Vicente Luis Mora, Fred Cabeza de Vaca [Fred Cowhead], 2017, 332 p.
28th Torrente Ballester prize
A female academic plans to write a biography on “the most universal Spanish artist since Picasso”: Fred Cabeza de Vaca [Fred Cowhead]. For this she dives into an investigation that pretends to reconstruct the late artist’s life, but mainly to try to decipher the enigma behind the artist and the polemic person. Through interviews with both, colleagues as well as ex partners of the artist (of whom he keeps track with a numbered register as if they were objects to collect and discard), and through the writings and diaries of Cabeza de Vaca himself, there emerges a figure sometimes fascinating, sometimes repulsive, that functions perfectly as the archetype of the spell and the excesses of the contemporary art’s world. Thus, as readers we struggle to seek to understand if Cabeza de Vaca was a genius or a phoney, a visionary or an opportunist, an intelligent promoter of himself or a hopeless careerist.
Using a technique similar to that of the collage, Vicente Luis Mora has created a fascinating portrait of an artist, an epoch and a world, that of contemporary art, defined by excesses and by the radicality of carrying the work to limits that, as shows the case of Fred Cabeza de Vaca, often end with devouring the whole existence of those who decide to offer themselves in pursuit of the glamour and fame implicit in today’s art.
from a review by J.A. Masoliver Ródenas:
Fred Cabeza de Vaca represents an enormous leap [in the writer’s career], an ambitious novel into which he put six years, convinced that a writer’s greatness can be found in his most radical indepence. […] The literary references don’t define only a type of aesthetics but also a type of ethics, when he celebrates authors such as Salinger or Pynchon, far away from the world’s roar. […] He cites the Latin classics, Novalis, Paul Valéry […] The novel has got two centres, both equally forceful: the intelligent reflections on art and on his art, that show Mora’s solid knowledge and his alert intelligence. But that which will really fascinate the readers is his relationship with women. […] But the most intense pages are those of physical decay, the defeat that converts him into a human being. The novel ends with an incredible turn that resumes that which has been insinuated all through the book: the Spain of individual and public putrefaction. […] Fred Cabeza de Vaca is a formidable revelation.
SOURCE: Sexto Piso (publisher); review in “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, Nov. 11, 2017, p. 6 [printed edition]