Cuban Art Outshines Politics

Cuba is like a giant Ping-Pong, caught in the cross hairs of United States foreign policy. One minute President Obama is relaxing restrictions, making it easier for tourists in the United States to visit the tiny island. Blink, and President Trump is rolling back some of the administration’s changes. Another blink, and the state department is advising Americans not to travel to Cuba after mysterious medical attacks on diplomats at the American Embassy in Havana.

With its politics in flux, Cuba may be more fascinating than ever for Americans already intrigued by its music, culture and art. The interest is evident from the number of Cuba-themed museum shows and exhibits around the United States, many of which have been held in tandem with Havana-based institutions.

Earlier this year, an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York was developed with members of the Cuban National Museum of Natural History, while another at the Bronx Museum was organized with curators from El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Havana.

El Museo del Barrio in New York has a retrospective through Nov. 5 of Belkis Ayón, the late Cuban visual artist who was first on view at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles.

Olga Viso, executive director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, attributed some of the heightened interest to the Obama administration policies, which made travel to the island easier. Fidel Castro’s death last November was also a factor for people who had boycotted the island during his regime.

“For many years from the ’50s to late ’80s, Cuba was a cultural center in Latin America,” said Iliana Cepero, professor of Latin American art and Cuban Culture at New York University and the New School. “This relationship has been so tense for so many decades. Cubans have been waiting for this moment for all these years.”

Both Ms. Viso and Ms. Cepero have curated Cuban-themed exhibitions. Ms. Viso was a developer of the Walker’s “Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950,” which focuses on artists who remained in Cuba after the revolution, and opens on Nov. 11. Ms. Cepero created “CubaIs” at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, which runs through March 4.

The images in that show capture rarely seen communities in Cuba, “from the Cuban ‘1 percent’ — the incredibly rich living in ritzy enclaves hidden away from the population — and the underground world of the punk kids known as ‘frikis,’ ” Wallis Annenberg, the president, chairman, and chief executive of the Annenberg Foundation, said in an email. “We aimed to capture Cuba at this critical moment, when the island nation is on the cusp of great change.”

Ms. Annenberg commissioned Cuban photographers like Raúl Cañibano and Leysis Quesada Vera, and the political prisoner Geandy Pavón, along with American photographers who have a history of shooting in Cuba, to “show us what Cuba is like today, outside of the retro cars and cigars that portray a romanticized version of the island in U.S. culture,” she said. The show also features portraits of well-known Cuban performers like Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan, fashion designers Narciso Rodriguez and Isabel Toledo, and the actor Andy Garcia.

One of the main goals of the show is to present Cuba in all of its contradictions, “a very layered Cuba of today,” said Ms. Cepero, who grew up in Cuba and left in 2006. She added that the island can be difficult to grasp, especially for tourists. On the one hand, it is filled with entrepreneurship, music and warm, vibrant people. On the other hand, racism, prostitution and political unrest are rampant, she said.

The real estate developer Jorge M. Pérez donated over 170 works drawings, photographs, mixed-media and sculptures to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)one of the largest collections of contemporary Cuban art in an American museum.

For him, the three-part show, “On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,” is deeply personal. The Argentine-born son of Cuban parents, Mr. Perez grew up on the island as a child and fell in love with the art. “I don’t think there is a country that per capita produces more great art than Cuba,” he said. He attributes that to the Instituto Superior de Arte, the government-sponsored school for artists.

“The education is rigorous, and only the best get selected to go there,” he said. “They produce just amazing artists — there’s a continuation of this great artists that are coming from Cuba.”

Cuban Art Outshines Politics

A look back: Renee Robins

Artist Renee Robins shares a bit about her work featured in Galactic Lagoon, a solo exhibit of acrylic paintings on canvas from 2016.


I create detailed environments that offer a place to consider our complex relationship to nature and the cosmos. Life presents enchanting explora- tions through tiny cells, flowering botanicals, rare specimens, brilliant car- nivals, and celestial bodies.

