Cuban Artist Reynaldo Pagán Ávila


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Reynaldo Pagán, a native of Santiago de Cuba, is one of the city’s most outstanding postmodern artists. His father, a well-known photographer, lived Sueño, a coveted residential neighborhood. Sueño was considered desirable because of its tranquility and its well preserved homes, many of them built in the 1950’s. Pagán remembers a painter creating a mural on the wall of his father’s home. He recalls,” The smell of turpentine confirmed to me that I was watching an artist at work. I liked the smell and I liked watching the painting unfold. I was a quiet boy, very withdrawn, and I liked being in the studio. I would observe every brushstroke. I also enjoyed watching my father work in his darkroom, the patience it involved. All that became a part of me, and my mother, although she was not an artist, had a natural talent which she used to help me correct my drawings.”
After Pagán’s parents divorced, he lived with his mother in Vista Hermosa, an older and poorer district in the hills of Santiago de Cuba. There he observed the narrow streets and the wooden houses as well as a variety of local characters that would later appear in his works; the bully, the santero and others. He comments, “I embraced that working class world with its humor, irony and colorful characters and I combined them with styles found in classical works of art. The time I spent in Sueño shows up in my more reflective pieces. My childhood environments influenced me greatly. Growing up and living in Eastern Cuba has permitted me a form of art less influenced by trends, a form more national in scope. Life here is slower, and that makes you look inside yourself and look into others more deeply.”
Pagán studied at José Joaquín Tejada Art School which was a time of experimentation for him. He sharpened his skills and found that painting was his forté and his obsession. It was also a time of disappointment because some of the techniques which he had expected to learn were not taught due to a shortage of the necessary tools and materials or, in some cases, there was no professor to teach the technique. Pagán says, “I learned many of the techniques from books or by experimenting. I learned how to use watercolors after I left school. Pagán has done two series of watercolors entitled La política cultural (Cultural Policy) and La mesa está servida (Dinner is Served). Both of these series are related to the art market. In fact, Pagán generally prefers to work in series. He tells us, “I think out the whole idea, even the title, before starting a series. I think about the title and then the paintings. I have to fall in love with the idea before I bring it to life. Then I paint fast and complete my paintings very quickly. The only thing that takes me a long time is the form and when an idea comes to me, it comes as a series.”
One of Pagán’s series is based on the classical painting, The Death of Marat, by Jacques Louis David who captured the death of the revolutionary Dr. Marat on canvas. Pagán tells us that he feels that it is one of the finest works in the history of art because of its color, composition and the great drama contained in the story.
Pagán takes elements from David and other classical schools in a technique that he calls manipulation. Pagán says, “When I talk about manipulation I mean that I am manipulating things that already exist in art. You manipulate styles that others have created, but it should be clear that, when you appropriate these styles and forms, it is done in order to create a new work. My pieces inspired by The Death of Marat change the context of David’s work. When you use elements from a well-known work, you can create hundreds of original pieces.”
He continues, “I use things that have already been done to express my own concepts, everything from my own point of view. What I’m most concerned about is being myself and being able to communicate. It’s like a chair; what I’m most concerned about is that you can sit comfortably on the chair. It doesn’t matter if one arm is Baroque, the back is Cubistic and the legs are Surrealistic.”
Surrealism and expressionism have a strong presence in Pagán’s work. Expressionism is seen in the distortion of the subject at hand and surrealism is revealed through a myriad of diverse elements.
Pagán manipulates the styles found in the Flemish school of painting in his series dealing with portrayals of Christ. He takes the Christ figure out of a religious context and uses it as a point of reference. We may see the Christ in a human context as in El Cristo de la hamaca (Christ of the Hammock). Pagan says, “He is a Christ who is no longer a Christ. It’s based on a Flemish work, but he’s from the Cuban countryside, with a machete in his hand, lying in a hammock. Anyone looking at the painting assumes he’s resting after a day’s work, maybe after cutting sugarcane. It’s sort of a double metaphor, the way he suffers after a hard day’s work. Even though you see a Christ, it’s a symbolic Christ; a human being who lives in poverty with limitations. In other words, there can be suffering as great as Christ’s. It’s metaphoric.”
Pagán presents his rendition of Mary in much the same way. She is a beautiful red haired woman, traditionally dressed, but seated on a public bench beneath a banana plant, reading a copy of Arte Cubano. She has become one with the people.
The series Somos inocentes (We Are Innocent) explores the concept of childhood innocence. Pagán got the inspiration for it when his wife was pregnant. Pagán began thinking about the baby and trying to imagine what it was like to be in a cradle or a playpen. He comments, “Generally adults don’t think about the time when they were children. The title Somos inocentes is somewhat ironic because, although we may be innocent at that stage, it is obvious from my standpoint that no one is really innocent. This series is a commentary on human beings.”
Professor Lydia Bofill, Head of the Art History Department of the University of Oriente, observes that Pagán’s childhood paintings frequently have bars or railings that limit the space or balloons which, although appealing, ironically block the entire sky. This perhaps alludes to Pagán’s own childhood and perhaps to violence suffered by the artist or to others he knew.
Pagán also comments on human beings in his paintings by using mannequins or puppets to represent the human form. He says, “According to religious beliefs, man was created by God. If you’re an atheist, then you’re ruled by power and laws, and you are still destiny’s marionette. People are still finding themselves. To me, people are an unfinished project because there are still thousands of questions and millions of concerns which have not been answered or clarified. These include questions concerning man’s own existence.” Pagán has created an esoteric character, an androgynous being of jointed wood, timeless and faceless that he manipulates at will and uses to reveal diverse situations and meanings associated with the contemporary process of human existence.
Pagán feels that people tell history and he relates some of this belief to us in his series about sugarcane, Si las cañas hablaran, (If Sugarcane Could Talk). He explains that everything, every tree has a story of its own and has lived through the history of events. Inanimate objects can’t retell history, but they live through it. History is told from different points of view. Only the cross on which Jesus was crucified and the cloth in which he was wrapped can accurately tell the story. To relate these opinions to us, Pagán has created Si las cañas hablaran. He says, “You can imagine being on a sugarcane plantation. It’s a rough place that lends itself to playing pranks, hiding and indulging in pleasurable things like making love. This series is an attempt to let the sugarcane tell its own story.
Pagán’s Japanese series appears to be a deviation from his themes of Eastern Cuba, but he is able to dispel that idea by explaining, “My pieces which reflect Eastern art are a double metaphor. The Eastern world has always faced discrimination from the Western world. In Cuba, it has always been easier to reach the mass media from Havana, capital city, than from our Eastern region, so my Eastern-themed pieces reflect this, giving them a double meaning.”
Pagán provides the opportunity, from any perspective of reality, to reflect, smile and meditate on the existential anguish that threatens today’s society.

