The territories of Jorge Camacho, born in Cuba in 1934, are many. Firstly France, which he made his home in 1959; then South America, which he visited several times in the mid-1970s; Spain too, and in particular Andalusia where he lived for part of each year. All of them offering landscapes propitious to biding one’s time, to meditation and to introspection. Camacho’s painting bears the mark of the lingering gaze he brought to the world: a gaze almost fragmented in its accumulation of scraps of the natural environment, but an inward-turning one as well, exploring the nooks and crannies of the unconscious. After contributing to two exhibitions at Galerie Raymond Cordier in Paris, Camacho joined the Surrealist group in 1963; he would maintain his commitment to the movement until his death in 2011. Describing his work, characterised by its clearly delineated coloured surfaces, Cordier spoke of “bits of death”. Three years after meeting Camacho at a Toyen exhibition in 1961, André Breton wrote “Brousse audevant de Camacho” for his first exhibition at Galerie Mathias Fels. Among the works on show – already marked by a confident handling of his medium – was La Femme de nuit, part of a series inspired by the Marquis de Sade (and given as a gift to Breton). For Anne Tronche, author of the sole monograph devoted to Camacho, “in a way his painterly language defies definition. A high coefficient of resistance to elucidation is underpinned by the codes he uses, the symbols he adapts and an implicit metaphorical charge.”
In one work, a creature/object – a mix of throne and insect set in an enclosed space with a tiled floor – displays claws, horns, banded bodies and bones that suggest certain works by Wilfredo Lam.
In the late 1960s Camacho drew extensively on the writings of Sade, Georges Bataille and Raymond Roussel, and translated several of the latter’s books into Spanish. In 1967–1969 he was consumed by a passion for alchemy, collecting enormous quantities of documentation and meeting the alchemists and historians of science Eugène Canceliet, Bernard Roger and René Alleau, who took him deep into the arcana of the subject. “Thanks to them I took the straight path to traditional Alchemy, brushing aside along the way all the occultist speculation and other pseudomystical doctrines that always cling like parasites to the admirable body of this Science and denature it.”3 He readily subscribed to Rimbaud’s famous dictum, “One must become a seer.” Our painting is typical of the works of the late 1960s: a composite figure bristling with multiple anatomical or animal ramifications and protuberances stands out against a coloured floor and wall. Le Fils à zinc was first shown at Galerie Maya in Brussels in 1968, a few months before the exhibition Le Ton haut at Galerie Mathias Fels (Paris, 1969), which pursued Camacho’s research into alchemical heraldry. Drawing on the hermetic world of Raymond Roussel, Camacho urged alchemy as the alternative to all dogmatic conceptions of nature. In parallel with his intellectual concerns, he was seeking in his paintings the means for making the picture a palimpsest of an idea, and inventing a a vocabulary of forms with dual meanings. His compositions are visual equations which generate manifold meanings in an attempt to reconcile visual and poetic phenomena.
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