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As with any list of visual artists who are united by only their nationality, there is little to cohere the artists featured here. The artists at the beginning of this list (whose work dates from the early 20th century) are somewhat united in their penchant for using color in potent and interesting ways; toward the end, the overriding commonality among contemporary artists is the how they unite the conceptual and the aesthetic.
Cuban artistic talent is underlined by the rigorous education that many artists receive at the Superior Institute of Arts, Havana’s bucolic and lauded arts school. While the visual arts have always been a strong suit of Cuba’s cultural output, its contemporary art has become known as a especially powerful, ever more so since the strong generation of artists formed in the 1980s and 1990s has come into its own. Today, many of the contemporary artists listed below can be found on the rosters of some of the world’s top art galleries. While it would be a dangerous undertaking indeed to come up with a list of Best Artists, Most Established is a jumping off point.
1 Amelia Peláez del Casal
Influenced by Cubism and one of the initiators of the Cuban avant-garde movement, she recreates very personal themes, expertly using color in windows, Cuban fruits, tropical flowers and elements that are easily identifiable as Cuban in nature; the marked coloring is generally delimited by thick black lines which are reminiscent of stained-glass windows of 19th century Cuban colonial mansions.
2 Víctor Manuel García
A self-taught artist, his pictorial ideal within the avant-garde established itself with the portrayal of a mulatta with oval face, thick lips and wide-open eyes staring into space that has become the archetype of Cuban women, making his excellent landscapes with strong lines and Cubist references to go somewhat unnoticed.
3 Carlos Enríquez
A rebel by nature, he transmitted his aggressiveness to his avant-garde painting, especially after his bohemian period in Paris, constantly experimenting with movement revealed in his violent, transgressive erotic paintings, with his expert use of transparency and an absolute mastery of composition, light and color.
4 Wifredo Lam
Of African, Chinese, and Spanish descent, Lam participated intensely in the European avant-garde movement, and in his reencounter with Cuba, he defined a Cubist and Surrealist-inspired style in which he developed his own, very personal vision of African culture in his paintings; the half-animal, half-human figures or the intricately interwoven plants are key elements of his work.
5 Florencio Gelabert
A pioneer of the first vanguard of sculptors in Cuba, strongly influenced by French post-impressionism, he preferred wood, although he did not ignore other materials such as bronze or cement, which he used in Velocidad, located in the gardens of Havana’s Bus Station; his slender female faces are anthological pieces of Cuban sculpture.
6 René Portocarrero
An obsessive search for all things Cuban is this painter’s regular feature: interiors, exterior views of the city, popular festivities, mythological beings and female faces. The use of impasto, baroque ornamentation and exultant chromaticism are his favorite means for expressing the national feeling.
7 Rita Longa
A leading figure of Cuban sculpture, with equal mastery she undertook both gallery and environmental sculpture and is the author of exquisite emblematic works in Havana, such as, Grupo familiar, at the Havana Zoo located in the Nuevo Vedado district, and the famous ballerina at the entrance of the Tropicana cabaret.
8 Cundo Bermúdez
Undisputed master of the Cuban pictorial avant-garde of the 1940s, his vast work, which is characterized by an explosive use of colour, a skilful use of light, a marked preference for everyday scenes and a seemingly?ve figuration??also solid possibly due to his contact with Mexican mural painting??all of which are directed at depicting popular characters with a brief approach to abstract art, is included within the great discoveries of the so-called School of Havana, which, while acknowledging his predecessors, imparted signs of renovating modernity to visual arts in the island.
9 Servando Cabrera Moreno
His exceptional gift for drawing and his subtle transparencies were put to use by this artist in many different contents: the grave countenances of militia men, rugged cane cutters, portraits of heroes and works that go from stark eroticism to the almost insubstantial suggestion of two lines that never meet.
10 Raúl Martínez
Self-taught, beginning in the 1950s, he went from expressionism to abstraction and became a leader of pop-art, his most widely-known period, with paintings that combined historical figures with youthful and radiant ordinary men and women. He also made an important contribution as a designer of books and posters.
11 Antonia Eiriz
Painter, draughtswoman, engraver, Eiriz is one of the great iconoclasts of the 20th century. With a heartrending expressionism? several critics have compared her to Goya and Ensor? death and pain are important topic in her work. Her assemblages from the 1960s have been considered forerunners of the new aesthetics of Cuban art in the 1980s.
