"Sun Light" Series
When I immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 2003, my entire world view transformed. The subsistence lifestyle and controlled information in my country under a communist regime left little time or energy for spiritual or philosophical reflection. Over the last 13 years I have enjoyed the benefits and freedom of living in a democracy, which has allowed me to explore a variety of series with the underlying theme of the interconnectedness of all creation. The visual representation of this theme is seen in the multi-layered basket weaving technique I use to create my works.
The “Sun Light” paintings were created from a place that is both personal and universal. It’s a series of portraits I felt I had to do to bring awareness to the political conditions affecting the people of Cuba. I grew up in the small rural village of Bermejas about 70 miles southeast of Havana. Most of the population is made up of farmers who plant and harvest their crops on the waning moon. To be in harmony with my people and our ancestors, I begin and complete each painting according to the same lunar pattern.
Although I feel fully integrated into American culture, my Cuban roots are still very much a part of my life. In a small village, you know your neighbors and develop a deep connection. Daily problems and limitations are shared by all as well as moments of joy. With government control over information, it’s not easy for the average Cuban to see beyond his struggle for life essentials. Since I am fortunate to no longer live under Cuban’s government and have gained a fresh perspective on life, I feel it is my responsibility to create a series of works to shed global light on my subjects bringing forth their humanity and inherent worth as human beings.
The process of spending hours in front of the canvas studying their faces helped me open up to the humanity of each person I painted—father, neighbors, and friends. I could see an innocence and vulnerability behind their eyes. On a deeply personal level I felt interconnectedness with these individuals, which allowed me to bring them to life not only for me but for the whole world. In my own way, I began to set them free.
I chose the genre of the portrait in black and white close-up to capture an image of each face lit by the sun to communicate the concept that each individual is both unique and at the same time at one with the whole of humanity. It is my hope that those who view these paintings will make a similar connection and that even my friends and family will feel somehow liberated by the experience of seeing themselves outside of their confined lives in Cuba.
The title “Sun Light” makes the connection between the power of the sun, which is always a strong presence in the Caribbean, and the inner light within each individual. The sun shines its rays down on every living thing and every situation in life to reveal the underlying authentic beauty, which exists all around us.
Celebration is the title of a series of ten large oil paintings on canvas, which range in size from 72”x96” to 84”x132”. Each one depicts a large cake decorated with different designs and words associated with interior states of celebration: Forgive, Acceptance, Imagine, Joy, Surrender, Compassion, Oneness, Awareness, Peace, Gratitude. The experience of creating these works was a celebration in itself. I chose the image of the cake, because it has been an integral part of celebrations in western European culture since the mid-19th century. In fact, the pairing of cakes with birthday celebrations can be traced back to ancient Rome. In modern times the birthday cake has evolved into a recognizable cultural icon which communicates ceremony, happiness, and the act of celebration.
The idea of creating ten diverse paintings along a common theme was important for me, because ten is a number that symbolizes completion. A group of ten items registers to the human mind as a complete or easily recognizable division of a much larger number in a series. It is a comfortable subset that references an even greater whole. At an exhibition of all ten paintings, I hope the viewer will begin to feel an inner resonance growing and become subliminally aware that what he or she sees represents a much greater part of the whole. I believe this awareness can be the beginning of the individual’s recognition of their connection to all of humanity, and I hope that the positive messages emblazoned on each cake will inspire an impulse toward an increased awareness of the importance of joy, peace and universal harmony.
My artistic process on this series was highly collaborative. I began by creating a drawing with the cake’s design and writing down instructions for its size and overall appearance. I then took these designs to a number of local bakeries and ordered each cake, allowing the baker to make a creative contribution to the composition by choosing some of the color and design elements. In this way the works became more collaborative, supporting the idea of the interconnectedness of creative minds coming together to share in the creative process. Next, I took photographs of the completed cakes to use as models for each of the paintings. One of best parts of this project involved an actual celebration, where I invited a group of friends and fellow artists to cut and eat the cakes with me. This joyful and time-honored celebration, which I frequently recorded on video, served as a ritual recognition that we were making a conscious and meaningful use of the original cake from which the work was born. With this the cycle of celebration was complete, and I began the paintings.
My technique involves using a signature basket weaving style to create the paintings. Each one takes about 20 layers to intricately weave the image of the cake in oil with brushes of various sizes and textures. I use this woven effect to further underscore human interconnectedness and the interdependence between man and nature. This method is intended to symbolize not only how much stronger we are when we are connected, but also how vulnerable we become when separated from one another. In an attempt to be in harmony with the rhythms of nature as I construct each image, every painting is started and completed on a waning moon over a series of months. I am mindful to remain aware of and utilize the many universal laws of nature as part of the process of creating my works. I like to think about how all of us are affected by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, and other planets in our solar system. Our ancestors intuitively lived by this knowledge, planting their crops in natural cycles to achieve optimum results. As an artist I use a similar process by “planting” an idea and “harvesting” it through the moon’s cycles. There is a specific moment in time when each painting is complete, carrying with it all the energy and intention of being part of the larger universe, beyond what we can see or feel, focusing on the deeper spiritual essence that is our true nature.
This series is rooted in a personal space of spiritual reflection and evolution. I was born and lived most of my youth in Cuba under an oppressive communist dictatorship. In order to survive, Cubans learn to know the laws, live by the rules, and trust no one outside of their inner circle. Our everyday struggles prevented us from being present to all the wonder that surrounds us. Moving to the United States in 2003 was life-changing. I had no idea what to expect and was initially very cautious and distrustful of everyone I met. Over time I began to heal and see that people are basically good. By 2012 when I conceived of this series, I had fully integrated into American society, having released much of my anger and animosity towards the regime governing the beloved country of my birth. Letting go of the suffering and limitations inherent in a subsistence lifestyle allowed me to begin to explore a spiritual path. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I began to celebrate my very existence and good fortune in being able to live in a free country and fulfill my destiny by doing the work I love. My heart was filled with gratitude, joy, and peace. With a growing sense of compassion, I was able to begin the long walk toward forgiveness, and it was then that the idea for this series began.
I believe life is a precious and unique experience. Each and every moment we should recognize and celebrate the miracle of simply being alive. Consciously and deliberately taking the time to celebrate any occasion by joining together with our fellow man in joy and harmony is necessary if humans are to begin to experience peace, love and optimum health. This series of paintings is about inspiring people to celebrate life. It is a reminder that many of the things we take for granted are the things for which we should be most grateful. It is a challenge for all of us to recognize, honor, and value the inherent kindness of the human race. It is my hope that this series will inspire younger generations, raising new awareness of the value of positive thoughts and actions and encourage us to reflect upon our personal responsibility to the earth and our interconnectedness with every living thing.
Today cakes are a familiar fixture in commemorations, anniversaries, and celebrations of all kinds. When gathering with friends and family for special occasions, we all experience a childlike enthusiasm when viewing a beautifully decorated cake. Photographs are taken, the moment is captured, and at last the cake is enjoyed! In the “Celebration” paintings, it is my wish that the cake as “food for the soul” will become for the viewer an immortal moment, allowing an intimate and meaningful reflection on both the beauty of the image and the uplifting message it communicates.