIONS OF THIS CUBAN PAINTER CONCRETE OBJECTS BREATHE WITH INNER LIFE

IN JULY OF 1936, 21-year-old Daniel Serra-Badue sailed back to his native Cuba on the Magallanes after a sojourn of four and a half years in Barcelona. One evening, when the ship was somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, he went for a stroll on the deck. It had been a smooth crossing and the sky was studded with stars. Gazing up at them, he was engulfed by a feeling of tranquility and satisfaction with his past accomplishments. At the same time, he felt a wave of excitement as he contemplated his future.

For a man his age, Serra-Badue had already done more than many achieve in a lifetime. Not only had he received a law degree from the University of Barcelona, but he had also supplemented his studio work by studying painting with prestigious Catalonian professors. Now his feelings about returning to Cuba were ambivalent. Although anxious to see family and friends, the artist had developed close bonds with Barcelona and its intense, cultural life. When news of the outbreak of fighting reached the Magallanes after leaving Gibralter, he was stunned to learn that bloody civil war was the order of the day in Spain.

Daniel Serra-Badue was born on November 8, 1914, in Santiago de Cuba to socially prominent parents who, nevertheless, taught him the value of hard work, discipline and the importance of not squandering time. His interest in drawing began shortly after he learned to walk. His parents, Daniel Serra y Navas and Eloisa Badue y de las Cuevas, encouraged the toddler's innate predilection. Whenever he completed a drawing, his father would reward him with a coin.

From his earliest years, Serra-Badue learned the importance of combining his art studies with a well-rounded education. While in grade school in Santiago, he also attended the Escuela Municipal de Bellas Artes. When he was only 11, he became fascinated with the rich, colonial architecture of Santiago, Cuba's first capital, and he soon began to document its many splendors. These ornate structures were to become a lifelong leitmotif in his paintings and prints. In 1927 Serra-Badue and his mother moved to New York City, his parents having decided that he should study abroad. In the morning, he attended the public school on West 89th Street where he received the 16th Annual Wanamaker Drawing Competition Gold Medal. During the afternoons, he took figure drawing lessons at the legendary Art Students League. The youngest student ever admitted, he had to obtain special permission from his mother since it was considered inappropriate for a person his age to draw nude bodies. Still not satisfied, Serra-Badue enrolled in evening lessons with the acclaimed Catalan artist Jose Simont, who had painted portraits of some of the most important figures of the day. This pattern of solid work days is characteristic of Serra-Badue's life even today. "The day has 24 hours and one has to take full advantage. There's time for everything," remarks the artist.

In 1929, Serra-Badue made his first visit to Europe, this time combining pleasure with work. He and his parents toured the Exposicion Interamericana in Seville and the Exposicion Universal in Barcelona, where he plunged into the city's cultural milieu. In addition to taking classes at the studio of Enrique Pascual Monturiol, he succeeded in exhibiting his first one-man show at the prominent Galerias Layetanas at the ripe young age of 14. Both the public and the critics were in awe of this child prodigy from Cuba and received him warmly. The prestigious editor Seix y Barral was so impressed that he published a limited edition album containing 16 views of Santiago de Cuba's colonial architecture based on the freehand drawings Serra-Badue had completed three years earlier in the streets of his birthplace.

Serra-Badue returned to Cuba to complete his high school education, which he combined with art classes at the studio of Rodolfo Hernandez Giro. …