Ileana Mulet has left her mark on San Cristóbal de La Habana. This tireless creator has dedicated her exquisite pictorial work to this colonial and magical World Heritage city.
The versatile artist - painter, designer, poet - has always remained faithful to the landscape, with a lyrical and at the same time refreshing discourse.
Ileana Mulet (Holguín, 1952) agrees with critics, who recognize in her the influences of expressionism and magical realism, pointing specifically to none other than Marc Chagall (Vitebsk, 1887 - Saint-Paul de Vence, 1985) and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez (Aracataca, 1927 - Mexico City, 2014).
But, naturally, she offers up her own dynamic, free, and fresh style, with a profusion of color, where extraordinary blues, amazing combinations, elegant lines, light and transparencies predominate. Thus she reveals to us her world of dreams and poetry.
Havana, as stated, is the great protagonist of Ileana Mulet’s work, but other series also stand out, such as Rostros; Niños con muros; Jarrones con flores; Mujeres guerrilleras; Puertas; Encuentros; Cuerpos and Puntadas.
She is communicative and talkative, passionate and friendly, and it was thanks to those qualities that despite being caught up in a whirlwind of activity in the lead up to the awards ceremony of the 39th Havana Film Festival (December 8-17), for which she donated one of her works to the Union of Cuban Journalists Culture Circle, she agreed to an impromptu interview in the gardens of the Hotel Nacional.
Let’s take a retrospective look at your career, to attempt to reveal to readers some keys to understanding aspects of your work, including your family, childhood, studies…
I come from a rural background. I was born in Ceuta, a place close to the city of Holguín (some 700km east of Havana). My grandmother looked after me, as my mom had come to Havana to work. After the Revolution triumphed, I studied at the Oscar Lucero, a barracks turned into a school, and they were enrolling for the National Arts School (ENA) and my grandmother, poor thing, thinking that she was going to do me a favor, said no, because I was asthmatic. Look, sometimes you can believe that destiny exists, because the logical evolution of life does not forgive you anything, but sometimes it gives you second chances. After some time, my mom managed to bring three of her daughters, I am a twin with another, and we came to live in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood. There, I painted everything I encountered and wrote poetry. My mom thought it was too far for me to go to San Alejandro (fine arts school) alone. Once I was in high school I snuck out and went to take the entrance exams. There I began a new life. I have subsequently taken set and costume design courses. So when I think about the artistic and intellectual development of my life, I have never stopped.
When you sit before a canvas, do you already have an idea of what you are going to do or is it on an impulse?
No, rarely, although I don’t believe that anyone has a set pattern, because it could be that for days you have been developing an idea and when you have the blank canvas in front of you the idea is almost there, but it is unlikely. What most often happens is that at first it is a torture, as if at that time you are suffering psychological instability, at which you say “for crying our loud!” I can’t see what I’m going to do. Sometimes that feeling of timelessness regarding what is happening to you lasts a short time, sometimes it lasts longer.”
Do you make sketches?
I almost always make sketches for commissioned works. For example, I have the stage backdrop for Puccini’s La bohème, commissioned by the Teatro Lírico, and the backdrop and costume designs for the The Witches from the ballet Pictures at an Exhibition, performed by the National Ballet of Cuba. In these cases, as they are commissioned, I make hundreds of sketches. I will tell you that in the beginning my work was more empirical, but in recent times I have also been making sketches for my paintings, especially when I am going to hold an exhibition. For example, I am now making sketches, a preamble and a rationale, for my next show which is going to be titled Vértebra, possibly for the Havana Biennial.
What is the theme?
It is the union of two or more human beings who can be in conflict or not, but that logically are not going to be able to separate so easily.
Let’s talk about some technical aspects: your favorite color palette, materials, textures, the composition...
I love textures, I can not separate myself from the spatula, from certain tools that I have to scratch, to twist. It may be that I make a work entirely with water colors and gouache, but it’s most likely that I will add some texture. I’ll explain why it is one of the foundations of my work. All this time that I have been painting the subject of the city, it has forced me to respect the condition of the old city. Although I do not have a color palette preference, the color blue hangs over me and does not leave me. I have anecdotes as for a year I have hidden the blue so as not to be forced to use it. Although I have exhibitions of faces, bodies, they are never divorced from the theme of the city. I did it to a certain extent to erase the idea that some people have about those of us who work the theme of the landscape. Some pejoratively, or they do not realize that they are trying to minimize our work, when then say: ah yes, you’re the one who paints little houses.”
Precisely my next question was regarding the influence exerted by Havana on your work...
And I beat you to it, but I think that Havana has given me everything; it opened the doors for me. I have just written a book called Huellas sobre la ciudad, sueños de papel,a project that started in 2016 with my exhibition Huellas sobre la ciudad in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. It has poems that have been written by any author about Havana, and then recollections, the opinions of critics and journalists on my work with the city, in fact it’s almost 500 pages. If all goes smoothly, it will be published by Editorial Boloña of the Office of the City Historian. There you will see the solidity of my career and why I championed the city and the landscape as such.
It’s the magic that Havana has...
When I started the city was in the first steps of its restoration, very rickety, impoverished, the streets filled with garbage, the city cried out and Eusebio Leal and others wanted to listen, but perhaps there was not much money to invest in it. And they asked me, why do you paint it, why do you reclaim it. I answered: you are not able to see that Havana is designed to be viewed from one meter up and from there you will see balconies, arches, grilles, doors, and most importantly, an almost always blue sky and some white clouds. At this moment as we are talking, although we are in the winter stage, that is the sky we have.
The painting is done in solitude, but it is for thousands of onlookers. Are you interested in that feedback?
I’ll tell you that in my case the landscape is not innocent, it touches the public. They write to me in the memoirs of the exhibitions about their experiences, they feel emotions. I’m interested, it moves me. In a sample of my work there are animals, people looking from behind doors, there are emotional conflicts, there are painful, joyful spots, there are lights, shadows.
What drives you to exhibit your work?
From the beginning, I used a phrase of Eusebio Leal. One fine day at the Museum of the City, where I have a permanent work, I opened an exhibition and invited him, and there he saw that I painted the city and we established a lasting friendship. Another time, I asked for a transitory space in that same Museum, and I said to him, look Eusebio I wanted to know if I can sell a work if someone is interested and he responded: you have to sell it, give it away and make it transcend. The work must be done so that it transcends and the artist is a person who has to live. Sometimes I have a studio full of works. When I start to hold exhibitions here or abroad I start to see a grateful audience. You have to take the work to where people can see it. I have participated in Arte en La Rampa (fair) with a stand and I am currently collaborating with the Arte en Casa project, and when any of those household items, trays, wall clocks, multipurpose baskets are produced, that have a huge city of mine on them, the people like them, and become interested in knowing the artist. I repeat, the work is made to transcend.
You have just offered one of your pieces as a prize in this Festival...
I have always done so. I think we live in a country surrounded by a marvelous sea, we are very generous, we believe in culture, because it is one of the things that has saved us from many difficult moments as a nation. We have to increase culture every day, increase that sensitivity and take it to the people, to the different sectors, and it is the only way you have of congratulating someone else, with what you create. This has been like a small grain of sand, a small piece, a line, with two/three colors.
I live and create here. It is the world to me. I travel a lot for my work, and very quickly I feel a great melancholy.
Ileana Mulet has left her mark on San Cristóbal de La Habana, a magical and mysterious city. She depicts its columns and balconies, its steeples and roofs, its streets and arcades, and adds all the characters and animals that are born from her infinite imagination.