Cuban art and paintings should never be confused with cubism. Cubism is an art form pioneered by Picasso and Braque in the early 20th century; whilst Cuban art refers to those paintings and sculptures that were either produced by Cubans or are housed in museums and galleries in Cuba. Understandably Cuban art is mainly a mixture of African and European influences, with an inevitable hint of American art creeping into it in more recent times. Four Cuban artists in particular stand out from the rest:, Kcho, Paláez, Portocarrero and Lam. The main art gallery to visit in Cuba is the Colección de Arte Cubano, on the Trocadero.
Colección de Arte Cubano
In Havana the main Bellas Artes Museum has two buildings; one housing international artworks and the Colección de Arte Cubano dedicated to Cuban art and artists. The Colección de Arte Cubano contains works dating from the 16th to 20th centuries and was originally opened in 1913. Reopened in 2001 after an extensive refurbishment it has over 1000 items on display ranging from 16th century maps of the island to relatively modern photographic images; as well as paintings and sculptures. The collection is split into what are referred to as six curatorial sections: Colonial Art, Turn of the Century (1894-1927), Emergence of Modern Art (1927-1938), Consolidation of Modern Art ( 1938-1951), other perspectives of Modern Art (1951-1963) and finally Contemporary Art.
Cuban art is generally considered to be at its best in the early 20th century with the Cuban vanguardism movement through to the primitivists – being heavily influenced by the modernism found in European paintings from that time. Subsequently some cubism can be seen in 20th century Cuban art.
Born in 1902 Lam is a classically trained artist. In the late 1930s he travelled to Spain to try and paint in a less academically constrained environment. Although he did not meet with Picasso at this time he did become a supporter of the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, like his contemporary – Picasso. in 1938 he moved to Paris, where he did subsequently meet and work with Picasso during 1939.
By 1941, with France occupied by Germany, he returned to his native Cuba where he developed his Afro-Cuban style of primitivism painting. This Afro-Cuban style is typified in probably his most famous work “The Jungle” (1943) and “Zambezia, Zambezia” (1950). Exhibited and fêted around the world – in 1964 he received the prestigious Guggenheim International Award for his work. In his later life Lam lived and worked at his studio in Italy, but died in Paris in 1982.
Although born in Cuba in 1896 and being educated at the San Alejandro Academy, Amelia moved to Paris in 1927 and then spent the rest of her life in living in Cuba and various European countries. During her time in Paris she undertook studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts and the École de Louvre. Whilst her paintings show a strong architectural influence she is probably best known for a 65 foot tall ceramic mural she did in 1953 that adorns the Cuban Ministry of Internal Affairs and the façade for the Havana Hilton. Amelia Paláez died in 1968.
A contemporary of Wifredo Lam is the internationally acclaimed Portocarrero, who was born in 1912 and died in 1985; although he attended the San Alejandro Academy he is largely considered to be self-taught. Not only a painter and sculpture but also a ceramicist and muralist who also did stage designs and book illustrations. His painting style is typified in is 1962 work titled – Flores.
Born in 1970 Alexis Leyva Machado, works under the name of Kcho and is the star amongst modern Cuban artists. A graduate of the Havana National School of Fine Arts he was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Promotion of the Arts in 1995.
Much of his work revolves around themes on boats and the coast. As well as producing paintings he prepares art installations, often made from materials discarded by others – such as “To forget the fear” from 1999 on the Champs Elysées in Paris.