Cuban artist Jose Bedia offers us a style informed by primitive cultures but also outsider art, which results in a personal imagery that resonates especially with the Chicago artists Roger Brown, Jim Nutt, and Gladys Neilson. He has developed a short-hand system of graphic images that are powerful and archetypal. He evokes not only the gods of the primitive cultures he studies but also evokes a symbolism and a mythic narrative akin to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.
The image of the warrior male is superb in both its graphic, symbolic, and narrative functions within the works of Jose Bedia. The works are highly graphic, with the power that exceeds that of comic books in explicit form. The narrative aspects of the works seem both familiar and mysterious. The male torso, so often represented in the strained rib cage of Christ on the cross, appears in Bedia's work. Like Roger Brown, he stylizes the images and brush strokes, not only because primitive cultures evolve to the point of one strong representation of a particular image, but also for purposes of repetition and rhythm. The power of his images is monumental, concrete, and grounded in form.
I find I react at a physical, emotional, and psychic level to his work, possibly because he has boiled down the image and narrative to an essential essence. In the work "Mama Wants Blood, Blood of his Bull" the image is so powerful as to evoke dreams. In "Vision of the Island from Afar" we see a figure that is also a monumental cluster of mountains arising from the water. Stick-like trees seem like ornaments on this giant nude giant. In "All Life Like This" we see on a semicircular canvas the classic image of the tightrope walker above a chasm of deadly points, or hills, their threat emphasized with peeping skulls. In "The Great Fisherman" his highly graphic stylized image of giant hands deconstruct into hundreds of black fish. His installations are very powerful, the image of the male warrior dominating the spaces as a protector, shaman. The limitation of his color range only adds to his power as black on white paintings are so graphic that color might only lessen the effects. The influence of multiple cultures is synthesized in Bedia's work, rarely appearing in an painting as an image that had not been fully integrated into his vernacular. Rarely can a viewer look at an image and clearly identify the culture from which the image may have arisen since Bedia appears to be able to quickly absorb the images of other times, cultures, peoples, artists, and make them his own, a gift akin to the gifts of Picasso. The semicircular and circular paintings have the effect of myth and folk tale on the viewer, both simple and yet complex, both overt and yet hidden. It would be mistake to think of these works as only graphic stick men since there are painterly aspects to most of the paintings. Later works evoke modern images of aircraft carriers cutting the waves and yet these images still seem to hark back to more primitive and basic instincts.
The book is truly beautiful, with three informative essays, a detailed chronology of the life and works of Bedia, and a wonderful photography section revealing the personal life of the artist, his family, and his collections of primitive art forms. In my opinion Bedia is a major artist as this monograph clearly documents.