Eduardo Roca «choco» (Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, 1949)

Eduardo Roca «Choco»

Eduardo Roca «choco» (Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, 1949)

Eduardo Roca «Choco»

– Virginia Alberdi Benítez –

– Art Critic –

Choco, the renowned Cuban artist, shines with his own light. Perhaps not all inhabitants of the Caribbean island know that his name is Eduardo Roca Salazar, but when you say Choco – the familiar name with which he signs his pieces – Cubans understand that you are speaking of a well-known artist. It is not necessary to be familiar with his work in detail or to frequently visit the spaces where he exhibits; in the public domain, beyond the specialized circles, Choco is someone whom everyone admires for contributing to the heart of Cuban culture.

That perception has been forged over time and is supported by the regularity of a consistent artistic output, duly accompanied by reviews and the media. The most influential Cuban critics followed the creator’s work attentively since the beginning of his career. The national television has dedicated programs to him, and a promotional video from a series on some thirty artists from the island has had a significant tenure for years in prime time.

In recent years, two documentaries on his life and artistic career have had notable impact: Choco (2014), by U.S. professor and filmmaker Juanamaría Cordones Cook, and El hombre de la sonrisa amplia y la mirada triste (The Man with the Wide Smile and Sad Glance) (2016), by Cuban filmmaker Pablo Massip.

But the most decisive recognition comes from the forms of interaction that reinforce group appreciation and statements of opinion, originating from Choco’s active participation in Cuban cultural life: not only in activities related with visual arts, but also in other areas of creativity and social events.

It is no coincidence that prestigious writers and intellectuals from various disciplines have issued appraisals of his work and published impressions that endorse a legacy they consider essential for the spiritual heritage of their fellow countrymen.

His participation in salons and biennials, the awards he has received, his mural paintings, the collaboration with dance companies, and the use of his images in shows have contributed to the notoriety of his work and granted visibility to his artistic mark.

To this must be added his early and subsequently growing recognition in international circles. Gallery owners and art collectors were captivated by the artist as he became known in Latin America, Europe, the United States, and Japan.

As if that were not enough, his work and life coherently complement the artist’s personality. The human being and creator merge in a sole entity. This was perceived in the early days by the great poet Eliseo Diego, who in 1976 wrote, “Eduardo Roca has stopped promising and is already a painter from head to toe. But although his feet are well placed on the ground – in his country – and the head is clear and held on high, it is from the heart that his painting emerges.” And it was confirmed in 1999 by novelist, essayist and politician Abel Prieto: “Choco, unlike others, turns a youthful fifty, without bitterness, with his smile intact, delivering his friendship and his work with the generosity of men; of true artists.”

To decode Choco and understand why he is a prophet in his land and in many other places, one must search into his roots, his aesthetic ideas, and the context of his evolution.

One cannot explain the artist without the social and cultural transformations that took place in Cuba after the change of regime in 1959. The opportunities for personal fulfillment for a Cuban of humble origin born in 1949 were limited. His first years were spent in Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second most important city, located in the eastern region.

As a child he would draw in the school notebooks. A teacher became aware of his skill and encouraged him to answer a call to train the first art instructors. A school had been opened in Havana that rapidly prepared young people from all over the island with the mission of teaching fine arts, dance, music and theater in cities and countryside, schools and factories, military units and fishing villages. That educational effort in 1961 coincided with the massive literacy campaign that taught tens of thousands to read and write in scarcely eleven months.

After two years Choco graduated as an art instructor in visual arts. He recalls his arrival in Havana with a wooden suitcase and the entrance to the school, located in a luxury hotel in the neighborhood that until a short time earlier had been inhabited by the national bourgeoisie. He was the youngest student, and because of the color of his skin his classmates began to call him “Chocolate”, which was gradually shortened to “Choco”.

Since he was only fourteen years old when he graduated in 1963 he was not legally allowed to work, so he was able to continue his studies at the recently opened National School of Art (ENA), in Cubanacán.

