Eduardo Guerra is an outstanding Cuban engraver who wanted to surprise his public with an exhibition of drawings alone, and he has done so, offering provocative works of stylization and synthesis.
The artist titled this exhibition Mejor no te digo nada (I better not tell you anything), which includes 30 drawings from the series El arte de la espera (The Art of Waiting) and Hay quien mueve los hilos invisibles (Someone Pulls the Invisible Strings). It was hosted by one of the most sought-after galleries in Havana, the Carmen Montilla, located right in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, in the historic center of the Cuban capital.
Guerra, born in 1967 in Pinar del Río, the westernmost of the Cuban provinces, has an academic foundation that can be seen in each of his pieces. He studied at the Vocational Arts School; the National Arts School (ENA), where he specialized in engraving; and graduated in 1995 from the Higher Institute of the Arts (ISA).
The following year, he began to exhibit his work in Havana (Colón, lo que te estás perdiendo), and since then, he has held a score of solo exhibitions on the island, in the United States, France, Spain, and Slovakia; and fifty collective exhibitions in Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, Colombia, among others.
Engravers, as any connoisseur knows, must be very good drawers, which is why Eduardo Guerra has now posed himself the challenge of leaving engraving behind, to focus on drawing on canvas.
The artist was kind enough to offer a tour of the gallery and speak with GI about the exhibition, and although the title suggests he “better not say anything,” he agreed to comment noting: “The title is a trick or somehow a stimulus to the viewer to discover the themes themselves.”
You have held an extensive list of exhibitions, yet this is the first of just drawings...
Well, yes, as drawings this is the first. Basically, all have been of engravings. I graduated from the ISA in the specialty of engraving and in fact I am a professor there, I teach a collagraphy workshop, and that practically makes you a student because engraving requires perseverance and rigor. Engraving appears to be an improvisation but that is not the case, you need a technical grounding to be able to produce results.
Does engraving always represent a surprise for the artist, given the final result?
Many times you have control, up to a point, but sometimes you are the first to be surprised by the result. Of course, not always, because you are learning as you go and you are more or less aware, but it does have that aspect that painting doesn’t, that there are effects within the printing process that you did not foresee at the beginning. That provides you with a double sentiment, that which you planned, plus that which becomes evident at the time of printing.
Do you enjoy replicating the work?
I think so, because in my case once I produce the edition, I intervene on the original copy, for example with watercolor, in the old style of the lithographs of Havana, which were illuminated. Illuminate is a common term and in this case to illuminate is to apply watercolor on a print. Once the original is printed, I intervene with watercolor, and the copies of that edition become almost original pieces, as they have the intervention of my hand.
Let’s return to this exhibition and the idea you wish to convey…
I have tried here to reflect a very simple idea. I really like working with the graphic elements, especially with posters, which have elements of synthesis where you must convey an idea to the viewer and with few elements – so that the viewer has a quick and effective reading. That simplicity conveyed by the poster is one of the elements that I have used in this exhibition.
Are all the pieces drawings on canvas?
Yes, and that posed another challenge, how to work with the line on canvas, because sometimes when you apply graphite it is not exactly what you want, so you have to seek other variants. Here I have worked constantly with pencils of different calibers, gradings, not all pencils give you the same tone.
Here, we are dealing with black and white, but I would like to talk about color in general in your work…
I have always used color in my work. In this case, I have put a little color only in some drawings, as a very subtle support, I did not want stridencies. We Cubans are very colorful, light is one of the things that characterizes us, the sun is intrinsic, we are also explosive, gestural; but in this case it is not the interest of the exhibition, it is simply transmitting the idea through the black and white.
You present many themes...
The themes vary a lot because at this time in our society there are many things that converge; we are exposed to climate change, the relationship with the environment, intimate relationships, no one is alien to these issues. It’s what I told you, that people discover the subject themselves, and for me it’s like leaving it open to interpretation.
Everyday issues but in a subtle and profound way...
For example, the same problems that overwhelm us - like this couple under the table, they hide because they are overcome by their problems. It is a tornado surrounding the everyday. Another theme is religion - some people approach religion without knowing what is behind it, as a fad, people who approach that world, without realizing that there is a whole tradition behind it. In the case of some tasks, like that which has to do with money, with bar codes, it reflects how we are able to change face to obtain certain things. There are problems that affect us but we must treat them in an artistic way.
They are universal problems...
That’s true, over the years you learn, you share, and you become more sensitive to other realities that in the end are what connect us as human beings.
Can you talk to us about your work method?
I have some sketchbooks and I put my ideas in them – they’re like an arsenal, a Pandora’s box which I suddenly turn to, because creative work is not always florid, sometimes the idea is more complicated than the realization. The idea can come at a certain moment in the most unexpected places, when you don’t have a piece of paper, you have to carry it in your mind, that’s why it’s good to record them and at a certain moment they serve you.
I almost always work from an idea. I never go directly to the canvas. Once I start, I leave room for experimentation, but always starting from a sketch, it is like a game that is established between the work and the main idea. The creation is complicated, when people see the finished work they can’t imagine the suffering of the artist behind it. We artists are translators of the sensibility of what many people would like to say, but who do not have the technical resources. In some way we are all artists, by getting up and combining your clothes, decorating your house, you are undertaking a creative act.
Do you have a particular time to work or do you do it when inspiration comes? Is there inspiration?
You can have moments of inspiration, but that must be supported with discipline, hours in the workshop, sometimes the inspiration comes but you don’t want to execute it physically, because there are biorhythms. I for example work in the mornings.
The exhibition demands a certain work rhythm...
There are sometimes exhibitions that you do to comply. In this case it is an honest exhibition, it has emerged from the most sincere of my being, and that in the end provides you with tranquility. I am creating what I like, very close to what I thought on starting, so that people can glimpse into my inner world.
The artist always travels many paths. Do you think you have found yours?
I think that is the case until the last breath; you do not finish until you stop breathing. I think that a true artist never finishes his work. As Chaplin said, we are all amateurs; we don’t live long enough to be anything else. The artist must be in constant search, for me it is even important to move into other fields. Any visual artist must do drawing, painting, sculpture, so as not to fall into the vice of everyday life.
Eduardo Guerra provokes us with Mejor no te digo nada, an exhibition in which he subtly and synthetically offers a view, based on his introspection, of multiple human relations, between couples, with nature, with society. His extreme synthesis is suggestive.