12 Ever Fonseca
His overflowing imagination, nurtured by popular Caribbean mythology, creates a magical world both calm and violent, populated by mythical beings, such as the guile, where the exultant color and the line used as a constructive element are a praise to the fusion of Man and Nature in all its manifestations. An absolute originality and the deeply-rooted Cuban character rank high in his paintings and in his work with polychromed wood and clay.
13 Juan Moreira
A strict sense of proportion characterizes his pictorial work where vegetation, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic elements are interwoven, marked by thick lines that rigorously delimit the spatial layout. His expressively symbolic paintings go from myths to dreams, assimilate the best part of Cubism, and resort to an iconography of masks and totems associated with African art. His magnificent drawings for different editions of Miguel de Cervantes’s The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha have entered forever in Cuban graphic imagery.
14 José Manuel Mendive
The fantastic and mythical universe of African religions with its magical and symbolic language, and a deliberate naivety in drawing, spatial layout and the use of color constitute the artist’s domain, which goes beyond the canvas, painting on other fabrics and even directly on the skin of his models for performances in which rituals and dance meet.
15 José Rodríguez Fúster
An explosion of colour and fanciful shapes in which typical elements from the Cuban countryside or the city environment are intermixed with men and women who love, dance, play is the proposal of this painter and ceramist, who has, at the same time, developed a unique community project, decorating not only his own home/workshop, but his neighbours’ from Santa Fe also. Man, joy and the right to liveÂŚThe recurrent subject in my work is very Picasso-like, it is the joy of living, of overcoming every difficulty.
16 Nelson Domínguez
Painter, engraver, drafter, sculptor and ceramist, his figurative somewhat abstract work, marked by knowledge of color and a narrative disposition, is a permanent interaction with the evocation of elementary objects and figures that are freely interwoven in nature: a remembrance of his rural background.
17 Tomás Sánchez
After a first experience bordering on the new figurative painting with marked expressionistic nuances, he depicted the rural landscape using resources from photorealism and contemplative abstraction; hinted behind his serene landscapes of balanced and harmonious composition, the reproduction of luminous or subdued atmospheres and meticulous strokes is a profound conceptualization which makes the viewer search beyond what is revealed at first sight.
18 Cosme Proenza
Possessor of dazzling virtuosity and precise use of the principles of universal art, debtor in his beginnings of lyrical expressionism and neo- expressionism, he has finally installed medieval and Renaissance tradition in postmodernism in works that refer to the disquieting reality of dreams.
Eduardo Roca (Choco)
Painter and engraver—with a preference for collographs—he admits having been profoundly influenced by the color and forms of African art, whose themes he has explored all along his work, in which coherence and humanism stand out. The sharp contrast of color responds to his particular symbolism and to a very personal lyricism that establishes a quick emotional connection with the viewer.
20 Pedro Pablo Oliva
Painter of unfinished messages, of searches within a postmodernism inheritor of expressionism, with the popular atmosphere of fables and his eye set on family themes and social experiences, his personal iconography, which owes so much to Chagall, is always surprising in some whimsical childhood or rural drawing or any other hallucination that gives life to fables and symbols.
21 Ernesto García Peña
The fine drawing, the explosion of greens and blues, the delicate transparencies applied to the omnipresent female nude, all bestow a voluptuous sensuality to his obsessive search for beauty. Plant motifs, with an evanescent lightness, create a dreamlike atmosphere that the artist controls at will to tone down or emphasize the eroticism of his enigmatic women or the mating of his levitating couples.
22 Flora Fong
This painter of Chinese descent adds a distinctive note of exoticism to Cuban painting, which is very much permeated by Western codes. Her strong, black brushstrokes that enclose colour and bring to mind Chinese calligraphy; the planimetric conception of space where references to Cuban elements, such as the royal palm, the rooster, or the hut, are inserted, nourish a work whose apparent serenity fails to appease the inner energy which commonly makes it vibrate.
23 José Villa
Captivated by pure shapes and volumes, he has accepted the challenge of making good commemorative art that is highly charged with conceptualism; although he prefers steel, he also works in wood, marble, stone, concrete, bronze or a combination of materials. His expressive synthesis and his elegance are daily admired in his Caballero de Paris at the doors of the San Francisco Basilica in Old Havana, or the Hemingway that waits to be served his daiquiri at the Floridita Restaurant, or the John Lennon who sits in one of the benches of the park at 17th and 6th Streets in El Vedado.
