Claudio Bravo in a self portrait
Claudio Bravo, the Chilean born pioneer of the realist revival in the 1970s died June 4th at the age of 74 of complications from epilepsy in Morocco.
He had his first exhibition at age 17. In his younger years, he worked as a professional dancer, and tried his hand at acting.
His first success was as a society painter in Franco's Spain. He was a favorite of dictators who imagined themselves to be glamorous, especially Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Bravo spent most of his working life in Morocco where his success as an artist allowed him to purchase an enormous 3 story 19th century mansion in Tangier.
The former NYTimes critic John Canaday at first raved over Bravo's work in his reviews, and then later attacked it as cheap and vulgar. I agree with both. I've always had mixed feelings about Bravo's work, admiration mixed in with a certain measure of disgust. He was an amazing technician with an impoverished imagination, very much along the lines of the late 19th century Salon stars like Bouguereau or Couture.
All the biographical sources are silent on this, but he was clearly gay as a handbag full of rainbows with a taste for athletic young men, especially dancers and soccer players, and who can blame him? If only he knew what to do with that taste other than make rather vulgar boy paintings aping Caravaggio's vulgar boy paintings.
Bravo made his first big hit with the critics with paintings of string and tissue paper like this. Some compared him to the great Spanish abstract painter Antonio Tapies. Critics back in those days loved these kinds of essays in visual semantics. Bravo, like all the rest of us, quickly grew bored with them.
This is where Bravo's heart really lay, not in little academic essays on the whole "what is real" question, but in painting beautiful magnificent athletic young men like this one. Of course, the critics immediately turned on him, but these are arguably his best works. They are certainly his most heartfelt.
This is Bravo's most famous painting. Perhaps he could have made a career painting soccer stars in various stages of undress. And heaven knows there's no shortage of narcissistic athletic stars who would be eager to see themselves in oil paint, even if it means sitting for a few hours being ogled by an old poof in Morocco.
It's paintings like this version of The Temptation of Saint Anthony that makes me agree with the critics who called his work "cheap and vulgar." He's appealing to art history to give his work a measure of depth and legitimacy which it doesn't really need. There's nothing heartfelt or authentic about any of it.
May Claudio Bravo rest in peace.