Humberto Castro, an artist from Cuba whose previous works often referred to flight, cages and voyages over water, has expanded his visual metaphors to the concept of fables and historic immigration as the foundation for contemporary society.
“Contemporary Fables,” his October 2008 exhibition at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in downtown Coral Gables, transposes the fable—a literary term for a brief story about talking animals, plants or other objects offering a moral lesson—into paintings.
“My initial concept for this series of paintings was contemporary fables in new cities,” Castro says. “As I developed the idea it became two series, defined and independent but related to each other. The series focuses on the behavior of people and their ability to transform nature and themselves, as well as their displacement around the world.”
The artist notes that “the fables are already there in the paintings themselves, but their interpretation will be different by viewers who bring their own experiences and responses to the work—and viewers will arrive at their own moral from each fable.”
A man apparently wearing only a six-foot galleon around his midsection is titled “Contra el viento y la marea,” literally “Against the Wind and Tide.” A Spanish expression often translated as “against all odds,” clearly the concept applies to such voyages as those of balseros coming here from Cuba, Pilgrims and others crossing the Atlantic from England and Europe, Portuguese pioneers sailing to Brazil, Dutch and English farmers and miners settling in South Africa, and other risky emigrations.
Other paintings continue the concept of fables with trees being transformed into boats and people. “Although I have painted trees before, using them as a metaphor is a new departure,” the artist noted. “For me, trees act as a liaison between the natural world and the people who are always present in my work. I arrived at this symbol last year when we were living in New York. All around this great cosmopolitan city are these huge trees, and their monumental presence seems a counterpart to the monumental structures created by people. This concept suggested the idea of the transformation of the environment by man.”
Castro continues a favorite theme, the Icarus myth, with paintings of a female with an enormous bird’s wing and birds flying around a winged man who has broken out of a cage. He acknowledges “Cuba continues to be unconsciously reflected in my work. But I always use universal themes, because I feel that my way of thinking or analyzing things in life is universal. Whenever I adopt a major theme, I focus on specific situations with a universal application, and Cuba is somehow included in this universality.”
The exhibition also will include several works from the other part of this series, “New Cities,” which introduces the suitcase as a symbol of the physical, cultural and political baggage carried by the immigrants who created the present Americas, Africa and elsewhere. These paintings show a spiraling tower, an enormous cone-shaped kiln or smokestack and a winding wall, all constructed of suitcases.
Some of the paintings include sections that disclose a gold underpainting. “Gold was one of the greatest motivations for global exploration,” Castro notes. “Explorers came to the New World seeking the fabled El Dorado.”
Miami Herald writer Fabiola Santiago noted that Castro is “a member of the daring 1980s generation of avant-garde Cuban artists who broke through government censorship, launched independent art collectives, and for too short a moment, staged exhibits and performance art critical of the island’s totalitarian regime.”
In 1989 the Cuban delegation at UNESCO in collaboration with French art critics and the Fundation France Liberté invited Castro, José Bedia, and several other Cuban artists to exhibit at the Centre d’Art Contemporain Pablo Neruda and the Galerie Nesle in Paris. The exhibition, “Trayctoire Cubaine,” also traveled to two museums in Italy. Castro attended the exhibitions, and on returning to Paris, decided to stay there. He worked in Paris until 2000, when he moved to Miami.
Since arriving here he was given a one-person exhibition at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, “The Paris Years: 1989-99,” in 2000-01, and a one-person exhibition, “Humberto Castro: Paintings and Drawings 1990-2005,” his first 15-year retrospective, in 2006-07 at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries. His work also was included in a recent group exhibition, “Unbroken Ties: Dialogues in Cuban Art,” at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art.
A painting by Castro, “Oasis,” a 2007 oil on canvas, will be the cover of a book scheduled to be published this fall. “Cuba Per Se” consists of interviews with 40 Cuban writers in exile conducted by author Armando Chávez Rivera.
“Contemporary Fables” will be exhibited October 3-31 at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, 169 Madeira Ave. in downtown Coral Gables, Greater Miami’s longest-established contemporary fine art gallery, now in its 35th year. Other works by Humberto Castro may be seen on the gallery web site, www.virginiamiller.com. For more information, call 305-444-4493.