24 Roberto Fabelo
Painter, drafter, illustrator and teacher, he has cultivated his extraordinary talent for drawing in his art, exhibiting a style from which half-human, half-animal figures appear freely and expressively, as well as spatial layouts that intermingle in fictitious reality or fantasy, which is possible under sometimes grotesque and rarely humoristic themes.
25 Arturo Montoto
The search for post-Renaissance and Baroque pictorial visualizations, the resources of minimalism, drama in composition and light, expressiveness in blank spaces, a deliberately uncompleted narrative, make his apparent still lifes attract the senses of the viewer who at the same time is compelled to make a reflection sustained on intuition, rather than certainties.
26 Joel Jover
His work, which the critics have found a correlation with Italian expressionism and post avant-garde shows a very singular use of colour and composition, which
Go from austerity to abundance, and a very personal symbolism, from that of primitive cultures to icons of this time and age, such as John Lennon. His formal and conceptual formality, his transit through many and varied expressive resources and intention, may verge on inscrutability and demand an alert and conspiratorial viewer who is capable of capturing the profound critical inquiry into human conflicts.
27 José Omar Torres
Painting, drawing and engraving, abstraction and imagining, all exist side by side in his work and are mutually permeated and enriched. Centred on the theme of the city and its architectural components? arches, cornices, columns, windows, stairs? with the occasional irruption of elements replete of a strong symbolic value such as fruits, trees or icons from the Yoruba religion, his work has gone from strong colours with a predominance of red, green and blue, to the various shades of ochre and grey.
28 Zaida del Río
An intimate communion with nature and a sort of pantheism preside the work of this painter, sketcher, ceramist and engraver, whose technical virtuosity, far from curbing her instincts, enhances them. The portrayal of women, transformed into birds at one point of her creative activity, the world of Afro-Cuban religion Santeria, and the luxuriant tropical vegetation, all constitute distinctive motifs in paintings where the almost impressionistic brushstrokes are combined with sketches of strong or thin filigree-like brushstrokes
29 Flavio Garciandía
A master of photorealism of the 1970s, he has later tackled other stylistic lines that have taken his interest to the theoretical and conceptual levels of art. He has possibly renovated and experimented the most among Cuban artists, maintaining an effective communication with the viewers, even in his more symbolic works.
30 Rocío García
Painter and drafter, she has made the human figure masculine, feminine, androgynous—the main feature in her work, which has a marked narrative character. But more than the portrayal, the artist has chosen to create a subject for her conceptual concern; her interest is defined in the translation of existential conflicts of a religious, sexual and moral nature, which need a social position. Her heartrending themes contrast with the sobriety of her excellent drawings and the graveness of her pictorial resources.
31 Santiago Rodríguez Olazábal
Based on the religiousness of its creator, Olazábal’s art, by way of paintings, sculptures, engravings, installations, moves away from stereotypes or folkloric forms in the usage of elements from the worship of the orishas to subtly bring his view of the world, his ethics and his spirituality face to face with the loss of essential values and proclaim the need for self acknowledgement and resistance.
32 Eduardo Ponjuán
After several years of producing works of marked ideological undertones in collaboration with René Francisco Rodríguez, resorting to numerous formal or conceptual resources, the artist, now on his own, has turned to a more introspective art. His move toward Zen Buddhism could be perhaps responsible for his search for harmony in apparent or actual opposites, in drawings or installations, at times disconcerting and difficult to decipher.
33 Juan Francisco Elso
1956 – 1988
With a strong presence of ritual and symbolic elements, resorting to the mythology and spirituality of Africa and Pre-Hispanic civilizations of the Americas, his art approached a primitive view of the world, not only to explain the universe and feel part of it, but to clamour for harmony with the nature that is at the base of mother cultures. The extraordinary capacity of his installations to shake and move makes this artist, who died at the early age of 32, an essential referent in Cuban contemporary art.
34 Vicente Rodríguez Bonachea
Perhaps due to his long relationship with the world of illustrations for children, one finds a perceptible naivety, a liking to toys and a sensual delight in colour, besides a marked narrative vocation that extends to his drawings, watercolours, ceramics and engravings. With an unmistakable style, practically intact over the years, his fantasies and his colourful dream worlds validate his proposition: I feel that my work is non-written poetry.
