(Luis Cruz Azaceta, Photo by Akintola Hanif)
As “Bending the Grid. Luis Cruz Azaceta: Dictators, Terrorism, War, and Exiles” prepares to close and travel to other cultural institutions, Aljira continues to offer copies of the catalog from the exhibition. Below is an excerpt, an interview featuring curator Dr. Alejandro Anreus and the artist in conversation. Join us on Friday, April 25, 2014 for a closing party with readings by poets and writers Pablo Medina, Aracelis Girmay and Alejandro Anreus curated by Dodge Poetry Festival Founding Director, Jim Haba. See the show before it closes on May 3, 2014.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR LUIS CRUZ AZACETA
Interview by Alejandro Anreus, February 13, 2013: an excerpt from the Bending the Grid catalog by Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art
AA: You became an exile at the age of 18. How essential is this to your vision as an artist?
LCA: As an artist you use your experiences dealing with your surroundings and your conditions. The condition of being an exile is of being in two places simultaneously—physically in your place of exile, emotionally and spiritually in the place you left behind, your roots. This experience allowed me as an artist to address the condition of isolation, separation and oppression through my work. It gave me an eye to understanding that this experience goes beyond my personal journey to a perspective of a more global condition that many live in.
Works like the paintings ARK, Man Carrying his Country II and Swimming to Havana, as well as works on paper such as Cambodia and Wall 4 convey some of these conditions.
(Azaceta, Man Carrying his Country II, 1993, 30 x 30, acrylic on canvas)
AA: Since you began painting in your own visual vocabulary in the 1970s, social content has been central to your work. Why is this?
LCA: Social content is central to my work because I believe that art should address our human condition. My intention is to create compassion in the viewer. The vehicle for compassion is the aesthetic that draws one into looking closely at what are, perhaps, sometimes horrific subjects and embracing them.
(Azaceta, ARK, 1994, 110 x 119, acrylic, charcoal, polaroids, shellac on canvas)
AA: Over the years your pictorial style has evolved, expanded, et cetera, yet dictators, war and terror keep appearing in your work. Why?
LCA: I think you are referring to the degree of abstraction in some of my later works. My pictorial style has changed from series to series over the years. I constantly challenge myself to explore new ways of creating form and content. I don’t want the work to become manneristic, mechanical or repetitious. For example, in the painting Piñata, you have a Trojan horse idea… an act of surprise. There are incongruous, shifting forms to create a pictorial fight—the intense colors and clashing forms are battling alongside the unexpected armada.
Ah, the subject of dictators, war and terror… unfortunately they are more visible than ever.
(Azaceta, 2009, “Pinata”, 96 x 122, acrylic, charcoal, shellac on canvas)
AA: The balsero, the exile, is a constant in your entire body of work. Many times the balsero is a self-portrait. Could you expand a little bit on what this means?
LCA: I went into exile in 1960 from Havana to New York. Not the typical crossing of Cubans from Havana to Miami, the reason being I had family in New Jersey and New York that I joined. I paint the balsero because it is an image that conveys the journey to freedom. It’s a heroic act of desperation where one’s hope is stronger than the danger, fear and horror of the journey.
Throughout my work I’ve used self-portraits as a vehicle to convey different conditions. With the balsero, imagine going across in an inner tube not knowing exactly which direction you are headed, hoping you are going north. Imagine the sun, no food, no instruments, shark-infested waters and the statistics, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, that only two out of five make it.
The work ARK is one of my favorite balsero paintings. In it I use raw canvas as a representation of the expansiveness and isolation of the ocean. I originally had painted the word “shark” in the upper right-hand corner, but when the work was finished I realized that perhaps there were too many sharks, and I decided to cover the “sh” with a piece of canvas that allowed it to read as “ark,” which became the title of the piece. There’s a linkage of forms that extend out from the word “ark”—the lines, which become lifelines or deadlines depending upon the image attached, lead to an empty inner tube and a self-portrait—a fragmented body with an extended arm that becomes an oar—one’s inner drive and determination for survival.
AA: Where do you see your work headed at the moment?
LCA: The latest work includes a series titled Shifting States that deals with the Arab Spring and another series that touches upon natural disasters and climactic changes.
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