Strolling along the Obispo in Old Havana, one can find numerous artists’ studios. If you’re in search of a piece of Cuban art to take home, head towards this very famous street, often packed with both tourists and locals. Many of the little shops along Obispo sell what can be labelled as “tourist art” or what we have fondly nicknamed “Bodeguita” art. It’s “cute kitsch,” produced for the masses and extremely popular as a take-home souvenir from Havana.
Tourist art or “Bodeguita”art is what the artists in Havana paint as souvenirs for quick profit. It’s mass produced and features time and time again the quickly painted images of Cuban cars, sexy Cuban nudes (like the “velvet paintings”) or a view of the famous La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant and bar. The sign for La Bodeguita del Medio dominates tourist art and everyone seems to want one as a souvenir of their Cuban vacation.
Along the Obispo, one can find artists’ studios and shops that sell art. Curiosity will lead the way along this interesting cobblestone street of cafes, tourist souvenir shops, ice cream, artists’ studios and once grand hotels. This is how we found the studio of the young Cuban artist Manuel A. Alvarez Suazo, otherwise known as “Lolo.” We fell immediately in love with his surrealistic, hyper-realistic paintings of his Havana.
Manuel A. Alvarez Suazo studied art at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro majoring in drawing and painting. He graduated in 1995. From 1996 to 1998, he taught art at the Educación Artística program at the Félix Varela School. He is an established artist in Havana. His works have been exhibited in the major art galleries in Havana, Mexico, Panama and Denmark. Perhaps a measure of his success is that he already owns one of those legendary old American cars, a classic convertible.
“Lolo” as Manuel A. Alvarez is fondly known, was busy working on a series of paintings for an upcoming exhibit in Denmark, his second exhibition in that country. This series of paintings concentrates on the famous old American cars still running and seen everywhere in Cuba. But his perspective of the old American cars is a surrealistic view of the classic cars of Havana. In one painting, a car is suspended in the air under a full moon. Beneath the moon and the car, the island of Cuba is reflected by the light of the moon. In another work, a classic American car was balanced precariously on an island in the sea, an island of old tires and garbage. Could this be the way he views Havana? As an almost surreal urban space, populated by recycled classic cars with trash collection problem? In another of his paintings, two cars form the support structure of an old Cuban house, its verandah draped with the daily laundry hanging out to dry. He paints images of what is commonly associated with Havana and then puts his unique twist to it.
Alvarez has also created a series of works focused on the balconies of Havana, so close to realism they are like actual photographs. His photo realistic painting technique and skills are superior while staying close to the themes, objects and concerns of his native country. This is the reason he will succeed in becoming one of the great artists of Cuba. He does not need to create the commercial art of the “Bodeguita” paintings. His art is fascinating and interesting, begging a variety of interpretations from the viewer. The works demonstrate his superior skills as an artist, but seen through his original eye, closely tied to what is Cuban.
To see more of the paintings by Alvarez, visit his website at www.lolopaintings.com.