A Cuban Childhood Colors Artist Juan Alonso-Rodriguez’s Work

A Cuban Childhood Colors Artist Juan Alonso-Rodriguez’s Work


[soft piano music] I’m a visual artist, I create
works here in the studio and I also design
public projects. I love the challenge of standing
in front of a blank canvas and setting out to create
something that nobody else could possibly
create the same way. I think your origins always
influence what you create. [soft piano music] My family was from Havana. When the revolution started, most Cubans were happy about it. But what happened was that the government started
nationalizing companies. My family had a
road-iron company. All of a sudden
this place that was this family-grown business
was no longer theirs. Human rights, and
just basic rights, like freedom of speech,
freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, all those things were
being taken away. So I think that that was the
catalyst for my father saying, like, ” We don’t know
what’s gonna happen next. “I think you have this
opportunity to leave “and I think you should
leave with your uncle.” So at the time that he told
me this, I was 8 years old. I lost my mom at
a very early age and then losing my father
because, really after I left, I had very little
contact with him and I never saw him again. I came to the United
States in 1966 with my father’s
brother and his wife. I think it’s pretty
natural for immigrants to hold onto memories
of their childhood. Part of it is who we are
and just retaining some sort of identity that
is recognizable, even if it’s just to ourselves. One of the first
things that inspired me was the house that my
family built on the beach. The railing around the house was always a source
of inspiration. For the longest time
I had it in mind, and in 2011 right
before going back to Cuba for the first time,
I was asked to do some work for Chief Sealth High
School in West Seattle. It was a tribute to being
inspired by those memories and in 2011, after restrictions had been
loosened up a little bit, I decided that I was
finally emotionally ready to return to Cuba. So I took photographs of the
homes where I had lived in. I went in to the
first home in Havana and I just went around from
room to room taking photographs. I recalled that the
furniture in the living room was the same exact furniture that had been there
when I was a kid. I think the hardest part off
me going through that house was when I got to
my parents bedroom. If your origins are traumatic, it tends to make
a bigger impact. Painting is this release,
and it’s also meditation. And I just love every bit
of it from mixing colors to picking the right brush. When you have memories that
are from your childhood, I think you tend to see
things in a very glossy way. It was very cathartic to go back and see these places in person. All these wonderful
memories that I had of the house at the beach, the reality was
really, really sad, because it was so run down. For a long time, all my work
had a gloss finish on it. After I came back, I
didn’t feel compelled to necessarily have
that glossy finish. In fact I’ve been making
work based on pattern. And some of it’s inspired
by the architecture that I saw after that. I create a lot of work that’s
very precise and meticulous, and sometimes after I’m done with a series of work like that I need to let things go, like kind of shake it up. Cuba is always on my
mind when I’m creating. So this painting
that I’m working on is part of the carnival
series, part of the Munecones, which were these big
paper mache dolls that really scared me
when I was a little kid. But fascinate me now,
and before I was trying to create work that
really resembled something that I had seen. And now these are just
from my imagination. It’s interesting to think
about whether I consider myself a Cuban artist or
an American artist. I think of myself as both,
and it’s kinda more up to other people to decide
how they wanna see me at this point.

Dereck Turner

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