The ENA teaching staff in Choco’s day (he graduated there in 1970) included distinguished representatives of the Island’s artistic vanguard. One of these professors was Antonia Eiriz, who exerted great influence upon the first graduates to whom she transmitted the secrets of the craft and the encouragement to develop their own personalities. Another important artist who taught him was Servando Cabrera Moreno, of whom Choco has said, “Without Servando, neither I nor many of my contemporaries would have arrived at the conceptions on art we have today. Servando greatly widened our expectations as painters.” And although painting was in the center of the training, Choco had already come in contact with printing techniques. This, as we shall see later, was providential for the future development of his career.

From Havana he briefly returned to Santiago de Cuba where he worked as a teacher. He moved back to the Cuban capital in 1973, where he settled and dedicated himself to teaching, first in the San Alejandro Academy, and later at the ENA. In the mid-seventies he began to visit the Experimental Graphics Workshop at the Plaza de la Catedral of Havana, where he developed as an engraver until becoming one of the undisputed masters of the specialty.

The painter from the 1970s became well known for his canvases of popular epic themes shared at the time with several of his contemporaries: anonymous heroes of the sugarcane harvest, peasants tied to their land, landscapes transformed by human sensibility.

Regarding those avatars, two events should be taken into consideration. First, his stay in Angola in 1978 as collaborator of the Cuban Civil Mission in the field of culture, which enabled him to obtain direct knowledge of a reality interconnected to his ethnic origins. In addition, there was the beginning of his international career, particularly his emergence in the United States in 1981, when he shared an exhibition with the painter Nelson Domínguez in San Francisco. This is not fortuitous: Choco is one of most popular contemporary Cuban artists in the United States, even before earning the Grand Prize at the Fourth International Print Triennial of Kochi, Japan in 1999, which undoubtedly increased the value of his work.

Since the 1980s Choco evolved stylistically toward the definitive symbols that characterize his images. In general, a reference to take into consideration was the inevitable influence the New Figuration aesthetics exerted not only on him, but also on the early promotions of artists trained at the ENA.

It is worth mentioning that it was not the assimilation of the European criterion of this trend, which included Irishman Francis Bacon, Frenchman Jean Dubuffet, and Spaniard Antonio Saura, but the proximity to the Latin American trend, led by Venezuelan Jacobo Borges, Mexican José Luis Cuevas, and Argentinean Antonio Berni, among others. The latter, by the way, was promoted in Cuba by Casa de las Américas. In his expressionistic version, the neo-figuratism in the Island reached one of its peaks precisely in the work of Antonia Eiriz.

If our artist shows a connection with certain principles of the New Figuration to some extent and in a tangential manner, that is because when observing his paintings and prints one notices the importance of the recovery of the iconic representation and the relation between the human figure and the construction of the painting space itself.

Unlike the generation of artists who emerged in the 1980s, however, neither Choco nor his generational companions dedicated, even remotely, energy to theoretical discussions. They painted, drew, and printed according to their own expressive needs. And if initially they seemed to respond to a spirit of the times, they went on to choose their paths individually resulting from experiences and personal possibilities. In Choco’s case, these experiences nourished his creative impulses and extracted an essential connection that is present in all his work, which the artist has established with the Cuban nationality.

Choco thinks visually what the island’s major poet, Nicolás Guillén, called Cuban color. Neither African nor European, neither black nor white; the artist reflects the result of a new identity, qualitatively different from the ones supplied by the sources. As Guillén stated in 1931, “To begin with, the spirit of Cuba is racially mixed…” and considered that “From the spirit to the skin will come the definitive color; some day it will be called Cuban color.” From the late twentieth century into the present one Choco has faithfully and masterly interpreted the transition from that anticipation to a latent reality.

