Take a Break from the Digital World

When I returned to still photography I had no plans on printing images.  However, a quote got stuck in my mind.

“The print is an idea made visible. For me it’s a tactile, sensual experience.” Tillman Crane

Last Summer I hung prints in the Mt. Lebanon Library. Seeing portraits “on the wall” was drastically different than viewing the images on a computer. A print inspired learning how matting & framing impact the viewer’s perception.

PORTRAITURE of CUBA Character & Emotions was motivation to “hang prints.” Observing the diversity of human character while standing in a room with over 2 dozen photographs is a more unifying experience than scrolling images on an electronic device.

Mt. Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 201

Sunday March 3rd 1:30-4:30  Opening

Saturday March 9th 3p-6p ish Reception w/Live Music

Friday March 15th 6:30-9:30  “Cuba, Photos & Framing a Story”

Ketchup City Creative 612 Main St. Sharpsburg, PA 15215

https://ketchupcity.com/

Mt Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 2017


It’s physical. It’s social. It’s an old school way to share my work.

Leave the digital world behind. Come to one of the 3 events at Ketchup City. Learn about people & a culture that for over 60 years has been nothing but chaos in the eyes of most Americans. See it for yourself!






Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.

Museums are good exercise for your eyes

A shortcoming with my minds eye is being attracted by form. Space in many museums offers opportunities for me to focus on forms in a wider perspective.

 

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I know I can  find inspiration at museums & galleries. As a bonus, the environments are relaxing. I always ask, “Is non-flash photography permitted?”  Some on-loan exhibits don’t permit photos. A shortcoming with my minds eye is being attracted by form. Space in many museums offers opportunities for me to focus on a wider perspective. At the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh I recognized the depth, verticals & lighting on the walls were inviting components. The panoramic cropping accents the artwork.

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At gallery exhibits of photographers I’m reminded of the responsibility of documenting history with my camera. This show at The Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh legend Tennie Harris, who chronicled 5 decades of life in the city starting in the mid 30’s, was fantastic. Visitors could watch a projected slide show or scroll thru his work on a desktop computer screen. I choose to examine the matted prints, which allowed you to observe in a single glance the diversity of his subjects. There are many things about his career that are inspiring but his nickname of “One Shot” is especially humbling.

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Not technical a museum or gallery the Mirogoj Cemetery In Zagreb Croatia has interesting similarities. It was overcast, cold & damp on the December day I visited which added to the sensual experience. The lighting in hallway of family mausoleums gave interesting depth while the arched columns balanced & framed the various lines. The grouping & number of exact tombstones in the section of those killed in the Croatian-Bosnian War in the mid 90’s hit a deep level of emotion.

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All serious photographers understand lighting. Some that have studied illumination will recognize Renaissance Masters using chiaroscuro style to give 3D modeling to subjects. Joos van Cleve’s 1528 work of “Saint Jerome In His Study” is worth examining closely. Since I’m attracted to the light from windows, this single source natural light is especially appealing. I chuckle at the unlit candle since some art of the Renaissance used oil lamps, candles & fire as key light in the painting. Fogg Museum Harvard.

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The walking tour of “The Road to Berlin” was a well though out multi-media exhibit at the WWII Museum in New Orleans. The diversity of relics, uniquely projected film, photographs, audio and personal memoirs was well worth the time. I was especially impressed with “camouflage” shadows on the floor.

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This graffiti of 1 or more US solders during the war is a very basic. It became synonymous with the American GI in Europe. Then, to use today’s description, the image went viral after the war ended. Sometime little details catch my eye.

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The use of interactive displays for visitors to read & experience is common in more modern facilities. Usually these exhibits are not conducive to getting people shots. Here, at the National Museum of African American History, I found a good perspective to get this portrait. Occasionally, primary illumination from below can make for a nice portrait.

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As you walk thru the exhibit, the paths areas are dark. Some exhibits are back-lit turning the visitors into a parade of silhouettes. The newest Smithsonian Museum has done some very good photo restoration as part of their tour.

09Often you find surprises at a museum. Made for the International Correspondents School in Scranton PA this Edison recorder is in better condition than any of the other 5 or 6 I’ve seen. Finding it at Museo Provincial in Camguey made me scratch my head. It would be interesting to find out the legacy of how this remarkable invention to record/playback sound ended up in a Cuban museum. Decades after this technology was invented I made a good part of my career recording & playing back audio WITH pictures.  Sometimes I slowed it down!

