Pepe Menéndez: A lifetime to create
By: Roxana Consuegra / Photos: José Alberto Menéndez
For thirty years design has served as his compass in life and has been his life’s work. A prolific career led by the hand of innovation and the spirit of an artist has been that of renowned Cuban designer José Alberto “Pepe” Menéndez. His portfolio ranges from editorial projects, branding, album covers, books, catalogs and, above all, posters. On various occasions he has curated retrospective expositions on traditional Cuban posters.
F It was faith that led him to Graphic Design right from the time the Superior Institute of Design, ISDi, was inaugurated. When it opened its doors, there weren’t any “professional” designers but rather “designers by calling”. He was taught by architects, designers and other professionals from various backgrounds; professors who eventually made him the professional designer he is today. After only three months after graduation, Pepe had the privilege of leading the first ever professional group of designers. He taught at ISDi for four years, an experience he proudly assures was a fundamental part of his education and training.
Needless to say he taught many of the greats of Cuban design. As an educator he reaffirms his commitment to promoting the patrimonial and historical value of Cuban traditional poster design, both nationally and internationally. His commitment to traditional Cuban design is what led him, alongside collector Damian Viñuela, to compile a chronological sequence of posters in a printed edition that showcases the historical development of this genre throughout the three decades following the triumph of the Revolution.
He is frequently invited by visual artists and curators to design catalogs for their exhibitions. Pepe confirms that these projects bring him great pleasure but makes a point of stating that the designs he enjoys working with the most are those in art books. Luis Enrique Camejo’s monograph and Flavio Garciandia’s anthology are a great example of this.
On the other hand, as head of the Design Office at Casa de las Americas, he has his hands full. His role as leader of a small designer’s team made up of four professionals, demands responsibility and, above all, commitment to an important institution which welcomed Pepe back in 1999. Among the most recent designs from Casa de la Americas, are those of Colección Literatura book covers and the poster for last year’s edition of Mayo Teatral — May Theatre Festival —, 2018.
When looking at it, the first thing we notice is a strong synthetic composition, achieved by the linearity of its color which, at the same time, facilitates the interpretive act. Among other collaborations, Pepe has worked closely with the Cuban Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry, ICAIC. The artistic poster for the 36th Havana Film Festival, designed alongside Lyly Díaz, made history as it set the bar for Cuban design while also gaining popular acclaim.
The 36th Havana Film Festival poster, recalls a primitive technique using the blending of still frames, creating the illusion of movement similar to that of horse in motion. Pepe’s work on the poster for the film Cuba Libre, also reminds us, once again, why in design, “less is more”.
Pepe’s long carrier and vast experience has made him beneficiary of many awards and recognition. Among these, the most recent and important, regarding editorial design, was the National Book Design Award, given by the Cuban Book Institute in 2018.
Three decades for Pepe Menéndez mean more than half a lifetime dedicated to design. Rather than teaching, learning… not innovating, but creating.