In 1958, I was a young sailor in Cuba. From out at sea, we watched smoke rising from the island to the high heavens. Fidel Castro burning the sugar cane fields, his thumbprint seen throughout the island. It was the early days of the revolution. The fire of those days was captivating and never forgotten. I am exploring aspects of that time through my art.
Our ship was there on a shake-down cruise, and we had occasional liberty. While taking the navy bus into Guantanamo City to meet a Cuban girl I’d met, my eyes were transfixed by “Viva Castro” graffiti from the Movimiento 26 de Julio. As we'd been told to expect, occassional gunfire from Castro's rebels could be heard as we passed through town. Anti-American sentiment was growing, and, several times, I was chased because of my uniform.
My girlfriend and I corresponded by letter after I shipped out. One of her last letters from January 1959 described being holed up in her house with gunfire and revolution outside. After a time, sadly, her letters were lost.
My interest in the spiritual and my background in Roman Catholicism opened a
door for me to Santeria, the religion embraced by almost all Cubans. (It’s been said that Cuba is 90 percent Catholic and 100 percent Santeria.) In my paintings, heroines and heroes intermingle with sinners, saints, and demi-gods—protagonists and antagonists—who, quite often, can be read in different and, sometimes, overlapping ways.
The paintings are neither for nor against Castro’s regime. Instead, they are about the hope, determination, and life force of the Cuban people. I like to feel that my love of Cuba comes through. The series began in 2013. There are twenty paintings now.