Cosme Proenza: The Whole World in One Being
By Pedro Quiroga Jiménez / Photos by José (Tito) Meriño
Cosme Proenza has the gift of seeing things in depth; of appreciating colour as few can, and of fully enjoying life through everyday blessings.
He was subconsciously aware, even before he was truly aware, that he wanted to be a painter; the beauty of the place where he was born influenced his later aesthetic education.
The peaceful life of the countryside and surrounding landscape of his childhood laid the foundation for the sinuous and almost exotic creed he achieved; a form of expression rooted in drawing as primary entertainment, like the great architecture of his later life.When did you tell yourself: “I am going to be a painter?”
That concept was quite clear since I was 9 or 10 years old. Back then, my closest cousin, the one I shared my games with, used to say he was going to be an electrical engineer and I did not even feel excited about it. I was not interested. I was some kind of a weird animal in my family. I wanted to study a worthless profession while my cousin would study something to make money.
In the end, I don't know how much money he obtained in his profession, but mine gives me great satisfaction and I would not exchange it for any of his experiences as an engineer.
It's curious that you did not paint in search of material gain.
Not at all, and I thank God for everything being so organic. I studied painting because I liked it. I graduated and had to work several jobs for a salary. Sometimes, some of my paintings were sold but I gave away lots of them. Today it's paradoxical to hear people talking about the art trade in Cuba. It is a contradiction in terms because there is no such thing. There is the possibility of selling paintings, which is something completely different.
I make a living from selling paintings but it is not commerce because my art is not commercial. I have never made commercial concessions and will never do so because I don't need to.
Even so, people trade.
Exactly. I don't paint to sell but I sell what I paint. On top of that, I have the luxury of keeping certain pieces I consider I should preserve. If I used to do it when I did not make a living from painting why wouldn't I do so now?You have gone through different stages in your career. The present one is very different from when you started. What's left of that path?
The journey is far more interesting than the road itself. It is like the road to Santiago in Galicia. There is a more suggestive journey than the arrival to Santiago de Compostela. Beautiful things are on the road and I think my work is that to a certain point.
In my view, the appeal of my work is the entire work. In its whole it becomes a sort of discourse that, even valued, also becomes a factor to be taken into account in Cuban culture.
Fernando Ortiz (Cuban essayist, ethnomusicologist and scholar of Afro-Cuban culture) said Cuban culture was an ajiaco (Cuban stew), a mixture of universal culture. I am one of the ajiaco's components. My work cannot be read in any other way. The Cuban part of my work is precisely in the ajiaco.That is what defines the Cuban character in you.
That is my Cuban character. It is being the whole world in one and turning it into an element. Once I told Alicia Alonso (Cuba's prima ballerina) “I loved the way you defined Cubanidad by saying that Giselle or any other ballet became elements of Cuban culture due to the phenomena of popularity. When you dance Giselle in Cuba that is part of the Cubanidad.”
I think the journey of my work has not finished. It is bound to change again. In fact, it has been changing without my intention and right now I am like 15 painters in one. This is not radical post-modern speech. I have also jumped into postmodernism and it is part of my work but it has not done more than strengthen my speech.
You are a very sociable and communicative person and at the same time a distant person. Why?
A short time ago my daughter told me that she could not understand me because I told her that I loved my solitude. It is difficult to stand in someone else's shoes to understand things like that.
I am a person who, instead of enjoying socializing with many people, likes a quiet day alone.
When is that time?
Whenever. That is why my solitude is so free. I like to remain in that state in which I say: “Now I am going to grab a piece of paper and I will do this. I wanted to do it. I felt like it.” It is not that I have something programmed, but I like working in the morning.
Once I start with something I am not the kind of person who suffers working the whole night; none of that. Night time was made for many things and none of them is work. That does not mean that I never feel like working at night, but it is not common.
I am a person that does a lot in the mornings. The world has not moved things yet and it is when a person is rested and fresh.
Do you consider yourself more a draftsman than a painter?
I am a draftsman who paints. Drawing lives in my painting. What happens is that I cover my drawings with paint. Drawing is the structure that supports the building. I have always said that those who have never drawn will never be able to paint, although I am contradicting many 20th Century and avant-garde postulates. That is my thesis and I think people don't like it so much because it's pretty old and people are afraid of old stuff.
The problem is to negate intelligently and once you deny a philosophy it is worth it.Like the philosophical theory: the negation of negation.
That's what I am talking about. I think that apart from acceptance or criticism, when a work exists there is nothing else except to take it into account.
I am going to disappear as a human being, as a material being, and so will my contemporaries. Work remains. Others will make the final judgment, not my contemporaries.
I am not apocalyptical, even if I live in apocalyptic times, and I am not fond of great battles that seem foolish to me. I think that I have a lot more in common with the human being who sits there on top of a hill and dreams, ponders and believes in much deeper things.
I believe in spirituality above all things, and that goes beyond the telluric character of battles, wars and all that rubbish human beings involve themselves in.
Your art seems to be very elitist although it is also popular.
That is a theory, one that is very interesting to me. My art, because of its roots, is very elitist and belong to the highest visual elite. For centuries the most elitist art has been settling, becoming popular and seen in books, magazines and movies.
The people of this time have had enough contact with it so that it becomes part of their personal taste.
In my case, it is not created to please someone. Perhaps myself, there is a kind of self-complacency when selecting a type of image. My work has a goal with a much deeper sense in art history and that is to believe the latter exists, independently from people thinking it is dead.
I think I am one of those who has given to my country and culture the Middle Ages it never had, the baroque it never had, all it never had through the eyes of a Caribbean, a native, a country boy seeing those things from a different viewpoint, making them into Cuban painting; like it whoever will.
Cosme Proenza Almaguer (Holguín, Cuba, March 5, 1948) is a painter, designer, illustrator and muralist, with a Masters in Fine Arts from the Kiev, Ukraine, Fine Arts Institute. Considered an emulator of Netherlander painter Hieronymus Bosch, his works have been shown in more than thirty personal exhibitions in Cuba and abroad. Some of his works are in collections of the National Fine Arts Museum in Havana, the Vatican Museum in Rome and others. Also some part of his creation can be seen in private collections in the United States, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Austria, Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Laos and Vietnam.