1902 Sagua La Grande
The Cuban-French painter Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua La Grande (Cuba) on December 8, 1902. His real name was Wifredo Óscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla. In 1916, he moved with his family to Havana. Here Lam attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes and completed a program of study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts between 1918 and 1923.
Already in the early 1920’s, he exhibited his work in the Salon de la Asociatión de Pintores y Escultores in Havana. In 1923, Wifredo Lam moved to Madrid. There he studied in the studio of Fernando Álvarez y Sotomayor (1875 – 1960) and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
In 1929 he married the artist Eva Piriz, but she died of tuberculosis two years later. In the early 1930’s, Lam was influenced particularly by Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) and probably Joaquin Torres Garcia (1874 – 1949). The traveling exhibition of works by Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) in Barcelona, Bilbao and Madrid proved to be an inspiration for Wifredo Lam both artistically and politically.
In 1938 he moved to Paris, where he came under the influence of Pablo Picasso. The latter brought him into the circle around André Breton (1896 – 1966) and encouraged his interest in African art and primitive masks. In 1939, Wifredo Lam’s first solo exhibit took place in Paris in the Galerie Pierre Loeb. In addition, his works were exhibited together with those of Picasso in the Perls Galleries in New York. In 1940, the artist fled to Marseille and went with a few surrealist friends to Martinique, where he was also briefly interned. He spent a lot of time with Claude Lévi-Strauss (* 1908), André Masson (1896 – 1987) and André Breton. Among other things, Wifredo Lam illustrated Breton’s "Fata Morgana" during this time.
In 1942, a return to Cuba was caused by the war. In the following year, the best-known work by the artist was created, "The Jungle". He also participated between 1942 and 1950 in the regular exhibits in the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. In 1946, Wifredo lived for four months on Haiti, and beginning in 1948 he cultivated a friendship with Asger John (1914 – 73). In the following years, he lived in New York, but also traveled frequently and lived beginning in 1952 for three years in Paris. In 1960, the artist opened a studio in Albisola Mare. In 1964 he received the "Guggenheim International Award".
Already during his lifetime, numerous Lam retrospectives took place, for example in the Basel Kunsthalle, in the Kestner Gesellschaft Hannover and in Brussels in the Palais des Beaux-Arts. In addition, he participated in the years 1959 and 1964 in the documenta in Kassel. The artist can not be categorized definitively as a surrealist. He invented his own style through connecting surrealism and cubism with the spirit and forms of the Carribean. Wifredo Lam died in Paris on September 11, 1982.