That is evident both in the physical features of his human figures and in the skin textures and atmosphere of each composition. To verify this, examine the repertoire of images displayed in ArteMorfosis gallery. The pieces exhibited there have been recreated in impeccable prints, his well-known collagraphs that are true masterpieces. People crowned by birds, fruits, and hats; faces of mineral consistency that glow with earthly colors; women distributed in space; a dancer of irradiating gesture; a Venus that is saved from original sin; each and every one of them on backgrounds of abundant textures. His painting, with figurations related to the ones in his prints show his mastery of this art form. The polychrome sculptures burrow into the wood for the mystery of plant fibers.

From a technical point of view, the viewer of the exhibited works could ignore the difference between painting and engraving, since what matters and impacts is the visual outcome. The artist actually assumes both lines of accomplishment without stopping in watertight compartments. The porous nature of the borders between one and the other form is due to the character and dominion of the collagraphic technique and internalization of the latter’s effects on the painting procedures.

Choco is conscious of that crossing. He admitted to Cuban journalist Estrella Díaz in an interview, “I learned about collagraphy, and when I started working with it I saw that I was actually painting, because the technique fitted perfectly with my way of painting. Collagraphy, because of its possible textures, reliefs, and technique of execution, was a very interesting and very contemporary painting form. Therefore, I did not feel I was printing – I felt I was painting.”

Painting, engraving, sculpture: Choco is one and indivisible. He summarizes ancestral wisdom and unyielding vitality. The Yorubas, one of the ethnic groups that contributed to the formation of the Cuban nationality, have a saying: “I am because you are.” That is the key – alpha and omega, beginning and end – of his work.

Havana, September 2016

Virginia Alberdi Benítez (Havana, 1947) Graduate from the Higher Pedagogic Institute Enrique José Varona, 1970. Art critic, editor-in-chief of Artecubano ediciones. During more than twenty years she was a Specialist in Promotion at the National Council for Plastic Arts (CNAP). During five years she was a senior specialist at the gallery Pequeño Espacio, at CNAP. She has curated numerous solo and group exhibitions. Her texts appear as collaborations in La Jiribilla, Granma newspaper, the tabloid Noticias de Arte Cubano, the magazines Artecubano, On Cuba, Acuarela. She has written texts for catalogues of different artists.
Portrait of Alicia Leal

Alicia Leal

Portrait of Alicia Leal

Alicia Leal (*1957) courtesy of the artist

Catharsis and Authenticity


–Art Critic

A young woman flies along with a rooster whose wings have the colors of fire and the sky. One ignores where it comes from or heads to. The retina only fixes one and the other on the front plane, with a background of very light trees and waves (are they waves or bubbles?) that hardly support the painting’s main characters.

Another young woman hides her head in her thorax, accompanied by doves and illuminated by a sun of honey-colored rays, leaving a rain of fine spores suspended in the air ( in the air or on the earth?)

Rapto - Entführung - 2016 – Acryl auf Leinwand - 81 cm x 100 cm

Rapto – Entführung – 2016 – Acrylic on Canvas – 81 cm x 100 cm

Fables without morals? Stories without words? Narrations or metaphors? To what extent does reality mix with dreams and dreams with reality?

These questions are born from observing Alicia Leal’s work, in this case the latest one, the ones of recent years and even some made five years ago. But they might also emerge from a retrospective of her creation, at least from the moment when she defined an unmistakable art form.

Someone might say that Alicia is an artist touched by an elf. Others attribute her virtues to a kind of state of grace. I would say that we are in front of a personality that has succeeded in finding those magic strings that emerge from her visual repertoire with intuition, craftsmanship, persistent search, imagination, wisdom and communicational vocation.

Without stridency or sudden jumps, discreetly but decidedly, Alicia Leal has conquered both demanding specialists and simple spectators in Cuba and abroad. No one connects her with the topics of the Cubanness, but almost surely her work wouldn’t be what it is if she hadn’t been born and lived on an island that grants her experiences, challenges and revelations.

