Luis Enrique Camejo is a framer of spaces. He tosses his curly hair, throws a few bones to the dogs on the roof and invites me to enter his apartment, decorated with pieces of Havana - the Havana that few notice: buildings reflected on a windshield, an animal looking at a painter, that is now looking at me, pieces of the Malecón.
“Why did you choose the urban landscape?”“It doesn’t come from a retinal problem, but a conceptual one,” he says, and sips the coffee that is still steaming on the table. “I come from Pinar del Río, which has a strong tradition with rural landscapers, but I have been in Havana since 1986, since I was fifteen.”
First he discovered photography – he knew that he could create pieces using the effects of movement, speed, and displacement. “I use photography as a means, not as an end,” said Camejo. “I take pictures of places I go to, like a crazed tourist who wants to capture them.”
The Impressionists would sit to contemplate the landscape, but today there just is not enough time to do the same in certain spaces, and the idea of setting the easel in the middle of an avenue puts a sardonic smile on Camejo’s face.
“The photographic record I create takes composition into account. I try to find an open area for reflection, and another one for variegation, the oppression of modern life.”
According to the World Bank, by 2030 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. The painter points out that this transience makes them a central point of thought and contemporary aesthetics.
“I represent cities where I’ve been, almost always with the same vision despite the architectural and aesthetic differences. However, the real intention of my work is to show the feelings of the man who suffers, who dreams, within that context.”
Recently at Havana’s Spanish-American Culture Centre Camejo held his Ciudades II exposition, the continuation of the exhibition held at the Artis 718 Gallery in Miramar. Eight pieces measuring two by three meters – Paris, Los Angeles, Sevilla, Madrid, Zhen Zhen, Venice, Miami, and Havana as protagonist, a diva of feelings and lately of fashion. There were also five watercolors of Havana, Barcelona, The Hague and New York.
“I want to get away from anything related to tourism,” he said when asked about preferred spaces. “Anywhere in the city can be a special place.”
He hopes that the exhibition will also be held in the U.S., but he stresses that it is always very important to showcase in the country of origin, that he likes to show what he has done here first and then abroad, even though presenting in Cuba wears him down spiritually and physically.
“You need to promote yourself and sometimes you don’t sell anything, but your country is a thermometer for your work.”
The paintings will end up in a book, the third one, in which Camejo is gathering part his work. The cityscape will be its focus once again. The first was about the Malecón, with about eighty vistas of that great wall; the second one was about train stations, dreams, limits, departures, arrivals - blue, gray, green, red. “I use color to bring out experiences I have lived in a place. My work is closer to the psychological field than the anecdotal one,” he points out, and the gigantic pieces covering the room in the apartment seem to be windows overlooking many places. “The important thing is the mood it can set with the public, and color always has influence.”
The painter’s gaze seems trapped in an infinite set of photographic filters. Color translates, reveals little by little.
“My work is an open window to what the spectator may see,” he explains. “I have been fortunate to be able to contrast and verify, open up a visual dialogue with different cultures; Americans do not think like Asians, nor Europeans like South Americans.” The noise on Infanta Avenue seeps through the tiny balcony to the high ceiling of the second floor, where we’re talking, almost done with coffee.
“Last year, in a foundry in Miami, some friends of mine, fellow Cubans, got me to make a series of sculptures,” he said.
The result was three bronze pieces, a three-dimensional reproduction of elements I have worked in paintings: an abandoned bicycle on the Malecón, a 1950’s gas station, a stop sign planted on a sidewalk. “It was an unforgettable experience,” he says, as if he had swum far from the shore.
“It is an experiment, it enriches my work, I learn, but my thing is two-dimensional.”
In addition to other materials and techniques, watercolor and paper are a constant challenge for Camejo.
“I don’t mix color on a palette, I mix the pigment with plenty of liquid . When it goes wrong that’s it, if you put a spot where it doesn’t belong, you’ve blown it,” he explains..”What I do is put everything on the painting and clean it gradually, slowly bringing out the lights.”
The fragility of watercolor and the dissolving view of the world have permeated his work. And despite William Turner, Romanticism, Velázquez and Claude Monet, there are nuances that make Camejo a unique artist, because the reflections of a city bus, a monument blurred by distance, stranded nameless boats... are also vibrant.