Since postal services were developed and implemented, nations have used postage stamps as branding tools, often using images chosen to highlight characteristic aspects of the people, the geography, the natural environment, and major historical events. In his photographic work, Adrian Fernandez takes a deep look into the stamps of his native Cuba, and deliberately creates a mosaic that depicts the history of the island over the last century. With this work he re-examines Cuba’s image. He looks at the nation’s identity, its ideology and the image that Cuban society wanted to portray at the time.
Fernandez zooms in on every detail, analyzing the image and expanding our view of it. At first, the image seems like a pointillist artist’s interpretation. In fact, it is his knowledge of contemporary photographic technologies that allows him this deeper, perhaps introspective view of the stamps.
The prints themselves are composed of ink on paper, very much like the original stamps. It is as if he placed the stamps on a microscope slide to research and document the details of his nation’s history and its projected image. These “chapters” provide a summary of a period in time, much like a diary kept by a person who wants to revisit periods in his life. The visual elements illustrate the periods and provide an unblemished account of the distinct eras that the country has experienced and where it sees itself in the future.
Fernandez deeply examines portions of the stamps, enlarging and isolating sections, important elements and magnifying them through the use of contemporary technologies to create works of art that stand as strong aesthetic statements independent of their origin as images from postage stamps.
The images reach unsuspected results both for the viewer and the artist himself. The process seems similar to the world of the abstract painter who lays down a color and then another to begin discovering the form. In the case of Fernandez’s work, the amplification of the images makes the ink morph into unexpected shapes which he accepts or rejects to form his final composition.
In the hands of the artist, the fragments and details become modernist abstractions. It’s as if we were looking at an object and we squinted so that the object became less recognizable so we could focus on its other elements, color, shape or texture. These are further enhanced by the “magic” of the visual grid, which create a kind of molecular, even microcosmic look at the objects.
Fernández ignores the characters depicted, who have obvious importance since they were commemorated by the country in their postage stamps, focusing instead on the beauty of the shapes, colors and textures that he is seeing.
The selection of images, and divisions of images utilized demonstrate a profound understanding of visual media and a powerful identity with his native Cuba.
The transformation of the postage stamps through the use of his camera and digital technology deliver a powerful statement that transcends the original images. At the same time, remembering their origin evokes a deeper sense of the meaning of these compelling works.
Using the postage stamps as a point of departure, he has created a body of work of tremendous depth creating a visual document of the important chapters in Cuba’s history and aspirations. Although the stamps depict diverse periods and character, the images are bound together, just like the people who were connected through the letters they shared, using these postage stamps over the last century.