Nuance Galleries in South Tampa and St. Petersburg has acquired the entire collection of works by 13 Cuban artists from the far eastern part of Cuba. Through the end of August, the two galleries will exhibit about one-third of the nearly 300 paintings and woodcuts that constitute the collection.
The collection was once the basis of a traveling exhibition of Cuban art called "Cuba Oriente: Contemporary Painting from Eastern Cuba." The exhibit of about 60 paintings toured the United States from 2003 to 2007, and was reputed to be the longest running traveling exhibit of Cuban art in the United States.
The Oriente - or eastern - part of Cuba is one of the first settled areas on the island. It is Cuba's largest province and boasts early settlements by both Spaniards and Asians and later by Africans. The influence of all these cultures is evident in the vibrant and colorful Oriente collection.
Among the artists are those who are self-taught as well as those who have attended art academies and gained recognition in their field; there is a professor and a museum director among the group.
Besides their difference in education, they also differ widely in their ages and styles. Here you can find realistic portraits and landscapes and also edgy abstracts and strong political statements.
Joherns Quiala Brooks is possibly the youngest of the group and also the most politically-bent in his paintings. One of my favorites is "La Postal que no se Vende," or "The postcard that is not sent."
It shows a postcard image of a landscape in the upper left corner pasted onto what the author sees as the real scene - poverty and decay in the streets.
"The tear from the rip at the top is the passion of the people," explained gallery owner Robert Rowen. "And it's going to drop into the glass which is neither half-full nor half-empty, but is broken. So it's a very powerful piece."
With this kind of dialog and others, Quiala Brooks brings his realistic paintings into the 21st century. In one painting of a lush green landscape, he has inserted a wooden picture frame half-sunk into the foreground dirt like an ancient buried relic.
Whether it's a portrait, a landscape, or a comment on society, the differences among the artists are given certain cohesion by the passion that they all put into their paintings.
That's why Rowen fell in love with the collection a year ago when he was able to exhibit a portion of it at the South Tampa gallery. That also was when he met the man who put together the collection, Clyde Hensley.
"He asked me if I'd be interested in having the collection and I said 'Yes,' but I didn't think I could afford it," Rowen said. Turns out, Hensley was ready to deal. A seaman first, he wanted to return to the sea to captain his own ship and catch fresh seafood to sell to restaurants. He needed to find a home for the works.
It was a lot of art to make room for.
"It forced us to clean and make room," said Diane Mandel, manager at Nuance South Tampa. "We built racks like you wouldn't believe."
Nuance South Tampa is at 804 S. Dale Mabry Highway; the St. Pete gallery is at 2924 Central Ave.
For more information about the exhibit, go to www.Nuancegalleries.com.
Library exhibit displays curator's talent
Before the end of July, be sure to stop in at the Charles J. Fendig Library on Neptune Street in South Tampa to see wonderful still life paintings by Tampa artist Gaby Ashy.
Ashy is usually the curator in charge of filling that library's walls, but this month he has a chance to show his own talents. He has exhibited throughout the Tampa area and has won many awards, including a first prize at the Florida State Fair.
The Library is at 3909 W. Neptune St., near the corner of Henderson Boulevard.
Correspondent Esther Hammer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org