Artist Interviews 2022
By Johnny Otto
You were born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, and attended art school there. What was it like there at the time, and what is the biggest misconception about life and culture in Cuba?
I attended the School for Art instructors in Cuba and was part of the first generation of teach- ers for the art vocations. I had the opportunity of being tutored by Juan Miguel Suárez, one of the most recognizable artists in my country. I continued my studies in Havana, where I collabo- rated with various artists. I was a young artist looking to make a living out of my passion then. Cubans are very proud and hospitable people that can make you a part of their family over a cup of strong espresso. Unfortunately, back in Cuba, materials are scarce for artists, forcing you to experiment with other mediums. I found myself painting over the same canvas several times. I had to mix my paint before putting the colors on the paper.
When you moved to Florida, what was the most significant diﬀerence in the art scene and how did it aﬀect how you painted or inspired you?
The art scene in Miami is fast growing. Several institutions are supporting the works of young upcoming artists, and this is an excellent place for art appreciation. South Florida is home to a large community of intellectuals, collectors, and fellow artists who have welcomed me into their cosmopolitan scene. My first solo exhibition in Miami took place at Miami Dade College West. This exhibition was entitled "Preserving Cultural Heritage" and featured an extensive collection of coﬀee paintings.
Who are your most significant influences?
What is Art? To anyone can mean diﬀerent things, from something with vibrant colors to some- thing that changes your thoughts. In my case, art is the label for something that moves you to create, connect with others, and express your authenticity. My most significant influence has always been Joaquin Sorolla, a Spanish painter primarily known for the use of light. When I had the opportunity to watch his works, it was surreal to me. I suddenly became a child again. I strive to share this experience with others throughout my pieces.
Can you discuss your technique and how your approach a new piece?
My creative process is not a straight line; it combines imagination, dreams, and everyday living. I will make several sketches of my thoughts, such as a beautiful scenery I don't want to forget. I will choose the colors and allow myself to be playful to enjoy the process. I will make bigger or smaller pieces with watercolors, oils, or coﬀee on paper. I have been lately using the painting technique: Impasto. This consist of a thick application of paint that does not attempt to look smooth. Instead, impasto is intentionally thick to be textured and exists to show oﬀ the brush and palette knife marks. I love to use diﬀerent techniques and mediums for my art pieces since each needs a unique expression.
Who would you like to collaborate with and why?
If I could I will work with every artist that has inspired me through out my career, and the ones that will come in the future. As of the top of my head at this moment, I would love to collabo- rate with Aubrey Levithal, Jenna Gribbon, Jennifer Parker, Yoan Capote, Julio Larraz, Adrian Ghenie, Jonathan Green, and Soman Toor. There is a sense of community and representation when they use their artworks to give voices to the everyday situations we go through. They all diﬀer in styles and how they approach their paintings, but the essence at its core is the same: art for the soul. Since painting is another word for a feeling, I would like to take my work to other companies and have it serve the music and theater scene.
What other passions do you have or creative endeavors?
I am an avid collector of other Cuban artists' art, especially from Pinar Del Rio. A selection of works from my collection was exhibited at City Gallery in Charleston in 2013 and the Art Muse- um in Myrtle Beach in 2015. I also love music and poetry.
Do you have any shows coming up, or what are you working on?
I will have a show coming up in February at the Harmon Meek Gallery. This exhibition will be an homage to my previous one at The Butler Institute of American Art. The collection is "What Is Essential Is Invisible to the Eye." I include works in diﬀerent media: oils, watercolors, and mixed media, dabbing into various issues of human perception. These works are presented as a pro- gression in my career as an artist.
What are some of your favorite experiences showing your work?
I remembered when I had the opportunity to showcase my art at Kapo Maestro Gallery and the shivers that gave to be able to do so. That was a great opportunity because it represented my first steps in the art world outside my home country. Viewing my art in a gallery or museum is always a great experience and an opportunity that, as an artist, I am grateful for and will always appreciate.