Trail_of_Fireflies_Vapor_from _the_Sea.jpg I position hybrid flora/fauna within a space that simultaneously evokes the deep sea and the cosmos. Moving between the real and imagined, my painting process brings together microscopic and telescopic viewpoints. Quantum particles have their own set of guiding principles, such as in atoms, where electrons and protons cannot touch each other. It’s impossible to observe this happening with the naked eye. In a similar way, black holes are guided by their own set of rules and prin- ciples.

X_Marks_the_Milky_Way.jpg No one has actually seen a black hole or quantum particles but there’s evidence to suggest their existence. By creating associations be- tween things that are seemingly disparate, like stars and planton, the work presents a question or sparks a curiosity about the world. In this way, my paintings respond to biodiversity, in order to bring an understanding or build a connection with our sense of place in the natural world.

A look back: Renee Robins

Chad Person “My Tax Dollars Hard at Work”

“L.U.V.”   12″ x 12″ Currency on Canvas

Lois Lambert Gallery presents Chad Person’s, “My Tax Dollars Hard at Work”, a collection of works that explores the relationship between people, the money they earn and the taxes they pay in a Capitalist society. The exhibition includes a series of images composed with dollar bills cut and collaged on canvas and an inflatable Monopoly Man called “Mr. Moneybags”. In deconstructing the currency, he removes the actual value of the dollars it takes to make the piece and replaces it with the value Chad applies to the finished artwork itself.

Chad carefully cuts strips of dollar bills and collages them together rendering striking images of US military weapons, tanks, helicopters, and planes. Chad manipulates the darker and lighter areas found on the paper currency to create the shadows and textures in the image. The pieces speak to the lack of control we have over the destination of our tax dollars and how such a large portion of those dollars end up in the hands of the military complex.

bada boom.jpg
“Bada Boom”  12″ x 12″ Currency on canvas

After creating the Tax Cuts military series, Chad began to examine his priorities. Becoming a homeowner, a husband, and a father, he began to realize that instead of life feeling more secure, the amount of personal fear and uncertainty had increased and his personal freedom had decreased. Chad thought about the explorers who set out on a quest not knowing what would await them in the new world and imagining that monsters might appear at any time. Chad changes his narrative to address those imagined monsters.

Rather than worship the dollar for what it is or what they can buy, Chad’s collages suggest that money can somehow be made to work for you. This point is further proven by the fact that Chad can claim the cost of making the artwork as a tax write off. The process is meditative for the artist and according to Chad, “…one of the only ways I can actually get out of my head and the rat race at the same time.”

The exhibition culminates with a sagging inflatable, Mr. Moneybags, depicting Rich Uncle Pennybags sitting on top of a brown moneybag. Chad’s inflatable reduces the character of the Monopoly man from an icon for Capitalism to a floppy impotent figure. Mr. Moneybags is a part of an ongoing series of inflatables that illustrate “a loss of prowess for select iconic characters at the end of their cultural relevance”.

Chad Person is a graduate of the University of New Mexico. He has been shown in galleries and museums across the country. Chad’s artwork is included in collections at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation in Los Angeles, California and the West Collection in Oaks, Pennsylvania.

Chad Person “My Tax Dollars Hard at Work”

Sonny Wizelman “A Moment in Time”

“Blue Saloon”  by Sonny Wizelman

Lois Lambert Gallery presents “A Moment in Time”, a series of miniature narrative sculptures, by artist Sonny Wizelman. Wizelman’s figures and miniature components come Tabula Rasa, allowing him to build and paint the narrative of his choosing. Sonny creates scenarios of a familiar and often romanticized time in American culture.


