November 10, 2016

Photo Essay: The Picasso of The Caribbean's Surreal, Ceramic Land

Before I visited Cuba and saw it with my own eyes, I didn't associate it folk art... or, really, any kind of fine art either.

Food, yes... mojitos for sure... and music, of course. But when I went to Havana for four days, I did not expect to find myself in the midst of an outsider art environment that would bring me to tears.

In an area northwest of Havana called Jaimanitas, an artist who goes simply by the name "Fuster" has created an enclave of mosaic ceramic tile that sprung out of his own private home and art studio.

Now, the whole thing has spread so much that you can drive through it...

...and plenty of tour buses and classic cars (which operate as taxis) do.

But while it seems like somewhat of an anachronism, at no point in the barrio can you forget that you are in Cuba.

In the time since he first started the project in 1992, Fuster has surrounded himself with a magical kingdom of gauchos... well as whimsical and fantastical creatures.

It's a lot to take in.

Some of it feels ecclesiastical, which makes sense when you learn that Fuster came back to Cuba on a mission after having seen Gaudi's works in Barcelona.

Fuster also cites Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși as inspiration...

...and his works are similarly multidisciplinary and architectural.

His paintings and painted tiles evoke a bit of Picasso as well...

...or maybe something a bit safer, like an illustration out of a children's book.

When you visit, you get to behold what's come of Fuster's artistic dream.

And it is wonderful.

He is a sculptor, ceramicist, mosaicist, painter, and builder of fantasies.

And whatever money he makes from exhibiting and selling his work internationally, he puts back into the ever-expanding, endlessly colorful and joyous neighborhood art project. He also takes donations and sells t-shirts.

In his collection, there are plenty of green reptiles...

...cruciform Cubanos...

...hands outstretched heavenward...

...surreal visages..., and a few chickens and other types of birds.

In all, there are over 80 homes that contribute to the canvas of Fuster's work...

...spread out across a couple of streets.

Out in the neighborhood, the work manifests more as murals and less as sculptures...

...although, at times, it can be mistaken for pure ornamentation.

And there is something quite decorative about Fuster's craft...

...but it's so much more than that.

It's an optimistic and idealistic vision of home...

...and not just of Cuba.

All people gather here...

...under the sun and the shade of the trees... recite the poetry of Cuban national hero José Martí...

...and to celebrate the great nations of Central America.

Like much of the art of its kind —perhaps most famously, Gaudi's Sagrada Família — it is perpetually unfinished, a work in progress.

After all, Fuster's art has come so far that there's no reason for it to stop now.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Wall of Toys at the Garden of Oz
Photo Essay: Mosaic Tile House, Venice
Photo Essay: Tile House, Hollywood Hills

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