Tucked into the Contemporary wing of the LA Art Show was a little treasure trove of Cuban art in the booth of Miami-based gallery Cernuda Arte. Characterized by a whimsical air and intensely vibrant palettes, this selection of paintings by Cuban artists reflects the myriad influences of the European, African, Chinese, and North American cultural traditions that make up the island’s complex history and diverse society. Magically, these combined influences are filtered through a unique and distinctive Cuban perspective, producing art that is rich with color, meaning and visual resonance. Here’s a closer look at the works of three Cuban painters whose work popped from the walls.
The paintings of Havana born Gina Pellón have a German Expressionist flavor, coupled with a brilliant palette likely derived from the light of her native tropical island. Her images combine an element of portraiture with abstracted backgrounds and subtly interwoven motifs. Her last exhibit in Cuba was in 1959. She left for France later that year, and has since been living in exile. In the case of Pellón, a soupçon of her adopted life in France seems to come through, with a hint of a Matisse like sensibility.
The paintings of Irina Elén González have a magical realist flair. In them, figures in elaborate costumes, float in dreamlike landscapes. The female figures, with their wide skirts, seem to channel something of the essence of Las Meninas of Diego Velazquez -with an added surrealist twist. For this artist, boundaries do not appear to exist. The hair of her subjects may be portrayed as a flowering plant, the border between water and land is inconsequential. Detail, the imagination, and a devotion to beauty predominate.
Another, more primitive perspective is presented in the paintings of Manuel Mendive, one of Cuba’s most prominent artists, whose work has been influenced by religious cults like Santeria–the Cuban counterpart to Haiti’s Vodou. In both his painting and sculpture, representations of animals and the human figure undulate in harmony with the features of his fantasy-like landscapes.
It’s a triumph that the visual arts have thrived in this small island nation despite extreme socio-political and economic constraints.
Top image: La Felicidad (The Happiness) by Irina Elén Gonzáles (2012, acrylic on canvas 47 X 35 1/4 inches)
Coral Gables, Florida
LA Art Show 2013