THE GALLERY WORKSHOP of Osmany Betancourt in Matanzas
By Mireya Cabrera Galán, Photos: Courtesy of artist
In recent years, Narvaez Street, located on the banks of the River San Juan, has transformed into one of the principal public spaces of Matanzas. The look of the place (once witness to the sugar trade and maritime and religious celebrations) today has a string of benches and trees running parallel to the river and with various workshops and galleries, fronted by various leading artists of the province. Retracing one’s steps up the street one arrives at the gallery-workshop of Osmany Betancourt Falcon “Lolo” (Matanzas, 30/11/1973).
Founded in 2008, this was built on the ruins of the old warehouses of the houses, whose facades faced onto River Street, and in this case the first painting academy established in the city at the dawn of the 20th century. Inside, the interior scene recalls the creative dynamics of a Renaissance workshop where teacher and disciples remain absorbed within the individual or collective creation As architect of this artistic brotherhood, in little time Lolo’s workshop has become a convergence point for renowned artists and new artists. One of the various creative projects which has been structured here is the ‘Manuel Park’, an open air space with the hallmark of the unique creole poetry, humour and playfulness of Manual Hernández (today in stage of completion), and ‘Sculptors Way’.
According to Betancourt, this should extend from bridge to bridge, including works from various generations of Matanzas sculptors, whose aesthetics fluctuate between realism and abstraction, monochrome and the most vibrant colour, and which in some cases reflect historical or identity themes. Both project constitute example of the transformational power of art, in so much as they invest in the renewed image of the city and offer the population the opportunity to interact with artistic works noted for their good taste and high conceptual level.
The teacher Formally, Betancourt’s poetics is defined by the marriage of realistic and surrealist forms and by his propensity for monumentality, while man (his fears, threats and circumstances) is the center of his visual narrative. The Mexican Javier Marín and the Austrian Ron Mueck are two of the closest references for this creator from Matanzas. The first for his expressive and monumental sculptures made of metal and malleable materials such as resin.
The second for his colossal hyper realistic representations, made in silicone, fiberglass and other contemporary materials. Master of a trade very well learnt, Lolo’s sculptures, whether on a natural or monumental scale, tend to reflect attitudes and usually reflect attitudes and questions, common to most mortals. In his “portraits”, the individual often appears distorted. Skillful at capturing expressions, he deepens gestures by printing grimaces and cries on the faces, “provoked” by the overwhelming weight of boots, a woman’s heels, a cogwheel, a urinal, a “house”, screws, handles, knives, lamps and all kinds of everyday or recycled objects. The strong expressionist load inherent to these works is achieved through the harmonization of opposing elements (the classic and the grotesque, the human and the unreal), a formula that allows them to show those anxieties and fears that come from their own social and existential pressures of postmodernity. These are the cases, among others, of his series “Offering” and “What feeds the man”, from 2015 and 2017, respectively. From time to time he distances himself from this poetics of the absurd to create room or environmental pieces in which he connotes the codes of classical sculpture. As a result of his good work, Lolo has won awards in a score of provincial and national events, such as the “Amelia Peláez” Ceramic Biennial and the “La Vasija” Biennial sponsored by the National Museum of Ceramics. His works are held in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Ceramics in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the Pedro Pablo Oliva Workshop House and in private and institutional collections of several nations. Also, his artistic work has attracted the attention of specialist publications Cuban Art, Art of Excellence, Opus Habana, La Jiribilla and Matanzas. Journal of Art and Literature.
Although Lolo’s work places him among the most legitimate sculptors of the island today, it is his community work in the workshop, the aspect that most satisfies him as a creator. Designated as one of the most visited galleries by tourists and art collectors arriving in Cuba from different corners of the world, visiting it means undertaking a journey towards the essence of human creation and slaughter.