Tomás Sánchez

Lush, meditative landscapes celebrate nature and lament its destruction.

Tomas Sanchez smiling and holding a paintbrush and paint palette next to a large painting of a forest
purple paintbrush dipped in white paint, adding details to a white cloud that has been painted on the canvas
artist stood in front of a large white canvas with a green forest painted on it with trays of paints to each side of him, as well as an easel and a large painting of landfill
5 images

Tomás Sánchez was born in 1948 in Cuba, and is now is based in Costa Rica.

Achievements

Sanchez became renowned internationally when he was awarded the Joan Miró International Drawing Prize in 1980. At this time he was also a part of Volumen Uno, now recognised as a seminal moment in the history of contemporary Cuban art.

Did you know?

The artist works from memory and imagination, transforming his experiences into new visualisations through meditation and realising them as painstakingly-detailed paintings.

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Practice overview

Sánchez’s symbolic landscapes have made him one of the most important living Cuban artists. Part of Volumen Uno in the 80s, a movement that resisted the heavily censored Cuban art of the time, he has since received international recognition, with auction prices in excess of $600,000 USD. Inspired by the Romantics, Sánchez paints the wilderness of his homeland, as well as vast panoramic views of garbage dumps. The works are incredibly detailed with a lush tropical palette, encompassing the physical wonder of the natural world, it’s immense spiritual power, and humankind's tendency to destroy it. Small human figures set against waterfalls, lagoons and palm trees engage with humankind's insignificance, search for inner peace, and broader environmental issues. Steeped in allegory, Sánchez’s art reinterprets traditional modes of painting to create an uncanny paradise that is at once hopeful and threatening.

While Sánchez is best known for his hyperreal landscapes, he has also experimented in print, sculpture, photography, drawing, and with different styles of painting. His earlier works under the title Expressionism explore a looser painted gesture steeped, as ever, in symbolism. El Circo/The Circus (1974), is an oil on canvas depicting a circus tent with a raucous crowd watching Jesus being carried on the cross. There is a red bullfighting cloth on the stage, but a chicken instead of a bull; the two men pulling the cross and gearing the crowd wear red colonialist hats. Various angels and the Virgin Mary are among the audience members, all of whom watch with both eagerness and dread. The work plays with tropes of religious iconography as a sardonic metaphor for the performativity of religion, colonialism, politics and populism, whether ancient or contemporary.

There is a perfectionism in Sánchez’s work that feels unreal. While his paintings are based on the scenery of Cuba and South America, the highly considered compositions and flawlessly rendered surfaces are heavenly and dreamlike. The paradisic scenes are so immaculate that they feel unattainable - teasing a perfect world that you can see but not have. This parallels the fact that much of the scenery from which Sánchez draws inspiration may no longer exist, having been cultivated for unsustainable agriculture. In this way, Sánchez’s practice is a timeless mourning: a mourning for everything that has already been lost, and also for a future threatened by human destruction. This said, underpinning such bleak themes is a sense of optimism. The tranquility of his works carving out a space for limitless potential - a paradoxical symbol of hope within chaos.

“I believe it’s through nature that we find freedom.” Tomás Sánchez