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Some places with historical significance are still used for what they were built for & are active tributes. The Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta is one of those places. I could imagine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the pulpit. Unfortunately the camera can’t capture inspiration to the soul. However, sitting in those pews I had a powerful sense of purpose.

12I have admiration for capturing “The Moment” in dance. This exhibit at the August Wilson Center drew me in on many levels. The story behind the showing was inspirational. Mother & daughter Jill & Joy-Marie Thompson choreographed a tribute to historic images of influential dancers. They worked with the highly respected photographer specializing in dance Rachel Neville. The space, lighting & images with white backgrounds on walls of white are an amazing display of art, collaboration & talent. Of course…never avoid the opportunity to put red in the frame.

This is my 14th & final…for now…posting about Cuba.

The one word that I would use to describe my experience traveling in Cuba is compelling. As I hoped, the opportunities for photography were everything I expected. My plan was to immerse myself, albeit briefly, with people to gain a perspective & document their way of life. The narrow glance I observed was insightful & rewarding. Somewhat unexpectedly I opened a window to personal introspection that will resonate with me for a long time.

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The one word that I would use to describe my experience traveling in Cuba is compelling. As I hoped, the opportunities for photography were everything I expected. My plan was to immerse myself, albeit briefly, with people to gain a perspective & document their way of life. The narrow glance I observed was insightful & rewarding. Somewhat unexpectedly I opened a window to personal introspection that will resonate with me for a long time.

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My decision to avoid Havana was helpful in minimizing cliché images & experiences. The smaller cities were more open to personal interaction. With few exceptions I easily engaged people with just a smile. In conversations thru my interpreter, politics was seldom a topic. My curiosity eclipsed any preconceived ideas I had about their day-to-day lives.

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I saw typical differences between young & old, city & rural, men & women even professional vs blue collar. What surprised me was a disparity of standards of living. Communism in Cuba is far from the theory Marx had advocated. I didn’t witness anything I would describe as poverty or affluence. However, I saw a comfortable cohabitation between those with more opportunities & a more comfortable way of life than others. I also recognized a discrepancy with access to & use of technology. Most of the digital divide coincided with age.

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Cuba has the natural resources of climate, beaches & tropical waters that attract tourists. Since the mid 90’s non-US tourism has provided a significant percentage of hard currency to the economy. The Cuban government owns most hotels. There are a few International chains but uncertainty has stalled investment. I find it difficult to believe that trinkets, restaurants & service jobs to the tourist industry can provide both a long term & broad based impact on the overall economic well being of the people. This is especially true if the government continues to keep restrictive oversight on commerce.

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The topography of the Cuba is diverse. Their are 9 UNESCO sites, 8 National Parks & 7 Biosphere reserves in this nation roughly the size of PA. I only took time to briefly explore 1 Bio reserve, which was impressive. There are numerous examples or environmental programs including organic & self-sustain farming. I got the impression many of these were out of necessity rather than altruism. However, the one dominant fact is that surrounded by water, it is easy for the government to control access on & off the island.

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The majority of people I interacted with have only known life under Communism. Some challenges they face have roots that go further back than 3 generations since the revolution. The Cuban people are far from illiterate or in ill health. Education & health care have been priorities of the Castro brothers & now economic reform has become a goal of Raul. Change is happening. However, over the past 5-10 years the pace is faster than it has been the precious 4 decades.

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For many Cubans on meager pensions & low paying government jobs their lives are Spartan. Food is rationed at Bodegas at subsidized prices with proportions determined by age & gender. I visited Orlando Zayas, my guides’ grandfather, in his 400 sq foot apartment. The space fronts a busy street & he rents a few square feet to enterprising merchants. He is content & fortunate that family lives close & visit frequently. He enjoys watching baseball & complained that boxers today were nowhere near as good as Joe Louis or Kid Chocolate. Talking about his life he said, “Communism does not work”.

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My primary goal was to photograph individuals & document their lifestyles. Generalizations can be dangerous but I can confidently say I was warmly greeted buy a population that is easygoing, resilient & enjoys life. Lacking commodities we take for granted Cubans make the best out of the situation they are in…even if they have to bend a few rules. Daily life is simpler & slower. Personal interaction is routine. No doubt there are problems but the people I met were upbeat. When I asked what made people so happy I was told, “We laugh at our problems so we have lots to laugh about”.