Wizelman spends a great deal of time on research and problem solving. In his studio there are rolls and rolls of architectural drawings for each of his creations. Sometimes Wizelman rethinks the original idea to fit the resources he has available.  An example of this process is Steamers Carousel, which was inspired by Christmas ornaments that resembled carousel animals. “It is all about the creative journey.” says Wizelman, “I don’t want it to end”.


The miniature sculptures present themselves as “blank canvases” with endless possibilities. It’s a medium that doesn’t limit Sonny to one material. Sonny focuses on how to make his sculptures more compelling by adding lights, sounds and sometimes he even adds mechanization to the pieces. Steamers Carousel, is powered by a small steam locomotive that stands adjacent to the carousel. The scenes he has created with each of his pieces are stories that are familiar to us all. They are a slice of Americana that projects a more innocent and idyllic moment in time.




Sonny Wizelman “A Moment in Time”

Frank Oriti “Material World”

waves 16 x 20 oil on panel 4500
“Waves”, 16″ x 20″ Oil on Panel

Lois Lambert Gallery presents “Material World”, a series of paintings from artist Frank Oriti. This collection focuses on an exploration of not only the object, but the materials and the methodology that creates the reality. Originally trained as a figure painter, Oriti became fascinated and more engaged with the clothing than the subject. As a result the artist now uses the article of clothing as a from of portraiture that represents the person who wears it.

Each fabric, whether plastic, denim or leather, requires a different approach and technique. Oriti experiments with paint application and scale in order to communicate to the viewer the reality of each item. The challenge of navigating these obstacles in order to give life to the weave and weight of these inanimate objects is one of Oriti’s motivating factors in the creation of these pieces.

Studio Boots, Oil on Canvas

Frank is recreating a visual history of how these fabrics rip, tear, scuff, fade, breakdown and evolve over time igniting the nostalgic feelings that are associated with the items. While Frank is drawn to items that have a relevance to his own history, the story the viewer brings to the work is more important to him.

Oriti’s concern is with today’s millennial working class and expressing who they are through what they look like and what they wear. Once tattoo’s that were relegated to service men (marines, navy and army) are now part of that working class identity. Non conventional haircuts and hair dyes, clothing, and other symbols of the disenfranchised are common.


Frank is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and has an MFA from theUniversity of Ohio. His work has been shown in galleries across the country and was included in London’s National Gallery BP Portrait Award Exhibition in 2015.


Frank Oriti “Material World”

Susan Connell “Gestures”

unframed image 4Susan Connell’s “Gestures” is a series of oil stick and oil pastel drawings on paper. In this series of drawings Susan examines and illustrates the connection between the gesture of a hand and the unconscious mind.

Connell’s fascination with the Jungian theory of the collective unconscious serves as an underpinning for her work. By focusing her drawings on hands, the slightest curve of a finger or suggestion of a touch, Susan portrays the core of humanity— both tragic and hopeful. Hands act as powerful symbols for ideas like protection or care. Looking at Susan’s body of work one sees image-after-image of hands shielding, nurturing, or helping another figure. “I feel soullessness and “mean spirit” has seeped into our culture. I hope my work encourages people to feel and care for others again”.

Connell’s minimal use of line and color is a testament to how little information one needs in order to communicate. Connell can draw a simple white slender figure standing alone on the palm of an oversized hand eliciting feelings of both hope and melancholy. The viewer is able to connect to Susan’s imagery through a universal understanding of the gestures.

Connell’s process is intuitive and her composition often reveals itself as the work progresses. “I believe the creative process is the most important thing of all…colors change, designs morph, but the core of my idea remains the same”.

Susan Connell is a graduate of Colorado Women’s College. She received her master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School where she studied under Phil Dike and Paul Darrow. Susan’s paintings and drawings have been shown in galleries, and universities throughout Southern California including Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has been a student of artist Tom Wudl for the last 10 years.

