Helson Hernandez

HAVANA TIMES — “The economic situation hurts, because artists are limited by the lack of materials and peace of mind. Despite this though, Cuban artists give their best,” said Dayron Enrique Gallardo in an interview with HT.

HT: Did you graduate from the National School of Art (ENA)?

DE: From the San Alejandro National Academy. I enrolled in 2002 following a period of preparation with Roberto Callafel. The academy is an artistic universe where you’re nourished by the experiences of other students. Plus, you share with artists who are trained as teachers and who become references for you. The school is the place where you feel like you’re in your own element, but sometimes, mistakenly, you can come to think that it’s a complete artistic world, which isn’t true – but it’s still a necessary experience.

HT: Your academic specialty was engraving, however you realized yourself in other visual art forms.

DE: I remember having an excellent engraving professor in the first year of my studies. He brought with him a lot of information and books, and he knew a lot about art. He would also perform excellent critiques at the end of each year. All this helped to make his work excellent and allow it to make an international impact.

On the other hand, in the art of painting — where one would have expected to learn color theory and work with natural materials — the school wasn’t rigorous enough.

This made me decide on engraving, a very rich technical expertise. That was what caught my attention, in addition to drawing. But then there’s painting, a magical element with great power for communicating emotions. This is my true passion. For engraving you need materials and machines that are difficult to obtain, but this isn’t so much the case with painting. It’s more traditional and can be done at home, in an intimate manner. I can almost say that I’m self-taught in painting.

HT: Tell us about your creative work?

DE: Earlier on I was obsessed with Greek sculpture and classical art, but the need for creating shattered my preconceptions. It all started with a character wearing a hat, which represented me and my attitudes at that time. This later changed to painting, where I created a world in which this character moved and thought. This caricature influenced me a lot at that initial stage. The character was observing andx trying to find answers. I think I’m still that character, in that I — in the face of everything great and perfect in the world — am asking for answers to help me see the clearest path.

I worked to create a world for it, and it was my daily reality in which I used items such as televisions, light bulbs, umbrellas, chairs and newspapers. As time went by, I wasn’t only interested in the human figure, but in the existential conflicts of love, sexuality, meaning, power and everything related to achieving happiness. I worked with light and dark as concepts that I started to use to speak of good and evil, or the presence or absence of consciousness or vitality.

An important conceptual element appeared at this stage…that of mutilation, which for me is the inability to do or function properly, addressing a whole space of the repressed frustrations and desires of human beings. In contrast, there are characters who are not mutilated, ones who represent greater awareness, but that also seek perfection, the light. Right now my creation moves under these concepts in the search to further expand my horizons.

HT: There’s a recurring erotic theme in your work that seems to justify your interest in the subject.

DE:  What’s erotic consists of desires for pleasure that are in a dimension that are seldom analyzed within a person. It’s not only sexual desire, that union of bodies. It’s bigger, and it’s there that one finds love, true love, what almost no one believes in – but it exists. Only a few people find it since you have to prepare yourself to experience it. One must be aware that it has to be maintained and built. This is eros for me, that vital life force. And that’s the attitude that my characters have: that of having to seek it to be able to ease their spirits and to be at peace.

HT: Literature has been a path that you have explored through your visual language.

DE: First was the relation of friendship with writers who helped me to love literature, the whole process of illustrating books and covers, which leaves you with an awareness of each element that makes up a story. In the end, everything is building an image from ideas. Literature helps broaden your universe. Reading is a rich experience.

It forces you to connect words, concepts, and with them build an image that reveals human attitudes and values through stories. All this ends in you knowing more about human beings, and therefore about yourself as well. I think it’s essential for my creativity, though without letting it become the only path to knowledge, since experience in life and reality in motion are also the greatest sources of ideas for creating art.

HT: Have you won awards as an illustrator?

DE: Yes, I won the La Rosa Blanca Prize from the Cuban Writers and Artists Association (UNEAC) for the best illustrator in 2009. It was a tremendous joy for me to see and feel that recognition, especially since it was a work for children, who need so much imagination and fantasy; it’s vital for them to become adults who believe in their dreams and to reach them creatively.

Illustration is a process that’s somewhat subordinate, but from this demand I learn a lot. The same process of analyzing a text is a learning experience, because you have to draw out the features of the character, their historical context, and the attitude to reflect. All this gives you the ability to create one or several characters and their universe. So then we have a story, something to transmit or communicate, and this is sometimes lacking in the art.

HT: What is Art Partage?

DE: That’s a French association that helps people worldwide with materials for creating and for disseminating their work. This is a gesture of kindness and shows what France is doing for art not only within its borders but also outside them.

HT: What are your thoughts on the visual arts in Cuba today?

DE: I think that there’s quality, talent and desire to create. This art is largely individual, and that benefits it. The economic situation hurts, because artists are limited by the lack of materials and peace of mind. Yet, despite this, artists give their best.

I think drawing should be demanded more by academia. Professors don’t emphasize this enough so students take refuge in the so-called contemporary arts. This ultimately creates trauma and limitations. Even in academia — which as I see it should devote itself to teaching the mastery of form, craft and tradition — is opting for the promotion of conceptual art, with more theoretical complexity than technique, taking refuge in a inscrutability that often conceals poverty in the execution and of ideas.

I’m not opposed to conceptual art, which sometimes reaches a high artistic level, but establishing it as a paradigm for artists in training creates apathy towards learning more traditional artistic techniques, which usually take more effort to master.

An artist who graduates in this way confronts the market,  which becomes a personification of their direct public, either becomes very frustrated, or they have to learn in a self-taught manner those technical aspects that they should have been taught in academia.

The most contemporary art works, especially installations, must transmit profound ideas, in an entertaining and understandable form, that reveal answers for the modern individual and break out of the intellectual enclosure that the artist creates when they have an excess of theoretical information. For this reason, these artists evade their simplest truths or they enclose them in a jungle of devices.

HT: And your show “Pursuing the light”?

DE: That’s a unique exhibition for me. It related drawing and poetry as one sole piece. Moreover, its title is very accurate, because that’s how I find myself, pursuing my dreams in the drama of existence. I don’t know if I’ll catch them, but the battle is set. We’ll see.

This project grew out of a meeting in a literary cafe, where friends with different talents would meet. A few liked philosophy; others liked literature, photography or painting. We shared views on art and everything about life and its problems. Then everyone began to exercise their art form; some of them reciting, some writing, and I painted.

Then one day, two of the group members decided to come up with a poem written between themselves, and when they finished, I did a drawing. That’s how these came together, over several months, a lot of poems, and their accompanying drawings.

The poetry that makes up a part of the exhibition touches me existentially, since its issues — such as heartbreak and existential angst, among others — are experiences that mark everyone’s life. It was a positive and constructive experience. I think that all of us artists grew with that exposition.


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