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Flavio Cabral


Flavio E. Cabral was born in New York City on July 7, 1916 of Portuguese parents. 

Cabral arrived in Los Angeles in 1936 and studied at Von Schneidau School of Art while employed by the Federal Arts Project.  

By 1940 he was active in the local art scene.  After earning his M.A. degree from California State University, he taught at Valley College into the 1970s.  While in that capacity, he painted murals in public buildings, portraits of notables, and surreal figures. 

Cabral  lived in the small town of Agoura near Los Angeles until a fatal heart attack on March 22, 1990.

 Exhibited:  San Francisco Art Ass'n, 1941; Stendahl Galllery (Los Angeles), 1942; California Watercolor Society, 1942-47; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1944; Laguna Beach Art Ass'n, 1942-45; Hollywood Art Center, 1950; Chaffey Community Art Ass'n, 1954; Glendale Art Ass'n, 1962. 

Works held: Los Angeles Public Library (portrait); Fulton (CA) Junior High School Library (66' mural).

Biography from his estate:

Flavio was Initially self-taught, his earliest art techniques were mastered as a young boy, when he would spend hours copying pictures of movie stars from fan magazines. At twenty, he moved to Los Angeles, where he settled for the remainder of his life. Most of Cabral’s formal training occurred at the Von Schneidau School of Art, through his work and affiliation with the Federal Art Project under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Original Cabral paintings and oral history tapes concerning his participation in that program are part of the Smithsonian's permanent Archives of American Art collection.

Cabral painted murals in public buildings, portraits of celebrities, surreal figures, and notably, easel paintings in a particular style he developed called Spherism, a unique departure from Cubism, yet intimately related to it. Some of Cabral’s work executed in the 1930's and 40's show the influence of his discoverer, mentor and sponsor, the internationally famed Mexican muralist David Alfero Siqueiros. Having visited family members in Trinidad in several trips over his lifetime, additional canvases capture the poverty and simple joys of island life. However, critics agree that Cabral’s most innovative and distinctive works were painted in the style he created and pioneered of Spherism.

The Federal Art Project in which Cabral participated supported future iconic artists like Jackson Pollock Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Louise Nevelson, and Grant Wood, as well as the great Mexican muralist/painters Diego Rivera and David Sequeiros, the latter who shared with Cabral a mutual Portuguese heritage, Siqueiros being a descendant of Felipe Alfaro of Portugal. As a young teenager in 1930, Cabral attended the “Mexican Artists and Artists of the Mexican School” exhibition at the Delphic Studios, New York City, where he encountered Siqueiros’ politically themed lithograph “Head,” and became an admirer of Siqueiros’ powerful work.

Cabral would first meet the renowned social realist artist/ activist in1935-6, when Siqueiros was the guest of honor at the Contemporary Arts exhibition at New York’s St. Regis Gallery, where he also ran an experimental political art workshop for American students in preparation for the 1936 General Strike for Peace and May Day parade. Attending the same workshop with Cabral was young Jackson Pollock, who, alongside Cabral, helped to construct floats for the upcoming parade. Like Cabral, Pollock would credit a good portion of his own artistic influence to Siqueiros.

By 1940, Cabral was firmly entrenched in the Los Angeles art scene. He was earning a living painting portraits and murals, working as an illustrator, executing art for building lobbies and store windows on Sunset, Hollywood, and Wilshire Boulevards. For several years, Cabral, then fondly identified locally as “the Latin from Manhattan,” was exclusively responsible for all displays at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, as well as for the Egyptian and Hawaiian Theatres. It was during this period that the artist met his future wife, Louise Cohen, who was studying to be a concert pianist.

The couple caught each other’s eye across the proverbial “crowded room” at a dance populated largely by men in uniform. Recalls Louise Cabral: “Then I spotted this civilian, a thin young man wearing a heavy knit sweater that made him look kind of stuffed.” While dancing together, the thin but stuffed young man told her he was having a one-man show of his paintings at a leading art gallery in Los Angeles. “I thought, what a liar!” the painter’s widow recalls. After the dance, the young man invited her on a date, suggesting they travel by bus because of wartime gas rationing, affirming however, that he did own a car.

“I thought, ‘Sure you do!’” laughs Louise Cabral. It turned out that Cabral not only did have a car and an art show, but that the pair had a great deal in common. They were wed soon thereafter, a marriage which endured until the artist’s death 45 years later. Two children, Darien and Denise, were born of their union.

Flavio Cabral’s fabled car, a ‘32 Pontiac, would serve the couple well in 1946, when, at the invitation of David Siqueiros., the adventurous young Cabrals embarked on a 1500 mile automobile trip from Los Angeles to Mexico City, hauling Cabral’s paintings over dusty, unpaved, previously untrod roads, many so primitive they were not even on the map.

In Siqueiros’ own words: “... (When) Flavio Cabral, thirty year old North American painter of Portuguese origin, showed me his works, I saw in them a subtle perception of poetic, subjective elements that constitute the primordial elements in the best painting of all time. Such an observation impelled me to approach Carlos Pellicer,” the master muralist continued, “to give him the opportunity of exhibiting Cabral's works in the Palace of Fine Arts.” Pellicer, influential Mexican poet and contemporary of Octavio Paz, was heavily active in the promotion of Mexican art, and helped to establish a number of museums in Mexico City.

Thanks to Siqueiros’s unflagging support as well as to Pellicer’s enthusiastic response to his talent, Cabral apprenticed and received a fellowship to study in Mexico City at the esteemed Academy of San Carlos. While in Mexico, he was honored with several one man shows, including the aforementioned exclusive engagement at Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes, the most important cultural center in the country, arranged by Siqueiros.

Cabral’s interest in the human form developed further at the Academy. His accentuation of the angles of the body, its muscles and joints, can be seen throughout his career in his portrayals of the human body. Of his protege’s Mexico sojourn, Siqueiros declared: “That which Cabral has learned in his Mexican experience, both the positive and negative aspects, is of enormous value. In the area of realism, Cabral absorbed a progressive social inclination, a modern material technique in all the positive breadth of these terms, a form and style imbued with a social sense, with “his” technique, and as consequence of all this, an aesthetic sense particular only to Cabral.”

Following this very fruitful time spent south of the border, Cabral completed undergraduate and graduate studies at California State University, where he earned B.A. and Masters degrees in education, and then pursued an academic career in conjunction with painting. He was a professor of painting and art history for thirty years at Los Angeles Valley College, and painted until the day he died of a massive heart attack on March 22, 1990.