. . .

A first explanation of Alicia’s artistic profile is to be found in the family environment. Her grandparents arrived to Cuba’s central region from the Canary Islands. There, in that Spanish archipelago, they still hadn’t met. The relationship was born in Antillean lands. Her parents, first-generation Cubans, always honored their ancestry, but obviously assumed a new feeling of belonging.

Hacer el tiempo - Zeit gewinnen - 2009 – Acryl auf Leinwand - 38,4 cm x 37,3 cm

Hacer el tiempo – Make Time – 2009 – Acrylic on Canvas – 38,4 cm x 37,3 cm

Although Alicia moved to Havana when she was very small, she never lost her link with her peasant origins in a flat zone, south of the old village of Sancti Spiritus, where the soil is predominantly adequate for the cultiva­tion of tobacco. The place she was born in is called Las Varas. It is difficult to locate it in an ordinary map, on the borders of the Taguasco municipality.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, hundreds of Canary Islanders settled in those places and many of them never returned to the starting point. They contributed their customs, idioms, dishes, legends and idiosyncrasy to the Cuban material and spiritual culture, on the basis of an intimate integration that made them become an inseparable part of the Cuban identity in its rural component. Representative of that culture are the tunes, ten-stanza verses, ghost stories, wakes, parlor games, proverbs and riddles.

It was, and still is to a certain extent an oral culture – despite the reduction in the differences between city and countryside taking place in the last fifty years – where images are mainly constructed on the oral memory.

This is an important element – as we shall see later on – in order to understand certain codes that appear in Alicia’s work and the artist’s relation with a creative trend –the so-called naïf or ingenuous art, which I prefer to call popular art – which had extended in that region and become a tradition. Because, unlike other painters of that trend, from the canonic times of customs officer Rousseau to our days, popular painters and draftsmen from Las Villas (the Island’s central territory) have taken more interest in illustrating fables and inventing fanta­sies than in painting landscapes and customs-and-manners scenes.

As a child, Alicia traveled many times to Las Varas in her school holidays. She recalls having once seen “a blos­soming bougainvillea escorting the ghosts of her torn down house, where a certain midwife delivered her in hard la­bor”. Among her most recent memories is the day when the horse she was riding bolted and she ended in a stream.

Already in Havana, an adolescent, she matriculated a secondary school that prepared for the military career. Lacking the vocation to fulfill that destiny (her father was an officer of the Revolutionary Armed Forces), Alicia found refuge in a very unique inner world: she wrote, drew and narrated stories in the form of comic strips. A neighbor her age who admired that spontaneous creative ability, told here about schools where she would be able to channel those aptitudes. The girl succeeded in convincing her parents to let her try an art school.

She then matriculated in Havana’s San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy, the oldest institution of its kind in the island. Toward 1975 it was undergoing a gradual renewal of its teaching projections, in tune with the improvement in the country’s art teaching system. In the old days San Alejandro had been the bulwark of the strictest academicism, when the pedagogic line was based on the romantic aesthetics that became evident in the conventional landscapist art. It was a time when hedonism per se and distancing from all that implied aesthetic or social questioning were promoted as immovable ideal, while assuming as correct the imitation of the Barbizon and Fontainebleau French schools or the Spanish San Fernando’s. The foundation of the National School of Art by the country’s new authorities in the early 1960s established the guidelines of a system of solid and the same time free premises that very soon extended throughout the country.

San Alejandro was not only a period of technical training for Alicia, but in the first place a period of cul­tural initiation. She had arrived there as a ‘blank canvas’, if we may use that expression. The history of universal and Cuban art penetrated her eyes and pores together with the rigors of drawing, modeling and composition.

Among the teachers who oriented her were José Fowler, whose pedagogic excellence she recalls very well; in the final courses the already promising Roberto Fabelo, from whom she received drawing and painting lessons, and the venerable sculptor José Antonio Díaz Peláez, a full master in art.

