07 Aug 2014 • Contemporary Art
Nelson Dominguez Talks Cuba and Politics
After graduating from art school in Havana in 1975, Nelson Dominguez went on to become the head of the Painting Department at the same institution in which he studied. After 15 years he left to commit himself fully to painting, since then he has become one of Cuba’s most prolific artists, spanning a series of creative movements within Havana in just one career. He claims that his work addresses the rural side of country, and he draws from his upbringing living on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba. However concepts relating to politics and American-Cuban relations do surface, the results of America’s embargo on Cuba are always in the mindset of the artist. Recently, his 2013 work Game’s Catharsis has come to exemplify his resentment toward foreign authoritative powers.
You talk of yourself as someone who experiments a lot, is your work Game’s Catharsis an example of this?
It is yes, I’m looking at different iconography.
What type of iconography?
Well in Game’s Catharsis I have stepped away from a traditional — or what I call traditional — approach to how I talk about Cuba. Everything in the picture centres around an ambiguous character. I try to illustrate the difference in culture now, and the conflicts of culture in Cuba.
Is that because you feel things have changed for the worse in Cuba?
I don’t want to say. It’s too much to talk about so easily and informally.
I feel the way you capture the everyday people of Havana references post-impressionist traditions. Some of your paintings remind me of Van Gogh’s postman portraits.
I am influenced by that period yes, and traditional methods of portraiture. The sense of truth appeals to me. There is no necessity to be dramatic, or show off. I ultimately try to communicate the mood of the person when I’m painting portraits, or any scene with human beings in.
It’s clear you understand the Cuban condition very well.
I grew up in Cuba, in Santiago de Cuba. It was beautiful. I moved to Havana to study art and since then I have developed an understanding for both the city and the country. The people are very different in Havana. Everyone here wants to make it.
Are you critical of that?
It’s hard to say yes or no. I talk about it in my work.
You were part of the second wave of Cuba’s avant-garde, what do you make of the scene now, do you like the work Cuban artists living abroad are creating?
Some of it I like, a lot I don’t. I don’t think it’s made for me. It’s interesting that you mention the second part of the Avant-Garde movement, because I think of it as a second wave too, but some don’t. Initially people like Carlos Enriquez were creating this movement in the early 20th century that felt like it was just for Cuba. Some Cuban artists now don’t make art that feels very Cuban.
Is that a negative thing?
No I suppose not.
Some of your recent work feels quite abstract to me. A step away from your portraits.
Without a doubt. I’ve become much more focussed on the line and the aggression it shows.
Read our full article on the contemporary art scene in Havana in the current issue of Elephant – available here.