The Art of Cuba

"7 de Marzo de 1958," oil on canvas by Karlos Perez (2015: Havana, Cuba)

As Cuba welcomes more and more American tourists and seems to encourage or at least tolerate more enterprise, it is not surprising that the entrepreneurial artists who call Cuba home will also benefit. Nor is it surprising that Cuba has always gone to great lengths to cultivate the arts which it has always celebrated – pre and post-revolution. Government run schools such as the Matanzas School of Art & Culture which we visited are training students in studio art and music and like all education in Cuba, it’s free. When they leave this school, which also teaches them all the high school basics, they are considered professionals in their chosen field.

What was surprising is that innumerable artists seem to have been peddling their wares in America for years now, regardless of an embargo. A healthy and enterprising exchange appears to have flourished. Many artists have been exporting their work to America for years – yet another example of the contradictions and complications that make Cuba such a captivating study today.

I recently visited with three such talented artists in Havana…all of whom are thriving (by Cuban standards) and doing a booming business it would seem with Los Americanos.

Osmany Betancourt Falcon as known as “Lolo”, is an award-winning sculptor who works in bronze, ceramic and mixed media and who shares studio and gallery space with two other artists at Galeria-Taller in Matanzas. The working studio is open for tours and the gallery is a showcase of amazing contemporary Cuban art. Lolo has a patron in San Francisco where much of his work has landed.

Rosana Vargas (Rox) is a jeweler with a workshop in the Playa neighborhood of Havana where she and her silversmiths craft elegant and contemporary silver jewelry. Her jewelry can be found in major hotel lobby gift shops throughout Havana and at the Havana Airport, Terminal 3. Este Lauder was in Havana right before we visited doing photography for a new ad campaign and used Rox’s jewelry in the shoot.

Rox staged a “trunk show” at her studio for the women in my group who purchased almost every piece she had displayed for them — lovely silver pieces with mother of pearl and semi-precious stones. An American-based Cuban tour guide whom we met will soon start representing Rox in the states.

Twenty-six year old painter Karlos Perez is a well-known, up and coming young artist whose work is featured in galleries throughout the world, including in the U.S. in Miami and New Orleans. Karlos produces (among other images) oil paintings based on photographs from the 1930-1960’s; evocative blurred sepia toned images, depicting different themes including the Peter Pan children exodus from Cuba in the early 60’s. Karlos has myopia, but removes his thick eye glasses to paint thus creating the blurred, impressionistic images.

Karlos’ work was recently featured in the Al Pacino/Anthony Hopkins movie Misconduct; I was told that Antonio Banderas has purchased his work for inclusion in an upcoming movie. Fifty percent of Karlos’ clients are in New York. One couple in our group purchased one of his large canvases for $10,000. He will bring it to Miami with him in a few weeks, the happy owners-to-be will transfer the money to him in the states and he will ship the painting to them.

Clearly, it would appear that certain trade with the United States is alive and well. In my opinion, our country will only be enriched by the removal of trade sanctions, restrictions that should have been discarded long ago.

Part one in a series on Cuba written from Havana.