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Damián Aquiles divides his time between his gallery/home at Calle 25 No. 1012 entre 2 y 4 in the residential area of El Vedado in the capital, surrounded by formerly elegant bourgeois mansions, and his workshop/home in Jaruco, a peaceful town approximately 50 km from Havana.
Damián has one obsession: working. And he does it as if, at 36, he had only a few more years to live. This is why you will not normally find him at gatherings, soirées, cocktail parties or any other of the usual events of Havana’s intellectual and artistic world.
During my tour around his studio in El Vedado, it is apparent that he has a number of very distinct styles of work. His small metallic walking human figures were initially conceived as casts that were to be oxidized with salt water in order to imprint their mark on the canvas, but, suddenly, they became independent and began to multiply until 600 of them occupied the entire surface of a gallery, or sets of 20 or 30 monopolized a privileged corner of a house. They bear—in the words of artist and curator Nelson Ramírez de Arellano—“a thousand-year-old past, genuine representatives of the times in which we live, expressing contemporary paradigmatic situations we all share with that human cast, but always preserving the dignity of the unrepeatable.”
Damián has also worked extensively with brass formed by squares of scrap material, perfectly flattened, marked by its creator, and grouped according to an impeccable arrangement not in any way foreign to the design studies Damián took from 1992 to 1996, and which are inevitably reminiscent of Theo van Doesburg’s conception and Piet Mondrian’s view that art is the creation of elementary relations.
More recently Damián has used a combination of techniques (especially collages and drippings) on canvas to produce abstract work with a strong emotional impact. His use of scrawling—free motions of writing or an imperfect imitation of automatic writing—and, in particular, graffiti, with key words, force the viewer to connote the emotional impact in the direction that the artist is interested in.
Perhaps a public which is much too attached to the obvious will not find in Damián Aquiles’s work the key to what has been called ‘cubanidad’; then again, whoever looks carefully will discover in the chosen material, in the use of a word that packs a canvas with meaning, in the strength of the anonymous crowd, in each of his works, signs of a nationality that the artist does not adopt as a skin-deep trend but bears as an essence, seeking—as Don Miguel de Unamuno called for—to find “in the core of what is limited and restricted, universality; in the core of what is temporary and fleeting, eternity.”
May 2015 This article formed part of the May 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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