35 Alicia Leal
In Alicia Leal’s work, in which one can appreciate the appropriation of medieval colour codes, spatial layout and a gusto for decoration, women play a central role, either providing refuge as in the recurring image of the Virgin of Charity, patron saint of Cuba, or in flying beings, who refer to other dimensions, and even in the series dedicated to the circus where women participate in a microcosmic world of subtle similarities with society.
36 Rafael Consuegra
With measured Expressionism, his enquiries into the essence of the Cuban national identity have made use of characteristic aspects of African and Spanish religions using fragments of discarded objects, corroded metals, wood or fibre for his indoor works, while privileging ferrocement for his monumental pieces, usually associated with architecture for tourism. In both forms, his technical virtuosity, formal rigour and profound humanistic sense are all notable.
37 Antonio Eligio (Tonel)
One of the very few contemporary Cuban artists who is not a graduate from the art educational system, he insists, with peculiar irony, on the ambivalence of everyday life, keeping an eye as well on erotic and eschatological themes. A member of Grupo Hexágono, he has availed himself of caricatures, drawings—precise and concise—paintings, sculptures and installations to review, with an aesthetic close to conceptual and minimalist art, both the events that happen around him and the universal instincts of man. He is also a critic and essayist on art themes.
38 José Bedia
A member of Volumen I, the most radical group in Cuban art of the last decades, he has restored the sacred character of human nature exploring primitive cosmogonies, especially the myths and offices of the Regla de Palo, of Bantu origin, which works with the powers of nature. Whether in his drawings, paintings or altar-installations, with an obsessive recurrence to natural materials, the artist reassess primitive essences versus the alienation and arrogance of hegemonic discourses.
39 Marta María Pérez
The body as a space for self-examination has been a recurring theme in most recent Cuban art, and the body as a symbol of femininity or procreation, as a means for searching into her own identity, is used by the artist, taking advantage of photography, to express doubts, reaffirmations, and individual or social beliefs.
40 René Francisco Rodríguez
Through vehicles such as drawing, painting, sculpture, installations, and performances, this artist has examined intensively the mechanisms of creation, marketing and socialization of art, a constant feature of his work, which is self-reflective, metaphoric, introspective, bringing into question the difficult and sometimes debilitating links between man and art/society. Through the collaboration and complicity of disciples or colleagues, his projects have aimed always at delving into the creative process.
41 Sandra Ceballos
She is one of the most controversial and transgressive figures in today’s Cuban world of art, set on demolishing all formal, ethical, social and family paradigms in works where violence, pain or neglect place the viewer before the less pleasing aspects of reality and behavior. Together with artist Ezequiel Suárez, she created, in her own home, Espacio Aglutinador, to show and disseminate the work of Cuban artists of all ?creeds as long as they have an indisputable quality and, above all, that necessary dose of honesty and sense of unease before the actual creation of authentic art.
42 Rigoberto Mena
Wholly committed to abstract art—which has appeared sporadically during the course of Cuba’s visual arts—he conceives painting ?as a kind of symphony with low sounds, high sounds, luminous sections and somber sections’ capable of transmitting or giving rise to sensations or moods. His beginnings as an engraver gave way to a preference for a type of painting that has the ability of combining automatism and intuition with a measured sense of proportion and harmony, as well as an exquisite perception of contrasts, luminosities and textures.
43 Agustín Bejarano
Inclined to employ Cuban symbols, whether the palm leaf hat, the figure of National Hero José Martí? protagonist of several of his series? or certain popular religious images, the artist uses painting and engraving to question ethical, social or historical conducts, or to express existentialist crises inherent to the times; still, this does not remove the internal poetry of his visual metaphors.
44 Lázaro Saavedra
A member of the Grupo Puré and part of the Pilón community project, representative of the 80s iconoclastic art, he favours the use of pop culture, kitsch elements, resources from conceptual and neo-expressionist poetic art, and, above all, a corrosive humour to put into question authorities and truths held immovable, as well as barriers to individuality in today’s society. His work is considered one of the most audacious and original in Cuban art in recent years.
45 Guillermo Alejandro Rodríguez Malberti
Perhaps because he first made incursions into scenographic design and art direction, critics have insisted on the basic theatricality of his paintings and sculptures, which also show humour, irony, parody, critical observation and eroticism, with an aesthetics that has a resemblance to pop art and which is marked by technical rigour. His work as art director in the film Nada, by his cousin, filmmaker Juan Carlos Cremata, is a display of his potentials and concerns in depicting people who are torn between the uneasiness and lack of definition of contemporaneity.