In those days she learned to admire the painting and drawing of Cuban maestros Carlos Enríquez and Ángel Acosta León, developed a preference for Henri Matisse and was impressed by the life and work of Mexi­can Frida Kahlo. Another Mexican also powerfully called her attention: Remedios Varo, of Spanish origin and creator of images close to surrealism, whose human figures are symbolically projected. This element should be taken into consideration because of the influence she received from this artist, not from her style but from her attitude. Among current creators she has a marked preference for the work of one of Cuba’s most outstanding artists, Flora Fong.

The times she lived in an old mansion in Havana’s historical center, a few steps away from the Cathedral Square, surrounded by writers, artists and others prone to bohemian life, somehow influenced Alicia’s future.

. . .

Whoever appreciates the artist’s paintings will hardly connect her to the expressionistic style. It so happened that in the final years of her studies and early 1980s expressionism was the aesthetic trend that most interested her, but she did not feel comfortable in it. Poncito, one of the neighbors of the above-mentioned Old Havana mansion and son of Fidelio Ponce de León, a master of Cuban twentieth-century avant garde, compelled her at that moment: “Be yourself, search inside yourself and you will find yourself”, were his words.

Dentro de mi - In meinem Innersten - 2013 - Acryl auf Papier - 75 cm x 55 cm

Dentro de mi – Inside Myself – 2013 – Acrylic on Paper – 75 cm x 55 cm

She then had to solve quite a different equation: putting herself in front and responding to her interior voice meant distancing herself from what she pretended others to see in her work; it meant discarding the fash­ion rites and ceasing to see herself through others’ eyes. Feeling more than thinking? Trusting intuition and not conviction? No. It was more a question of thinking the feelings, of feeling new convictions.

The encounter with the popular tales collected by folklorist, draftsman, painter and poet Samuel Feijóo, one of the most restless and unclassifiable creatures of twentieth-century Cuban cultural life was a revela­tion. Restless walker, receptor of true or untrue stories told by peasants, agricultural workers and the humblest people he found in the island’s central region – the same where Alicia had been born – Feijóo played a role in the artist’s recovery of the memory of her original environment.

But that happened in oblique form. Neither was Alicia an artist like the ones Feijóo stimulated and spon­sored in one of his many promotional facets, recognized as popular painters and draftsmen from Las Villas (Duarte, Ñika, Alberto Anido, Aidaida, Aslo and a few others), nor was she interested in becoming one. She was not and did not pretend to be naïf like the painters from Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus, established from then on as icons of a paternalistically called primitive trend.

However, she did not approach this trend, either, as others have done, through parodic appropriation or ambiguous paraphrases. Italian semiotic Stefano Traini recalls how, from the second half of the twentieth century on, there have been those who “search the naïf lack of precision as cultured effect” , and mentions bad painters in the United States and graffiti artists who “deliberately seek carelessness”.

In Alicia Leal, the journey to her origins and the spiritual growth that has sustained her work are processes full of autochthony that respond to the sensibility of an artist whose emotional supports articulate organically with her intellectual perspectives.

Throughout time, her work has been moving in four essential directions that in many cases intertwine and nourish reciprocally: the memory (never a copy) of nature; femininity (never feminism); fables (never topical narrative) and the ups and downs of daily life (never customs and manners).

Baño de Luna - Mondbad - 2011 – Acryl auf Leinwand - 72,5 cm x 60,5 cm

Baño de Luna – Moon Bath – 2011 – Acrylic on Canvas – 72,5 cm x 60,5 cm

One has to believe her when she says: “Nature inserts itself in my work, with its signals and winks of mys­tery and life, and this conscious language presenting leading role of the feminine body. I perceive the world as a house where nature is confirmed. The woman is in the center of an existential conflict, with all these references, where the apparent is nothing but a pretext to penetrate deeply and widen the generic sense of artistic percep­tion, adding new nuances to the representative universe of experience, but without estrangements, discovering mental feelings using a language with which I try to scratch the surface.”