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I believe an individual’s work ethic is a reflection on their character. I saw many examples of confidence, problem solving, & a resourcefulness to work with what they have without complaining. Although the tempo of work isn’t equivalent to our expectations, Cubans have few distractions & a persistence to get the job done. They are proud of the work they do with their hands & find happiness in their accomplishments not their possessions. I have deep respect for what Cubans have archived with only the basic resources.

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The elements of culture are common. Art, music, literature, religion, food, architecture & fashion are things I observe when I travel. The details of these expressions make people & places unique. I have had very little exposure to Latin American. The rich culture of Cuba was a wonderful new vista. I observed a flair for painting that was cultivated after the revolution when national schools of art were created. In contrast to the many examples of architectural decay, the diverse art was a peak into the bright light of the soul of the people. In a society with few outlets for expression I sensed a passion in their demeanor for artistic freedom.

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Children give us examples of how we can enjoy life & accomplish more when we cooperate with each other. When I observed children I thought about my friend Mark Zinnoni. His mother fled Cuba’s oppression & he wasn’t happy I was going there because he felt it diminished the possibility of freeing Cubans from oppressive Communist rule. I respected his opinion & looked forward to sharing what I saw & experienced when I returned. Unfortunately he passed away before I departed. I like to think he would have enjoyed my perspective of the Cuban people. Amid the hardships there is a joy for life & hope for the future…emotion & optimism that were part of Mark’s character.

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Like most people when I read or hear about a place it is impossible have a deep understanding. Our perspectives, no matter how broad, lack the important element of a personal connection. Although many individuals I only met briefly, they will be a touchstone to my understanding of our neighbors. During my trip I was formed a deeper relationship with my guide Lidear. On my last night there he invited me to his “humble home with his family for a simple dinner.” For me it was an honor & a wonderful epilogue to my trip. As hurricane Irma was striking Cuba it was him and his family that were in my thoughts. I wish nothing but the best for him, his family & the people of Cuba whom I now know just a little bit better. I hope that my blog postings have opened the curtain just a bit to allow you to see the Humans of Cuba.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback or comments on this or any of my postings about Cuba.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.

Artists of Cuba & their ART Part 2

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Sorting my images I recognized shots of artwork connected to some of my strongest memories of my trip To Cuba, Even if these photographs are what I consider substandard, especially compared to various people shots, I wanted to do another posting of Cuban art to give some insight into the character of the artists & culture.

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The pallet of colors Cuban artists use is weighted in the tropics. The subjects in much of their work is diverse interpretations of life on the island. In many variations, art is a voice that speaks to the emotion of people, places & times.

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I don’t know if the faces are specific individuals or if they are symbolic representations. When I think of Dark Imagery it usually lacks detail. In this work the detail is intricate to whatever the artist was trying to say.

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I’ve thought tile/mosaic work is between flat art & sculpture. I might even call it 2.5D. In public & privates spaces I found custom works enhancing the environment.

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In Cuban Art Part 1 I showed you Abel Garcia Leon in the business side of his home. With his dog keeping him company he is working on a fresh canvas in his studio beside his barbershop. The kitchen, bedroom & toilet are in the back.

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The work of his I saw hanging in his barbershop/studio was an interesting approach to pointillism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Seurat

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The Garden of Eden symbolism would be an interesting discussion I would love to have with the artist that created this painting. Symbolic biblical representation like this in a Communist country is an example of how art can transcend oppression.

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An artist in the tropics made me feel the cold winds of the sea with color & brush strokes. That is an example of how art can have an impact on senses beyond your eyes.

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The umbrella topic of this blog is motivation. The inspiration & evolution of the artist that made this piece would be a very interesting discussion.

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I believe it is very challenging to “fill the frame” in any visual medium. The easel is the perfect method to display this work. A frame would destroy the boundaries.

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Often as I wander thru galleries, shops & museums, I felt an overwhelming diversity of styles. The montage/collage displays demonstrated a co-op of the talent on the island as the images fought for my attention.

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As a photograph this is a complete failure with the exception of the subject. The trilogy of the work with the background drew me to try & capture something that I just couldn’t get. However, the diversity of the theme of vases really caught my eye.

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Most of the Casa Particulares I stayed in had artwork that complemented the homes. This outdoor courtyard in Camaguey had an elaborate wall mural made with 8X8 tiles fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. The organic accents & the decorative ironwork were integrated in an interesting layout.

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I end this blog with another mediocre photograph. I did not take the time to wait for better human interaction with public art. I was on my way to Ballet Rehearsal which is the next posting in a few weeks.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.

