CubaPLUS Magazine

Máisel López and his Havana "giants": urban art by and for the community

By: By Lázaro Gerardo Valdivia Herrero Art historian and critic, teacher and researcher
Máisel López and his Havana "giants": urban art by and for the community

Urban art or street art involves all art forms developed in urban public spaces, such as streets, parks, squares, buildings and architectural structures in disuse.

Máisel López and his Havana "giants": urban art by and for the communityAlthough most people associate the phenomenon with the spread of graffiti in the postmodernist context, the truth is that this form of free painting is not the only one that could be classified as representative of urban art. For a little over three decades, theoretical discussions have been revolved around defining a practice marked by spontaneity, a high level of interest and the assimilation of local and universal codes, allowing the artist to discourse outside the traditional circuits and gallery spaces that privilege the so-called fine arts.

Urban art, as an exercise of free creation and marked diversity, does not respond to the same canons that academic and cultural authorities advocate. The street becomes a sort of infinite and accessible canvas on which thousands of ideas are poured, which in other places would probably encounter reluctance or denial.  The urban visual artist uses a wide range of techniques and procedures for his work: mural painting, stickers, posters, stencils, as well as the aforementioned graffiti, which evolved from an initial period of two-dimensional projection on vertical supports (walls), to its expression in horizontal dimensions (streets and sidewalks) provided with optical effects that play with the limits of human visual perception.

Máisel López and his Havana "giants": urban art by and for the communityCuban reality has not escaped the phenomenon of urban art. It is enough to walk along the streets of the main cities to see that there, in the most singular environments, the clear voice of visual creation has taken root in new generations of artists.

Máisel López Valdés (Havana, 1985), a 2007 graduate of the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts, has devoted much of his career to the creation of a series of large-format portraits in the capital’s public spaces, especially in the Playa municipality. In 2015 he began to produce his popular Colosos on the exterior walls of homes and service-providing institutions (warehouses, hospitals, schools, etc.), murals in which he pays homage to childhood by extolling the values that distinguish this age group.

The intention of iconographically perpetuating the image of a child could be understood from the artist's desire to tell stories of lives that are part of the communities with which he frequently interacts. Therefore, the models portrayed are real and permeated with an absolute expressiveness. It’s a synergy that seeks to involve the common citizen in the creative process, who is not only able to discover the face of his daughter or son on the surface of a wall, but also to identify the joys, fantasies, anguish and conflicts that determine human nature in its infantile stage.

Thee are now over 40 of the "giants" immortalized by this Havana-born painter, some of them recreated in the best-known institutions, such as the National Aquarium and the William Soler Pediatric Hospital (both in Havana), or more recently in Qatar, a country where he was invited to capture his artistic seal for the celebration of the World Cup in that nation. The mural technique is the common factor in the series, a procedure that demands greater skill and preparation on the part of the painter, since the stone support must be in good physical condition and be provided with a layer or plaster base, on which the large-scale face of the selected figure will be painted. The mural portrait needs the creator to have mastered formal laws of anatomy and perspective, a visual resource that helps the observer to establish the depth and placement of objects at different distances.

Máisel López and his Havana "giants": urban art by and for the communityMeanwhile, Máisel López has been working with easel painting, without renouncing his portrait style, so elegant and rigorously detailed. This can be seen by his more than ten personal exhibitions in various galleries in the capital city. He has also been invited to take part in some twenty group exhibitions, including the Salón Habana de Artes Plásticas, exhibitions commemorating different anniversaries of the founding of the former colonial town.

Throughout his career he has been the recipient of countless awards and recognitions, including the Ana Rosa Gutiérrez Award, given in 2016 by the National Council of Casas de Cultura; recognition by the Provincial Center of Visual Arts and Design, for outstanding work promoting and exhibiting young and contemporary art in the city during 2016; two Grand Prizes in the 2014 and 2015 editions of the Salón Habana, as well as Honorable Mention in Painting in the 2008 Third Community Meeting of Plastic Arts Romerillo.

At the dawn of 2023 and in the face of the risk posed to urban art by the many citizens’ negligent behavior, and the continuous exposure to environmental agents, Máisel López is confident in his work’s social value and reveals to CubaPLUS Magazine that he intends to continue creating "colossal" art full of passion, honesty and children’s faces, by and for the community.


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Maisel López Valdés

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