It all depends of the tone, of the syntax that connects themes, motifs, animated and inanimate figures. On one side, the slight undulation; on the other, the glance in complicity. Eros sublimated and Orpheus on the flat lands of the Tropics. Deafened but audible rituals. Defined and at the same time caressing lines.

. . .

Alicia Leal arrives in Zurich with the results of her painting experience and at the same time as bearer of a vivify­ing content that grows with time. She has multiplied creation in other spaces. In book illustration she has left a perceptible trace, with a first stop in the editorial commission to accompany Iré a Santiago, a collection of poems by different authors dedicated to the city of Santiago de Cuba. Then she performed in the heights when she illustrat­ed chants from The Divine Comedy. She found challenges and affinities in the poems of her fellow countrywomen Lina de Feria and Olga Navarro and in Cuban Stories and The Old Mill, narrations of Belgian Philippe Calon, in addi­tion to fulfilling commissions of several literary magazines and publishing houses specialized in children’s books.

She has also dedicated efforts to photography. Her exquisite creations have been admired in several exhibitions. One of the most significant works in that field was the illustration of a book of poems by painter and poet Juan Moreira. The artist considers working with the camera as a certain extension of her aesthetic concerns, although in her opinion photography is condensation and silence, concentrated intimacy. She admits sharing a gender point of view in both artistic practices, but nothing else.

Glancing at her recent paintings confirms these words of hers: “The artist lives in constant catharsis. Mak­ing the work is nothing but liberating feelings, ideas, or one’s greatest secrets from the subconscious to the outer world – leaving the superfluous aside; finding the keys to creation, making the handicraft part of the work, of the modeling; translating the relations that surround the artist and the work to gradually create a network that will enable the transmission of a state of mind, whether from sexuality, rage, hatred or despair. Everything takes a meaning, a harmony; there are no ambivalences, because it becomes communication, discourse”.

Her constant dedication to the most pure exercise of art, which has placed her among the most re­nowned Cuban artists both in Cuba and abroad with a presence in galleries, museums and prestigious institu­tions, has not prevented her intense participation in charitable and social actions.

. . .

Everything said about the artist and her work is evidenced in the contrasted feminine figures – day and night? – in Tu nombre es soledad (Your Name is Loneliness), but also in a different way, because of the metaphysical connotations, in Hacer el tiempo (Making Time) and Mundos compartidos (Shared Worlds). Behind the exuberant filigree in La montaña y la ardilla (The Mountain and the Squirrel) one may sense the laby­rinths of fables in an opposed sense to the one shown in La novia del árbol (The Tree’s Fiancée).

From the lyrical evocation of Baño de luna (Moon Bath), Mi verso es un ciervo herido (My Verse is a Wounded Deer) and Dentro de ti florezco (I Bloom inside You), without the slightest deviation from her constructive principles, the artist goes to the enigmatic symbolism of Recurso natural (Natural Resource) or the hieratic attitude with which she oddly pays tribute to the great Cuban painter Wifredo Lam. Tes­timonies that are closer to daily reality, though deprived of the anecdotic and relevant, are the works Burbujas y una visa Americana (Bubbles and a U.S. American Visa), De La Habana a Berlín (From Havana to Berlin) and a vernacular piece that synthesizes allegorically the island’s productive and human landscape.

The traces of popular iconography irrupt in Lágrimas de fina lluvia (Tears of Thin Rain), Toda Cuba dividida en horizontes (All Cuba Divided into Horizons) and Todo cabe bajo el manto de la Virgen (Everything Fits under the Virgin’s Robe). They are works that reveal and recreate one of the main signs of religiosity of Cubans, who invoke the protection of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, consecrated as patroness of Cuba, for human and divine, in joys and disgraces, with brain and heart, irrespective of the cults they profess. Even those who declare themselves agnostics cannot elude the gravitation of this symbol of national culture. In the pieces that make up this show there is evidence of how the creative maturity of this artist and her achievements reach subtly masked philosophical profoundness. Technically, one notes changes in the use of color, dripping and back­grounds that become complex in order to achieve novelty environments.

