“From the Bridge”
Having been a Ship’s Captain, a Naval Officer a Mathematics & Science Teacher, most people would believe that my primary interests would be directed towards the sciences. On the other hand, those that know me to be an author interested in history, may believe me to be interested in the arts. University degrees usually fall into the general category of Art or Science. It’s as if we have to pick sides and back one or the other team…. With my degree in Marine Science I am often divided and pigeon holed into this specific discipline or area of interest. One way or the other, this holds true for most of us but is this really true for any of us. As a father I can certainly do other things. Being a navigator doesn’t preclude me from driving a car. Hopefully this article does more than just introduce Cuban Art and in addition gives us all good reason to be accepted as more than a “Johnny One Note.“ My quote that “History is not owned solely by historians. It is a part of everyone’s heritage” hopefully opens doors allowing that we be defined as a sum of all our parts, not just a solitary or prominent one. As it happens, I believe that “Just as science feeds our intellect, art feeds our soul.”
For the years that Cuba was under Spanish rule, the island was a direct reflection of Spanish culture. Cuba was thought of as an extension of Spain’s empire in the Americas, with Havana and Santiago de Cuba being as Spanish as any city in Spain. Although the early Renaissance concentrated on the arts of Ancient Greece and Rome, it spread to Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries. The new interest in literature and art that Europe experienced quickly spread to Cuba in the years following the colonization of the island. Following their counterparts in Europe, Cuban Professionals, Government Administrators and Merchants demonstrated an interest in supporting the arts. In the 16th century painters and sculptors from Spain painted and decorated the Catholic churches and public buildings in Cuba and by the mid-18th century locally born artists continued this work.
During the early part of the 20th century Cuban artists such as Salvador Dali, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso introduced modern classicism and surrealism to Europe. Cuban artist Wilfred Lam can be credited for bringing this artistic style to Cuba. Another Cuban born painter of that era, Federico Beltran Masses, known to be a master of colorization as well as a painter of seductive images of women, sometimes made obvious artistic references to the tropical settings of his childhood. As Cuban art evolved it encompassed the cultural blend of African, European and American features, thereby producing its own unique character. One of the best known works of Cuban art, of this period, is La Gitana Tropical, painted in 1929, by Víctor Manuel.
After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, during the early 1960’s, government agencies such as the Commission of Revolutionary Orientation had posters produced for propaganda purposes. Although many of them showed Soviet design features, some still contained hints of the earlier Cuban style for more colorful designs. Towards the end of the 1960’s, a new Cuban art style came into its own. A generation of artists including Félix Beltran, Raul Martinez, Rene Mederos and Alfredo Rostgaard created vibrantly powerful and intense works which remained distinctively Cuban. Though still commissioned by the State to produce propaganda posters, these artists were accepted on the world stage for their individualistic artistic flair and graphic design.
After bringing the various and distinct symbols of the island into their work, present day Cuban artists presented their work at the Volumen Uno Exhibit in Havana. Some of these artists were Jose Bedia, Juan Francisco Elso, Lucy Lippard, Ana Mendieta and Tomas Sanchezare. Their intention was to make a nationalistic statement as to who they were without being concerned over the possibility of government repercussions. Historians and art critics, perhaps attempting to mitigate this possibility, have suggested that this may have been partially due to their isolation from the rest of the world rather than for political reasons. However since “Art is in the eye of the beholder,” their work can have various interpretations. Once the economic embargos are lifted from Cuba, perhaps a freer style of Cuban art will unfold and present itself.
Captain Hank Bracker is an amateur art collector and the author of the multiple award winning book “The Exciting Story of Cuba” is available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, BooksAMillion.com, as well as independent book vendors. Read, Like and share his daily blogs and weekly commentaries found on his Website, Facebook, Goodreads & Twitter accounts. Comments can best be sent to PO Box 607, Elfers, FL 34680.