For many years the United States and Cuba have not been on very good terms in the sense of traveling between the countries.  Finally, here is some change that we can believe in.  The U.S. blockade on Cuba is alive and well, but Obama’s given some leeway.  For the first time since the start of W’s second term, Cuban artists can get visas to visit the States.  With a lot of help from the Madison- Camaguey Sister City Association, support from Edgewood College, Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, and the Overture and Pleasant T. Rowland Foundations, painter Orestes Larios Zaak and sculptor Gregario Perez Escobar are the exhibitors in the Di Ricci Gallery.

Keeping up with Cuba’s events can be difficult, but many people are surprised by the events that we have Cuban artists in the States showing us their story.  The island faces technological challenges largely linked to the blockade, but the Internet access is expanding, and personal cultural exchanges like these pieces create new connections.  Larios and Perez, widely known in Cuba, are represented in private collections in Europe, South America, and Canada.  “When our messages reach everyone, we can say we’ve left behind local artists behind; today we’re universal artists, “ Larios says.

When visiting the gallery it showed that Larios and Perez showed some global characteristics and a naturalist way of doing things.  Perez’ wooden objects are what he would call universal paradoxes, which range from things you would find in the environment to psychology.  For example, Perez had a brain’s impaled on the shaft of a hand- crank motor and a denuded tree is stuck in a pencil sharpener.  I really felt that you had to think deeper on each piece because they all had a deeper meaning that did not always jump out at you.

The gallery also pointed out that Perez works almost always with wood, including mahogany and guayacan.  Wood’s a prominent part of Cuban sculptors works because it is a very available object.  “Above all I try to be a man of my times, I want to think critically.  I look for universal problems and create sculptures with the objective of getting the viewer to react to how to improve our human condition.”

Even though Perez and Larios have a similar connection with their works, Larios expresses himself by doing paintings.  Either by oil on canvas, or sometimes acrylics on cardboard they are all beautiful.  All of his pieces are very soothing to look at.  It is almost as if they are supposed to be meditative.  Larios has been trained in photography and influenced by European and U.S. hyperrealists.  He creates beautiful images of nature with plants and insects in almost every piece.  Each piece is very simple with usually an insect and some grass or flowers.  Do not let the simplistic look to think that they are not elegant.  Each one has a lot of detail, as if the photo is alive right before your eyes.  “We live in an aggressive world, where nature and human beings are constantly assaulted, “ he says.  “When I sit down to paint I feel a spiritual peace that isolates me from that violence.”

With my visit to the Di Ricci gallery, it reminded me of Diane Soles’ experience with Cuba.  With the Cuban artists shown at the gallery it was basically the same thing Diane Soles experienced.  All of them are artists in some way, whether they are studying art forms or actually partaking on the event.  Diane Soles like Perez and Larios were given visas to travel and share their works, but has been hard since the Bush Administration.

I really learnt a lot from my experience at the Di Ricci gallery.  It showed me that the artist’s way of conveying a message did not have to have words at all.  The artists had a deeper meaning to their works and it showed how talented they really are.  Instead of the U.S. and Cuba focusing on each other’s governments, maybe we should pay more attention to the experiences we may be missing out on.

To look at images of these artists go to