See Cuban artist Ferrer’s work *here*!
Antonio Ferrer Cabello was a patriarch of Santiago de Cuba’s art community. During his long life, Ferrer played a revolutionary and transforming role in the development of the Oriente’s artistic community. His paintings reflect recurrent themes in the art of eastern Cuba: the portrayal of urban landscapes, the exploration of the area’s brilliant light and portraits of the colorful characters who make up the diverse social fabric of Santiago de Cuba.
Every day he climbed the steps to his third floor studio on the corner of San Pedro and Hereida Streets. There, he overlooked the heart of Santiago and painted his city and its people. He was a pupil of famous Cuban painters and a teacher to generations. Through his hands passed clay and oil, brushes and palette knives, portraits and landscapes, and, during his 90 years he left an indelible record of the soul of Santiago de Cuba. He recalled these incidents from his youth which illustrate the struggle of artists and artistic freedom in pre and post revolutionary Cuba.
“My father, Esteban Ferrer, studied painting in Santiago de Cuba at an academy run by the provincial government. He went to war in 1895 and went to work when he came home. When Emilio Bacardí, the first 20th century mayor of Santiago de Cuba, founded the Municipal Academy of Fine Arts, my father joined the teaching staff. He was a student and friend of Tejada, and also of José Uranio Carbó, both of whom were painters. He didn’t miss a concert or an exhibit. I was his oldest son and, when I was still a little boy, he began taking me to all those events, but at that time it was impossible for him to make a living as a painter. The salary he received from the city government was laughable, and he had to maintain a constantly growing family. So he had to decorate churches, do restorations of old paintings and paint houses, anything he could. I would watch him as he painted. He would have me stand right next to him, so I could see how he did things, and when I watched him, I wanted to be a painter, too. But he always told me I shouldn’t study painting, that it should just be a hobby, not a profession. He told me to study law, business or medicine and that he would try to help me in that, but that I should never be a professional artist!
He would say, ‘Just look at Ramírez Guerra,’ who was a dentist. ‘When he doesn’t have any patients, he paints.’ Bofill was the director of the Bacardí Museum, but he couldn’t live on that salary alone. Everybody wanted him to give away his paintings, without considering the expenditures of materials and effort involved. Tejada, on the other hand, owned the Ponupo magnesium mines; he had money to support himself with, so he didn’t have any problems.
I started painting, if memory serves me, around 1929 or 1930. I did my little things. My father told me that he was going to send me to Havana so I could study art, but that was just to keep my illusions alive. He kept putting it off. He didn’t have any interest in my becoming an artist.
When I decided to concentrate on painting, he said, ‘Son, there’s no art market here. People here don’t buy any art at all, so think of other work. I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t paint in your spare time, but . . .’
So due to his father’s advice, which had an undeniable measure of truth, time passed and Antonio Ferrer Cabello’s yearning to be a painter remained unfulfilled. Finally, the young man took matters into his own hands and decided to seek a scholarship.
The young people with artistic ambitions demanded the six government scholarships for Havana’s San Alejandro Academy granted to the Oriente. The politicians were keeping those scholarships for the sons of their sergeants, but the young artists carried out a campaign for them to get them. The war veterans supported them, and some of the scholarships were given to them, even though they amounted to only half of what they were supposed to get.
Ferrer continues his story; “Certain documents were demanded of the applicants. I asked my father to do the paperwork at the mayor’s office to issue the certificates of morality, deportment and financial need. My father said, ‘Yes, yes, I’ll do the paperwork,’ but the days passed and nothing happened. My father was busy and he put it off, so I did the paperwork myself.”
Without hesitation, Ferrer marched over to the mayor’s house. The conversation that ensued between the artist and the official is worth recounting:
“Good morning, Mr. Mayor. I came to see you because I need a certificate of financial need, for a scholarship to the San Alejandro Academy.”
The mayor eyed him slowly and carefully, recognizing him and responding with a question, “Don’t you live at 72 Santa Lucía?”
“Yes, I do.”
“And you’re the son of Ferrer, the painter, right?”
“Then… you aren’t financially needy!”
“Oh, yes I am.”
The mayor’s tone hardened. “Isn’t your father a homeowner? Doesn’t he own his own house?”
“Yes, Sir, my father is a homeowner, it’s his house. Everything is his! I don’t own a thing. I’m financially needy.”
The mayor glared at him from head to foot, broke out in a smile and handed him the signed certificate.
In 1937 Ferrer entered the San Alejandro Academy. He quickly became a student leader and studied under some of Cuba’s most revered artists: sculptors Florencio Gelabert, José Sicre and Teodoro Ramos Blanco; painters Armando Menocal, Esteban Velderrama and Leopoldo Romanach to name a few. After graduating, Ferrer returned to Santiago de Cuba and served as a professor at the José Joaquin Tejada Academy. He was instrumental in establishing the first art gallery in Santiago and was a leader and source of inspiration in the artistic and cultural community.