Artists of Cuba & their ART Part 1

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My blog returns to Cuba with focus on art & the artists that produce it. The on-the ground experience of seeing the work of artisans was motivation to connect my camera to my mind. If it catches my eye, attention or ears I explore a little deeper. If it makes me smile or triggers a memory, I want to share it. I hope you enjoy where my eyes take you. My credibility as a critic is thin so explore the links to add you own exposure.

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Music wasn’t a motivator but… First was Herb Albert/The Lonely Bull. Then Santana’s Soul Sacrifice followed by Oye Coma Va by Tito Puente  & Latin tempos became a part of my life. Currently Manhattan Transfer/Soul Food To Go is my favorite driving song. Enjoyment of Latin tempos is a constant in my life. However, music is linear for the ear. I didn’t put effort into shots of musicians. To hear Afro Cuban Music, watch 3 Rivers to Cuba. Done by Chris Mason, her it explores multiple layers of Cuban musical culture.

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The architectural & artisan work of the Spanish Colonial Empire has influence on artists today. From the pallet of colors to the intricate details I saw centuries old examples of design, detail & craftsmanship that made me pause.

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My first night in Cienfuegos we went to Palacio del Valle. I was immediately struck by the blending of architectural influences. Built a century ago by a sugar merchant, the mansion is now a National Monument of Cultural Heritage run by the government.

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This church window is more representative of maintenance & restoration of buildings in Cuba. Usually the dynamic image of stained glass windows is from an interior perspective. From the outside layers of history can be seen. Some ironwork is from colonial times while some is from current artisans.
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Public Art, especially murals, provide character to communities. They also offer backdrops for street photography. The hue & fading of her pants matching the backdrop is worth a 2nd look.
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This is not the iconic image from Abbey Road. A true Beatles fan would know they were walking the other direction & all 4 are in full stride. I didn’t catch that on-site because I was preoccupied with the numerous possibilities I could stage with this backdrop.

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I did not see many statues in my wanderings. This bronze likeness of Cuban Hero Jose Marti reading to a young boy represents many important values of Cuban society.
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I was initially attracted to Martha Jimenez’s paintings because of her subject matter of 3 women in diverse situations. I believe odd numbers work better in visuals arts. At her gallery/studio/classroom in Camaguey I discovered her talents included sculpting & engraving. Her primary subject is women. I noticed a few works with a sewing machine. The gallery director told me it represents women workers around the world.

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I was drawn to the work of Jose D. Gutierrez by the unique texture to his sculpture. Examining the pieces closely I recognized I had never seen whatever he used to make these detailed works of art. I inquired about how they were made. I was told about creating a mold, where the craftsmanship is needed, & then forming goat-skin over it.
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A few artists in Cuba are doing well financially selling to the rest of the world. But, like artists everywhere, Abel Garcia Leon must rely on other skills to live. His studio is in one room of his home & his barbershop is in an adjacent space. His great-great grandfather bought the barber chair in the 1880’s. He has sold his paintings in Europe, Canada & the US. His optimistic dream is to one day to have a showing in NYC.

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In many shops I found the typical colors & themes of paintings targeted at the tourist. While these pieces may not have any deep artistic qualities they are a few steps above the price & quality of mass-produced souvenir trinkets.
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Restrictions on expression after the ‘59 revolution & limited resources had a negative impact. However, art education & subsides increased the population of practicing artists. Some have demonstrated that art is freedom of the mind. Artist Georgeanys Trinidad
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Learning the perspectives of artistically expression opens your soul to emotions of others & yourself. Teaching & mentoring preserves the past but also sows seeds for the future.
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Let me reinforce the fact I have no credibility as an art critic. Part of my motivation for photography was to capture informal shots of people. Naturally portraits on canvas caught my eye. I observed that Cuban artists had a firm grasp on portraiture.
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The number of artists in Camagüey was more than other places I visited. One evening I met Eduardo Rosalez Ruiz in his studio/gallery where the walls were covered with diverse examples of his work. With a typical warm welcoming he told me about his current projects as we shared a drink of rum & honey. Working with materials & subjects of indigenous Taino Cubans he hopes to bring awareness to historical roots.

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“I love Digital. I Hate Digital” has become a mantra of mine. I immediately gave this oil on canvas that title.

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This piece by Lester Campa is my favorite not only because of style & subject but also because of the memory of Dr. Fidel Hernandez Figueroa proudly sharing it. If you go to this wonderful reservoir of talented artists plan on returning with some of their work.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.