Susan Connell “Gestures”

A Walk Through with Susan Connell

postcard-5inx7in-h-frontThey come from the sub-conscious, I look at them afterwards and then I have an understanding of what they are or mean. This first one is my animus or inner voice when I find myself talking to myself (pictured above).

unframed image 19

This second one came after the series, toward the end. I like working with the figure, and I can’t really pin point where it came from. This series is different from earlier work since I used figures. I hadn’t ever used them that much but I had always loved drawing from the figure and I just had the urge to get back to that.

unframed image 20.jpg

The diver here, has similarities to the figure. I like that it is coming from my hand, sliding out from my grip but also returning to the hand. She is sad and the hand is holding her suffering but in public she is holding herself to the public. There is the public self and then the inner self.

Because I have worked with the figure so much even the abstraction have some of the same feeling as the more figurative forms. These are more geometric than my earlier work. I was just so interested in design but then I softened it. Almost art deco you could say.

Usually it is a neutral palette but the oil bars come in good strong colors that blend very well and really intrigued me. They are R & F brand. The different qualities of each color create such a beautiful texture, such as the matte finish and preserving that to maintain the subtle colors. I draw first with the pencil then I work with the oil bar, then the oil pastels, then back to the bar and then to the pencil. I use a brush, q-tips, and fingers. I also use turpentine.

Through the layers you can map the process. The many many layers, that it requires to create opaque color since the medium itself is fairly transparent. Like the white here you can see some of the tracing, the pencil underneath, left  on purpose to give some of the shadowing effects

unframed image20a.jpg

This one has some gold and copper, with the broken hair. I liked doing her, I enjoy the process and not the end goal. She is a repeating character for sure, with the broken hair. Hair is a new element since some of these figures are bald and exploring that element as an addition to the same figure.

Each one takes several weeks because the oil bars take a long time to dry. I work on them in the pencil and keep working, but once the oil bar goes down I have to step away for almost a week and some of the darker colors are even longer drying time.

The white ones have more apparent layers since there is far less medium. The hands are always protecting or nurturing, keeping this thought or person away from the other, creating a barrier with implied rigidity.

unframed image 8 .jpg

Filter, it is filtering out what is happening today or in kindness from the future generation or innocents which is why the mouth is open. the innocent character that is lacking detail and is unformed.

unframed image 22.jpg

This piece was made right after the women’s march down town, expressing my feelings about the current situation. Marching in the 60’s, having to march again now, that it is having to happen again. This hand is strong and sturdy. A fatigued figure, still walking, marching, but exhausted.

FullSizeRender 5

and then on this wall a series of three, we called them crying pieces,  in terms of story and composition were placed together when curated. They are just an expression of tears, this is “tears”  and it is the collective unconscious of the world, can it is cry, broken pieces.  This figure is stretching on to do something else, everyone of the hands are based on photographs my husband has taken of my hands. I love the figure and have an appreciation for the movements of the body, as I have a background in dance.

This piece because of the color and shape have a very specific connotation. I would say that first of all on the surface, public way, I don’t like the way that formal religions have affected the world. I don’t like how it has moved in to our government and justifying that oppression using religion and the muslim world. Any of those founders or saints of those religions would be crushed and appalled with what it has done. An institution that doesn’t serve humanity, and you can feel that. It is being said with very little information, communicating a very sad story. Another aspect is that sadness that comes with a lack of faith. I do not have faith.

unframed image 23.jpg

Here is that same lady figure from before. She is very thin, and cut out of tissue paper, the artwork exists as a small cutout, here. It is another exploration of hair, a feeling of emptiness and remorse, crisis and panic. All of the hair you will find, something special and hidden.

unframed image 6.jpg

These pieces also have red coloring, they work independently however, this is about protection, there is a figure that is leaving, facing away and is being protected from that experience. The hands represent both a single being or many characters. It is up to the viewer to decide who the hands belong to.


“A woman of an undetermined age”. I love women that are my age and I think that have a great sense of humor. I wanted to do a piece with a little bit of humor.

A Walk Through with Susan Connell