His lyrical paintings of Santiago de Cuba capture the city’s soul like no one else. He rejoices in improbable but real spaces, in the reddish tone of the locally made roof tiles, in the hundred year old balconies and in the cobblestones worn down by the incessant comings and goings of its inhabitants. He has captured the city’s luminosity and strong sunshine.
The light in this eastern Cuban city has always presented a challenge to its artists. Ferrer has worked diligently to find a technique that dealt with the problem and glare of the sun light. His technique involved keeping a clean palette of translucent colors to represent the harsh, unrelenting light of his city. He felt that artists cannot paint shadows in Santiago, purple or dark, because the shadows are bright, as bright as the light. Painting them otherwise would portray dirty shadows and would not show all the light that they really have.
In addition to his cityscapes, Ferrer has given us an insight into the joys and passions of his Caribbean nation. He paints the Carnival and all of its giddy emotions. He even referred to Santiago itself as a carnival because of the diversity of the light which continually changes and gives energy to the city. Ferrer conveyed some of that energy with his use of the palette knife to which gives the sensuous feeling of touch. He draws us inside the rhythms of the rumba with his portrayals of carnival dancers and congas. It is in these paintings that Ferrer shows the wealth of color and excitement at Carnival time. In his painting La rumba III Ferrer used the bold verticals of the two brightly colored drums to evoke the movement of a dancer’s hips and the intensity of emotions on the drummer’s face reveal the power of the music. The work draws the viewer into the Carnival mêlée.
Cuban poet and independence leader, José Marti who is buried in Santiago de Cuba, summed up the power of Ferrer when he said, “Who does not feel in himself the growing of a strange force when in the presence of a beautiful painting.”
Visión de Antonio Ferrer Cabello
por Miguel Angel Botalín
Ferrer pinta retratos, paisajes, dibuja, hace acuarelas, pasteles, grabados, incursiona en técnicas y explora temas variados, aunque su obra sobresaliente estará desde entonces en el retrato, seguido de cerca del paisaje urbano.
Al artista caracteriza el dibujo preciso, fuerte, esto unido a la riqueza cromática de su paleta y el dominio técnico, le servirán para realizar retratos donde capta la sicología de sus personajes en una pintura de gran acabado.
Cuando observamos entre sus obras el “Facundo” o el “Lincoln” y vemos cómo maneja el claroscuro, descubrimos que cada pincelada es clave, que cada una está situada en el lugar preciso sin descuidar la fisonomía del retrato, alcanzando la blandura de la carne con una luminosidad tropical. Luego vendrán el “Paez” y el “Sabas” y otros muchos de igual calidad donde la sicología de cada modelo no se escapa a la sensibilidad del creador a su pupila que ve de antemano lo exacto que pide la tela. “Paez” y “Sabas” son dos obras que vimos crecer día a día de forma fluida y nos hizo pensar que cada pincelada se colocaba para que nosotros comprobáramos lo que el pintor había visto mucho antes.
Domina todo lo necesario en técnicas y cuenta con talento pero sin dudas la etapa de su formación y el aislamiento que lo rodea en Santiago no le exige cambios en la concepción de su pintura. A la propia capital llegan con gran retraso las corrientes más actuales y no son muchos los que viajan, estudian y regresan para influir en unos pocos seguidores. Ferrer trae a su ciudad esa vanguardia y no sólo promueve la comunicación con artistas de la capital sino con otros fuera de Cuba. Influirá para que las corrientes más actuales se cultiven en el teatro, la música o apoyando toda experimentación en la revista “Galería”, órgano oficial de la institución, recoge mucho de la labor de promoción donde estuvo su activa presencia.
Volvamos a otro aspecto de su obra pictórica, la de las décadas del sesenta, donde continúan los retratos de los músicos con soluciones diferentes a la etapa anterior. El conjunto logra romper con algunas formas establecidas en Ferrer. Hay más soltura y libertad en los fondos y ambientes, se hace más presente la luz. Hay menos rigidez en las poses. Existen opiniones de que Ferrer es más paisajista que retratista, sustentado por el hecho de que su paisaje citadino cobra un nivel competitivo muy fuerte. El conjunto del “Tivolí” es de una gran belleza. Nos devuelve en telas la luz y el color como nunca antes lo habiamos disfrutado.
Es el sol de Santiago en las fachadas de las casas, con sus colores vivos y una modernidad en el tratamiento que impresiona. Es como dijo Soler: “La luz de la Sombra” y la solución sin rebuscamientos. Está allí el sol que quema y una sombra llena de luz que nada tiene de umbrosa.
Hay vida, aún sin peatones, porque somos nosotros los que recibimos el sol, entornamos los ojos y cruzamos a la otra acera en busca de la sombra acogedora.
Evocar la obra de un artista es una labor grata. Estamos seguro que la obra y la vida de Ferrer es suma de experiencia y deuda que más de una generación le agredece.