In the end, the observation of Alicia Leal’s work remits us to a perception that has been a milestone in the relation between the creation and its enjoyment from immemorial times, as resumed by the famous theorist Yuri Lotman: “Art is always a possibility to live what we did not live, to go back, to solve again and to do it in a new way. It’s the experience of what did not happen. Or of what may happen”.

VIRGINIA ALBERDI, Art Specialist, Havana, March 2016

Virginia Alberdi Benítez (Havana, 1947) Graduate from the Higher Pedagogic Institute Enrique José Varona, 1970. Art critic, editor of Artecubano ediciones. During more than twenty years she was a Specialist in Promotion at the National Council for Plastic Arts (CNAP). During five years she was a senior specialist at the gallery Pequeño Espacio, at CNAP. She has curated numerous solo and group exhibitions. Her texts appear as collaborations in La Jiribilla, Granma newspaper, the tabloid Noticias de Arte Cubano, the magazines Artecubano, On Cuba, Acuarela. She has written texts for catalogues of different artists.


Flora Fong, Ernesto García Peña & Gilberto Frometa are representatives of the generation of artists who established their professional career as artists and art professors in the 60’s, and as such revolutionized and formed the aesthetics of the new Cuban society.


The gallery ArteMorfosis celebrated it’s opening year in 2015 with solo exhibitions of these artists because they embody the taste of the Cuban Society. Their work forms part of the collection of contemporary cuban art of the ‘Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana’, and is displayed in all art fairs in Cuba and – most importantly – their work hangs on the walls of many Cuban homes; hardly a household that does not display an edition or print of these artists – they are true ambassadors of Cuban visual taste.

The exhibition shows recent works of Flora, Ernesto and Gilberto and includes a unique highlight from each one: Inspired by their exhibition in Zurich, they created a painting that is displayed for the fist time in this exhibition: Flora shows ‘Primavera en Zurich’ (Spring in Zurich), Ernesto displays ‘La Gran Marcha’ (The Great March) and Gilberto celebrates the successful termination of his exhibition with  ‘When Autumn Ends’.

As diversified the art of these three Cuban Maestros is, ArteMorfosis shows what unites them: Caribbean colors, tropical light, and Cuban ‘joie de vivre’.


Solo exhibition of the Artists: Flora Fong, Ernesto García Peña, Gilberto Frómeta

Gilberto Frometa Fernández

Gilberto Frómeta

Gilberto Frometa Fernández

Gilberto Frometa

The Shades of a Temperament

– Poet, Essayist and Art Critic –

Gilberto Frómeta’s painting belongs to the imagination of quite a few generations of Cubans, including mine. I followed his work with interest and admiration since I was a young man interested in the visual arts; way back then I understood that his painting is an act of faith. Time went by and Frómeta became famous to critics and experts – I would say even more – one cannot write about visual arts in Cuba and ignore the poetics of this artist who is recognized to have occupied a distinctive and original place in the island’s art.

In his exhibition Tropical Light, Frómeta once more shows the mastery of his abstract painting. It should be added that he has no less expertise in figurative work, but that theme should be handled at another point. From the first glance, one recognizes in these pieces aspects of his previous work, precisely the one that made him well known in the Cuban painting scene. It could be said that it is like the elaborated sediment, the presence of a style refined with the years, or better yet, the result of maturity in its fullness now displayed in a discourse constructed for the occasion. Textures and colors, veins and arteries of the image are laid bare; stripes of colors that irrupt like cuts on the canvas surface; superimposed layers of shades and tones, drippings of colors – in short, signs of violence in the images that harmonize and attain balance in a talent that does not resist domestication by the orthodoxy of art. There is no restraint in these pieces, but indeed a sense of composition that prevents the distinctive features to overwhelm or disrupt the final result. The artist’s pure temperament is captured in each painting.

