Ángel Ramírez, born in Havana in 1954, is one of the best known engravers and painters in Cuban modern arts, today. His work reflects great imagination and polished technique. His intelligent appropriation of medieval iconography is his unmistakable style, which cannot be confused with any other.
Ramírez's work seems to confirm that boundaries between different art manifestations are now quite obsolete. Through his images, full of sharpness and humour, he transmits his social awareness, his perception of the world he lives in. His work reflects, among other things, the eternal conflict between good and bad, power, freedom, justice.
His impressive career is characterized by many exhibitions, with titles that reflect his sarcastic sense of humour: “Fragilidad Capilar” (Hair Fragility), “Cabezas de Familia” (Family Heads), “PC a todo” (PC to All), “Ángel agrabado” (Aggravated Ángel), “Menudos Pedazos” (Small Pieces), or “Café de la Bodega” (Coffee from the Store). He has also participated in more than 100 collective exhibitions in Cuba and abroad. Moreover, many of his works are included in collections in several countries.
A 1982 graduate of the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), Ramírez owns a gallery-workshop on Los Oficios Street, right in the heart of Havana's colonial district, since 2005. It was right there at the “Sixth Door” gallery — named that way “because it's the sixth door from the stairs” says Ramírez — where I interviewed him.
You are considered a painter of the 1980's generation, which some critics consider to be legendary. Can you explain what that means?
“Since the 1960's, art has been studied for decades. Everything before was the avant-garde. You have the 1960's with painters like Raúl Martínez, Antonia Eiriz and Humberto Peña. The revolution had just triumphed and there was a very strong movement, things were pretty dynamic”.
“The 1970's arrived with the first art school graduates and a great group of artists emerged. People like Nelson Domínguez, Pedro Pablo Oliva and Flora Fong produced a poetic art that moves around Cuban and socialist surrealism, the revolution's poetic art”.
“In the 1980's, there was a break. Questions arose and that's what makes it so legendary and what makes that generation so appealing. There was also a break from the formal point of view and the birth of an installation movement, of people making things closely related to Cuba's cultural roots. It's a more pondered art”.
“When I graduated from ISA, I was a little older than those who made art during the break of the 1980's, and younger than the 1970's artists. Some people say I'm between those two generations. I do not consider myself to be a part of either group. I worked doing engravings, which is a slower art, even though there were engravers who fit perfectly into the 1980's generation”.
“The point is that I think I have my own way of doing things”.
Is there a contradiction between the painter and the engraver?
“No, my painting work, especially in its early stages, has a lot of graphic elements. When I started, my painting had many qualities of engraving and still does. I have continued making engravings at the same time. It helps in painting by giving it order.
A constant aspect in both your work and titles is humour…
“There was a time when there was a lot of humour in my work, but I no longer have such a distinct humour. In any case, it was more of a reflective humour, not a joke. As you can see, it's quite a medieval, European and even sometimes Slavic imagery, from the orthodox religious iconography. I don't use it so much anymore”.
Why the Middle Ages?
The first reason is that back in the 1990's, Cuba, to me, seemed very medieval. The rhythm was very slow; people completed one task per day. Later people turned a lot to handmade solutions. It was a time when everybody used to wear sandals made in the Cathedral Square. Today, I believe there is a difference. We are, in a sense, creating the town. On the other hand, these images are very cold, and symbolic and can easily represent other things. There is also a hierarchy, and that's another subject I'm interested in. The relationship among people in a vertical society”.
“Family is also a power structure. When the subject of my art is family, it is the classic family, the one with the biggest structure. In my exhibition Cabezas de Familia (Family Heads) there is the painting that the exhibition is named after, that depicts three severed heads at the top of the group. Here, the humour is more sarcastic”.
When someone goes to see your exhibit, what do you want them to see?
“Sometimes people think it's religious. They get confused and when they finally realize it's not religious, it gives me great satisfaction. When they see it's another story, that's good”.
Are you preparing a new exhibition?
“The next one is in December, in Miami. It is based on a show that has been in Mérida, Mexico, ‘Sello de familia’ (Family Seal). It is a mix of engraving and painting. It has to do with the idea of a group of people and what makes them different and similar. It's going to be called ‘Mi tía se llama Cacha’ (My aunt's name is Cacha), a phrase by Cuban author, playwright and poet Virgilio Piñera, talking about absurdity”.
Visiting the “Sexta Puerta” (Sixth Door) allows one to see the strength of the brushstrokes on the canvas, the codes emanating from engravings. And if, by chance, you find Ángel Ramírez working there, the experience becomes a magnificent one.
Taller La 6ta Puerta
Oficios no. 6 esq. Obispo, altos, Plaza de Armas
La Habana Vieja. La Habana, Cuba
(53 7) 860 6866 (53 5) 282 6485