Manuel López Oliva: A great of our times
By: Roxana Consuegra / Photos: Manuel López Oliva
The soul of a city can only be truly felt by making your way through its streets. When walking through Paula Avenue, renamed as Leonor Perez, even the air breathes of history and Cuban culture. Further ahead, when reaching Habana Street, there’s a colonial house from the mid 17th century painted with the same colors as that of Jose Martí (Cuba’s National Hero), just a few blocks away. Only something marvelous could reside in there.
Outstanding Cuban artist, Manuel Lopez Oliva’s studio can be found here, in the heart of Old Havana. When entering, it feels as if one becomes part of the staging of a play. The painter, as the protagonist, and his masterpiece in the making. Canvasses everywhere, and a large fabric depicting a work in progress that, once finished, will only required the spectator’s individual interpretation, as the only way of finishing the artist’s creative process. The artwork awaits, impatient, in its stretcher.
Manuel Lopez’ life is marked by a creative duality. He’s a painter as well as a writer. As a student, he used to take painting lessons in the morning and literature at the university during the afternoon. He was once a regular writer for some of the most prestigious Cuban art specialized magazines and newspapers, such as El Caimán Barbudo, Granma, Cuba Internacional, and Arte Cubano.
His work, as the artist states, is “deliberately hybrid, as hybrid as our cuban culture”, the artist states. Echoes of Alejo Carpentier and Fernando Ortiz can be heard throughout his work. However, his artistic concept is completed only by the ever-present leitmotiv of his work.
As a kid he would help his dad to make masks. Theatre became an important theme in his work since the early 90’s. On his earlier work he focused largely on the Cuban revolutionary war, hedonism and various versions of Havana’s cathedral. Thus, besides considering his work heterogenous, he considers himself to be aesthetically revolutionary, because his art has not remained static throughout time.
Présiosité elaboration, an empty horror unveiling hidden surfaces, details reminiscent of embroiled ties, and the art of masquerades are elements always present in his art. Theatre and a carnivallike language are part of his pictorial work both when interpreting form and, likewise, when defining its conceptual meaning; it also works as a complement to the performances in which they come together. And just like in interpersonal relationships, the individual embodies features that become a facade of the inner world. This way, the masks subvert the meaning of reality, expressing a notion built for a very specific objective. However, under the disguise, the true essence prevails.
“La vida es un divino guión”, Life is but a divine play, and as actors we all take part in its staging. In it, young people and experts share lessons making sense of life. A feedback of knowledge, stories and personal experiences, is what makes Lopez Oliva a great in our times.