The Artist of 23rd and 12th in Havana

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — He seemed more like a cartoonist, one of those who charge ten pesos or one CUC for a job that often isn’t even that good and only takes a few seconds. My first reaction was to ignore him and to continue the conversation I was having with some friends at the café on 23rd and 12th streets in the Vedado district.

However, almost by accident, I read his sign that said “caricatures for only three pesos,” so I felt compelled to take a look at what he was doing. Actually, I felt impressed by his simplicity and modesty.

From that moment, I started paying attention to him. I would have even asked him to do a caricature of me if hadn’t already lost that curiosity about seeing myself reflected in any type of medium (photos, paintings, videos or whatever).

But I wasn’t the only one who was hit by the impact of his work; the three guys sitting at the table next to us asked for his services. The man — sluggish but willing — sat down and started going to work.

After a few minutes, I realized that these weren’t mere caricatures. This man was a cartoonist — a true artist — who enjoyed his work.

He didn’t use a fancy stylus or whiteboard, materials that would have simplified his work; rather, he had only a regular pencil and a piece of plain paper. He put a lot of effort and concentration into his work; and under the tip of his graphite was born a figure quite similar to the young guy who was serving as his model.

“He must love and respect his work a lot. He doesn’t show any haste or ambition, dressing inconspicuously and not speaking a word since I saw him arrive,” I thought to myself.

When finished with his first customer, he stood up and walked over to another one who was asking for his services. Then I could see that he had a slight limp, apparently a hip problem, but this only made his work that much more admirable to me.

I started thinking about those people with disabilities and also the phonies who live off of people’s charity and I compared them to those who have the dignity to go out and earn a living with whatever they know how to do, however unprofitable it might seem.

One of the people with me that afternoon said the artist had remained silent because he couldn’t speak. Some people took pity on him, but in my mind his image became even greater.