46 Jorge Perugorría
Launched to fame after having played the lead in the film Strawberry and Chocolate, Perugorría would mitigate the tedium of the long waits between shoots drawing obsessively on his script. Overcoming some hesitation and reluctance after the successful exhibit of his work, which leans toward expressionism, in Cuba and abroad, and, although this artist claims that he is, above all, an actor, some of his co-stars endeavour to recover the sketches that he discards, perhaps thinking, with foresight, in posterity.
47 Carlos Quintana
Expressionism stretched to the limits of the grotesque, a premeditated feeling of unfinished work, scrapings or smudges as marks of the artist’s actions on physical and conceptually elusive matter, the especially emphatic use of planimetry, colour and lines of swift strokes characterize the work of this artist whose art challenges the viewer and forces them to tune in rather than understand or interpret according to conventional dictates.
48 Carlos Garaicoa
Obsessed by architecture, especially Havana’s, which has been sketched, photographed, filmed, made into models or installations, documented in all its splendour or its destruction, dreamt and remade, the artist uses the city as leitmotiv to express his critical view of history, society and the process of art itself. With a vision much indebted to literature, to narration, which leads him frequently to use texts as part of his works, he is set on revealing secrets that enable a critical interpretation of the environment and its situations.
49 Belkis Ayón
1967 – 1999
An engraver of unanimously acknowledged technical virtuosity, Belkis Ayón drew from collographs their fullest potential in works in which the theme of Abakuá mythology, its secrets, its mysteries, its ritual ceremonies and, above all, her cursed” woman, recur over and over again, to encourage a reflection on the recognition of ethnic and gender identification and warn of the evident or surreptitious attempt to weaken them or manipulate them.
50 Ernesto Rancaño
With an aesthetics that some critics have called ?post-medieval’, but that owes much to the interpretation of universal art and the exploration of national identity, installed in a fantastic space where any mixture is possible and where sorrows can be enveloped in softness and candor, a search for spirituality that traps the most diverse public can be found in the work of this artist.
51 Tania Bruguera
According to the artist herself, art is a vehicle for reflection; consequently, seeking to convey an intimate and personal experience to a collective space, she recurrently uses performance art to achieve her purpose. Topics such as the dichotomy of endurance and submission in the artistic, social and individual levels are treated with such extreme violence and tension, that, as a metaphor of human suffering, it impedes the traditional kindly contemplative reception.
52 Reinierio Tamayo
His incursion into a multiplicity of means of expression—painting, engraving, ceramics, installations, just to mention a few—is led by an agglutinating element: humour, which he uses to parody with surprising technique certain paradigms of high culture as well as digging into complex, almost absurd, situations of everyday life in the Island. In the words of the artist, ?Quotations, appropriations and parodyÂŚintertextuality, the fusion of genres, have all enabled me to discourse on life from a humorous perspective.’
53 Alexis Esquivel
To question cultural processes expanding towards historical, sociological, ethnic, anthropological or philosophical perspectives—according to the artist—is a purpose that is fulfilled through painting, installations, performances or video art as a means of examining and taking part in the increasingly urgent debate on the relationships of power in today’s society. A markedly conceptual art that aspires to disturb the viewer’s automatism, shake and mobilize his consciousness and break down stereotypes.
54 Sandra Ramos
Although she has also found in painting, sculpture and installations a way to express herself, she is known mostly as an engraver. Her work is an intense reflection on Cuba as an island, on the vicissitudes of its history and religiousness, on disquieting contemporary issues, such as emigration. A constant feature in the artist’s work is the recovery of both the social and individual memory, for which she doesn’t hesitate in using her own body, at times transformed in an island as a symbol of the sometimes painful relation between personal and collective matters.
55 Los Carpinteros Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez
1969 Antonio Castillo Valdés
1971 Identified with trades as old as carpentry and plumbing, seeking to exhaust the visual and communicative potentials of an object, going from detailed virtuosity to an almost minimalist economy, conferring on the sketch a significance that makes it independent of the finished work, that may have not even materialized, this team studies how an object is made and the multiple artistic, communicative or transgressive possibilities that the artist may confer on it.
56 Carlos Alberto Estévez
Inheritors of post conceptual trends, Estevez’s drawings, paintings and installations reveal his ontological and existentialist concerns, which look for answers in philosophy, history, religion, magic, science or technology, and their respective system of symbols. What is man? What is life? What is our role in the universe? What is happiness? These are my obsessions, the artist has confessed. Feb / 2010