The artist’s subjectivity nourishes his style; in this case it is his emotion that dictates the strokes. The mystery of color; the cryptic nature of abstractionism encourage the poetry contained in the metamorphosis of the images in his paintings. Some works have been implanted with pieces of jute (or sack) fabric, which grants them additional uniqueness. The geometrical aspect is also present – not to define, but acting in support of the images; it is perhaps the central element of the composition.

Frómeta’s abstract painting does not ask questions about the frontiers of art, something that belongs more to the attempts of the so-called conceptual art (from Duchamp to the present); what it does is to exercise freedom of creation within those limits. Neither does it question itself about the limits of abstraction, a genre that became academic at a given point in twentieth century art. Therefore, I insist, what our artist’s abstract painting intends is to recreate to the convulsions the meta-language of abstraction. I could state that his work was always a denial of that odd idea that decreed “the death of painting”. Instead, it is a vital and expressive painting; signs ranging from the silent blue (evocation, of course, of the Caribbean Sea) to the striking red and similar, going through gradations of the dark shades – a gradual descent to the shadows, the luxury of gloom. They are signs that crescendo from the silent murmur to the uninhibited shout of Pollock.

These paintings evoke various sensations in us; one of them is the idea of infinity, often associated with abstraction. “The infinite is demonic and borders the romantic vertigo.”, said Octavio Paz in reference to twentieth century abstract painting. This assertion and my knowledge of Frómeta’s work lead me to suppose that he is one of the old school romantics, a creator in search of the totality of signs. The artist fills the empty space with blood, with fury, with the sharp remarks produced by the most passionate creation, with his character. The work features poetry of movement and transmutations of color, lyrics of a frenzy that does not stop until the conscious abandonment of the piece.

The visual discourse of Tropical Light, its essence, is rhapsodic. Gilberto Frómeta has recreated the diorama of lights of varied intensity characteristic of the Tropics in this exhibition. There is light on top of the colors and underneath them; supporting, fragmenting, and illuminating them. Light is like the latent soul of the pieces of the exhibition. The artist has chosen the solar luminosity of these latitudes and has materialized them in paintings that synthetize and express the Dionysian nature of the Caribbean Sea or of Cuban art, of which he is one of its indisputable masters.

Havana, July 2015

Frometa working on - RELIEF SYMPHONY - Acrílico y óleo sobre lienzo / Acrylic and oil on canvas. 212 x 350 cm 2010 Signed in Beijing

Frometa working on – RELIEF SYMPHONY –
Acrílico y óleo sobre lienzo / Acrylic and oil on canvas. 212 x 350 cm 2010 Signed in Beijing

Rafael Acosta de Arriba (Havana, Cuba, 1953) Art critic, poet, essayist, professor at the University of the Arts (ISA) and at the Fac- ulty of Arts and Literature of the University of Havana. Doctor in Historical Sciences (1998), and Doctor in Sciences (2009). He works as a researcher at the Juan Marinello Institute for Cultural Research in Havana. He has received several prizes and distinctions, among them, on four occasions (1994, 2010, 2012 and 2014) the Annual Prize of Research granted by the Ministry of Culture. In 2011 he received the Guy Pérez Cisneros National Prize of Art Criticism. He presided over the 7th and 8th Havana Biennials. He has lectured at conferences, postgraduate and master courses in Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Italy and Israel. He was chief editor and director of several cultural magazines. In 2005 he founded and was first director of the magazine Fotografía Cubana. From 1999 to 2005 he was President of the National Council for Visual Arts. He has been cura- tor of numerous exhibitions, both in Cuba and abroad. He has published six books of poems and seven books of essays. His essays and articles have been published in specialized magazines.