My Work Is Like a Diary

Irina Echarry

Leafar Delgado

HAVANA TIMES — What would you do if you received a letter that someone wrote to you five years earlier? And what if later they told you that it had been tucked away in the back of a painting? Well, don’t be surprised if something like that happens. It would be fruit of the overflowing imagination of an artist: Leafar Delgado.

Captivated by the way Angel Acosta Leon created, and inspired by the work of Jackson Pollock, Leafar started painting in 2004. When he felt the urge to express himself but lacked materials, he grabbed the first thing he had on hand: some cardboard, electrical wires and swatches of fabric. Today, what he originally did out of sheer necessity now marks his style.

Once we got to his studio 156 Cuba Street (between Empedrado and Tejadillo streets in Old Habana) he allowed us to delve into his universe of colors, textures and emotions. In his works everything is recycled, using what is already obsolete or what appears useless. It’s also common to see phrases, words, pictures and advertising on his works, since his paintings are a mixture of texts and images.

Leafar: My work is like a diary. Sometimes I copy things so I don’t forget them, and that’s what I want: to perpetuate my memories, to perpetuate my life. I use pieces of old clothes, pants, or bedspreads; it’s like selling my personal history. My life is different fragments, in different paintings. They can be about things that are very simple and healthy, like drinking a cup of tea or watching the sunset from a window, but sometimes the messages are so hidden that only someone inside my brain could understand them, or people who went through those experiences with me at the moment I wrote them down, They themselves are what I include in my paintings, so then I work on those memories and try to communicate them.

HT: A few years ago the artist defined his own “style,” one could say, thanks to an unfinished work. He was working inspired on a book of poems by Javier Campos, but he wasn’t satisfied with the results. After having put the painting to the side for a few months, he tried to cover what he had done, and what came out was a work with electrical wires jutting out of it. It was extremely grotesque – but he liked it!

Leafar Delgado

Leafar:  Those paintings are like a snapshot of a moment in my life. I always feel good seeing them, although maybe I don’t feel so identified with some of them because that phase of my life has passed. I conceived of them at an important stage in the sense, it was like a catharsis of my life, having to do with personal things. I threw everything into my paintings. They were very gray, very dry, pretty grotesque, without writings on them, as if they were very quiet but strong. I can’t paint like that anymore. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to have a moment like that. One’s painting reflects how one lives, and in this case now I feel more cheerful, so I look for more communication.

HT: He’s pleased to interact with people. One of his paintings, “Que te hace feliz?” (What makes you happy?), invites one to write, to speak.

Leafar:  I did it with a pair of my pants. It has a notebook or a daybook, and a pen. People who come here to the studio write the answer to the question “what’s the painting’s name?” Those who have written responses have been Japanese, Canadians, people from many places, each writing in their own language. However I don’t read the answer, however curious I might be. The person who buys it will read it. The last time I counted there were 47 responses.

There’s another painting about which I ask: “Who would you write something to it, a deep feeling, that in five years would still be valid?” With that people started sending their letters with addresses and the person who buys the painting is the one who I will forward them after five years.

HT: In addition to his independent work, Leafar is part of a project called “3STADO Solido,” which is dedicated to honoring prominent figures from the world of culture.

Leafar: It’s something we do with personalities who inspire us, those from whom we’ve somehow learned something. We have picked up things and they’ve served us in life, so we try to express our thanks for them. For a few days we live the experience of being that person. We look for familiar figures that at the same time are not so popular. We choose a public place that has to do with their life or their work and we paint on the street. The interaction with the public is very rewarding; what’s difficult is the organization: having the fabric, the paint, the products, seeing to it that the information reaches the hands of all participating artists, preparing the scene while painting and talking to people.

Leafar Delgado

HT: The group believes that “good energy” is enough for everything to go well. There are lots of anecdotes and stories about having carried out visual arts actions next to the Museum of Fine Arts, on the Prado esplanade, along the Malecon waterfront, next to a soda factory, at bus stops, parks or in the gardens of a theater. While they reflected about Isadora Duncan on Linea Avenue and G Street, next to the Dance Museum, someone told them about how they were coming home from work dead tired, feeling bad, but how viewing them carrying out their activities had given them encouragement to carry on.

Leafar: Because it’s not just about painting, it’s also about talking about the life of the person we’re honoring, and loving it when someone in the audience knows the artist being represented and tell us their experiences. Once we painted next to the College of Architects of Cuba, it was a tribute to Rafael Sanzio, and a resident in a nearby building gave us ten art books. Another day we were at the Christ Monument and the parking attendants themselves and the people who were out there bought us food and refreshments. They then covered us with a plastic sheet when it started to rain.

Creation of the project

Leafar: Evelyne, the girlfriend of a friend, wanted to have a picnic: to sit down, eat something and have a good time, and that’s when I started painting a little. Some paint and a large piece of cardboard were sufficient. From the banks of Almendares River sprang our first collective work. It was August 12, the day of Haitian artist Jean Basquiat’s death. There was nothing better than to start with him. We were under the bridge, just like he was underground, with graffiti on the walls, and the public liked it. By the time I got back home, a project had been born.

HT: 3STADO Solido is going to exhibit in Newport, Oregon. How did that come about?

Leafar: Since 2007 we’ve been giving works to some friends who live in Oregon: Joanne Shamey, Eveline Moyo and Ann Miller. Joanne knew the owners of the World Café restaurant and was coordinating the exhibit on Cuba and the 3STADO Solido project. The exhibition displays works by each one of us and two works of the project: a tribute to Henri Rousseau and one to Jackson Pollock. So, since October 16 and for a month the restaurant is displaying our paintings. On the opening day, Greg and Laurie (the owners) had a “Cuba night” that featured the paintings and had food and music from the island.

HT: A lot of people have worked with Leafar, Yoisel Torres and Amado Olivera. 3STADO Solido isn’t a rigid project, it opens itself up to the flow of artists, the next activity will be with music.

Leafar: I want to pay tribute to John Cage, this is why I invited several Cuban DJs. Each letter of the name of the experimental musician corresponded to the first letter of a DJ, all of them will play his music, and we’re going to insert into it environmental sounds, vendors’ cries, etc. in recording a CD-DVD. If I can find a sponsor, this will be my final class project at the Faculty of Audio-Visual Media.

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