Reinaldo Pagán Ávila – Biografía
Reinaldo Pagán Ávila nace en Santiago de Cuba el 8 de diciembre de 1971. Desde pequeño se interesa por la pintura y en varias ocasiones es seleccionado por sus maestros primarios a representar a su escuela en concursos de artes plásticas que se realizan entre las escuelas.
En 1983 ingresa en la escuela provincial de artes plásticas “José Joaquín Tejada”, terminando al cabo de tres años el nivel vocacional y graduandose como profesor en la especialidad de dibujo y pintura.
En 1991 comienza a trabajar como técnico de montaje en un equipo de ambientación creado por el Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales (FCBC). En este mismo año forma, conjuntamente con otros artistas jovenes, el grupo Cara Joven (conocido como Cara-jo) para abordar todos los espacios galeristicos de la ciudad y hacer notar así la inserción de un arte joven con nuevas propuestas y preocupaciones. El grupo toma como estrategia afinidades estudiantiles-personales; el acercamiento a problemáticas existenciales, los problemas ecológicos y posiciones contestatarias marcan la propuesta artistica.
Se desempeña en la realización de “performance” y “happening” en la calle como lo fue el proyecto “Arte Vidriera”, asumido y apoyado por la Asociación Hermanos Saíz (AHS). Este proyecto utilizó las vitrinas comerciales, donde los pintores, aprovechando el entorno citadino, subvierten la lógica cotidiana, creando un portentoso y sugerente espectáculo visual para el involuntario transitar de la Calle Enramadas, la vía mas populosa y conocida de Santiago de Cuba. Esto fue en el marco del Festival del Caribe de 1992.
Expone su primera muestra personal, “Mi Cara Doble”, en 1995 con gran exito y es invitado a exponerla en Guantánamo y Granma.
Ha obtenido más de 15 premios en la década de los años 90 en los diferentes salones, en los que participa:
* Salón 30 de Noviembre, Galería de Arte Universal – premio en los años 1994, 1995, 1997
* Salón de la Ciudad, Galería Oriente – premio en los años 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997
* Salón de Pequeño Formato, Galería el Zaguán – premio en los años 1997, 1998, 1999
* Salón Emilio Bacardí, Museo Emilio Bacardí – premio 1998

Se ha destacado también como humorista, participando en concursos internacionales y nacionales de caricatura y obteniendo así el premio nacional Aquelarre en 1993 y 1996, y el premio internacional Olense Kartoenale en Bélgica en 1996. En 1998 y 1999 realiza exposiciónes personales de caricatura titulada “La Otra Cara I y II”. Perfeccióna el antigüo diseno de la etiqueta de la cerveza Hatuey, actualmente vigente.

“Arte Cubano” 15×11 Watercolor on Paper

See More of Reynaldo Pagan’s work.

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