"WHETHER IT IS VISUAL ART, LITERATURE OR MUSIC, IF I DON'T CREATE, I GO CRAZY. ANYONE CAN LEARN THE SKILLS TO CREATE A BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF VISUAL ART, A GOOD RHYMED POEM OR A CATCHY TUNE. WE ALL HAVE IT IN US. AN ARTIST NEEDS TO CREATE TO COMMUNICATE; MEDIA, SUPPORT, SUPPLY QUALITY, PLACE AND TIME ARE IRRELEVANT. THAT INTENTION TO COMMUNICATE IDEAS AND STORIES IS WHAT DRIVES ME TO CREATE".
Augusto C. Bordelois was born in Havana City, Cuba in 1969. He immigrated to the United States in 1999 when Cleveland State University invited him to show his art and lecture about the 80’s and 90’s Cuban art movements. Cleveland was the first stop of an international tour and a place where he met his wife and that was the end of the tour. Despite what many people assume, it was not a political thing, but an old fashion love story. He has been living in the Cleveland area ever since.
Augusto C. Bordelois grew up in Havana City until he was 10 years old. He lived in a room in a large colonial house they shared with several families. It was in the middle of a busy city. He couldn’t go out to play much. Thus, he spent a lot of time inside drawing on his father’s discarded blueprint and drafting paper. They later moved to a small town, Minas de Matahambre in the western province of Pinar del Rio, to where his mother's very large family was from. A large part of the town was his extended-new family. He could roam free with his cousins to the rivers, fields and forests surrounding the town.
Through his art, Augusto C. Bordelois gives us a taste of his precision, exposing us to this richness in colors that leave you with a feeling of fulfillment…in whatever sense you wish to decipher that. His intricate details simply enhance the intricacies of your life because you automatically feel a sense of belonging. Whether that belonging is to his world or yours, you feel it. The connection is there, and it is real. His works of art gives us the opportunity to interpret and compare those fictional people that exist in the depths of our mind that sometimes we do not want to recognize. Whatever the topic, a deep curiosity is instilled in you that prompts you to seek for more.
Q. Do you remember the first piece of art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. One afternoon while playing hide and seek, I walked into a bohío (a dirt floor, palm tree plank sided and palm leaves thatched-roof shack) which I thought it was empty and found an old man painting the landscape that he could see from his window. That was the first time that I encountered a person creating art and I got hooked.
His name was Juan El Maestro. He was not just and old man. He was the smelly old man that walked alone talking to himself around town. All the children were afraid of him because we thought that he was crazy.
I returned to that bohío to watch Juan El Maestro paint once a week for a couple of months. One day, there was one little canvas on an easel next to his. He signaled me to come and sit next to him and told me sternly “if you start, you have to finish.” He didn’t talk much. But it turned out to be the best advice that anyone has ever given to me.
He not only taught me to paint but to stretch and prime my own canvas, to make drawing charcoal sticks, to extract oil from plant seeds to mix with paint, to collect pine sap to make varnish, to grind pigments to create paint. He was a self-sufficient artist. It was a unique experience, impossible to duplicate nowadays. First, you can get anything you need in an art store; and second, he would be sued for child endangerment. My fingers got burnt a couple of times, and the fumes made me dizzy sometimes. I kept all my art experiences and trips to Juan El Maestro’s shack hidden from my family because in that little town art was only something that crazy people or homosexuals did. Later in life, I learned that my parents had paid him to teach me to paint but allowed me to keep it secret. They found it very amusing.
When I finished six grade, I was sent to a boarding school like most of the kids in the country at that time. I could have gone to an art school, but my parents sent me to a science school. To be fair to them, I was raised by two scientists and I loved and still love science. Although I never became an engineer or a scientist as expected, my training in science has been one of the most influential and distinct parts of my artistic training.
Juan El Maestro died while I was in boarding school. When I was 17 years old, we moved back to Havana. Never thought of him again until I saw his work in the Cuban national museum of art. Unbeknownst to everyone in town, he was the last living student of the Spanish master Joaquín Sorolla. The first piece of art that I ever made was a small, crude, but very honest piece trying to emulate in step-by-step process that beautiful landscape painting hanging in the museum.
Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career, such us memorable shows and/ or exhibitions?
A. I have always been able to produce a lot of artwork very fast. Although painting fast doesn’t make the art better or worse, it has allowed me to show my work in a lot of places. I have been able to sell a lot of work to private collectors all over the world without being concerned of maintaining a body of work to show at several galleries at the same time. I have participated in more than 130 national and international group shows and 35 solo exhibitions.
Although I don’t understand the logic of art competitions, I have been lucky at them. My artwork has been awarded several recognitions in Cuba, as well as competitions in the United States. If you don’t let competition results get to your head, it is a great way to put your art in front of judges and audiences that otherwise will never notice your art, and who can help with your career. I have never forgotten the first piece that I entered in my first competition in 1994.
One of the judges was a famous artist that I admired. She was my neighbor, but despite countless invitations to visit my studio and give me some advice she always found a way to refuse. It was a national competition. It was an “anonymous and blind” entry process, but all the big names with very recognizable styles were participating. I was a very young artist with no experience or business to be there. But this was the only chance to put my art in front of my neighbor for a critique. So, I sent my art in and won second place. It was unexpected and shocking to all the people involved to say the least. But it was a great experience early in my career. It taught me a couple of lessons: 1- in order to be seen, you must put yourself out there, 2- and competitions results are very subjective, and should never be taken too seriously. There were so many pieces better than mine in that show, and I was embarrassed that I had won. My famous artist neighbor never came to my studio anyways.
Q. What has been the work that has marked you the most?
A. The one on my easel at any moment.
Q. If your works could talk ... What would they say about the artist?
A. I struggle to understand my humanity and yours. That the stories in my paintings are as much about you as they are about me. That my story is yours and your story is mine.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. Many artists have influenced my art over the years. Anyone with great storytelling skills and a lot of symbolism: Raphael, Rembrandt, Dali, Cezanne, too many Cuban and Latin American masters to name, but my main sources of inspiration are current events, literature, music lyrics and movies. Whenever I am deep into creating a new body of work, I avoid going to museums, galleries or look through art books and magazines.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. My understanding of “success” has evolved throughout the years. When I was younger, it meant to show next to such and such artist in this or that gallery. Then, it became about a more grandiose ego trip: number of shows, awards, publications, and the highest price that I could sell my art for. Now, it is about being happy and content with who I am as an artist and person that can pay his bills using his artistic skills, sometimes, doing shows and selling art at galleries, and other times, creating public art, teaching a community or school workshops, or teaching private students at the studio. Things are flowing, that is what success looks like now.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. The life of an artist is lonely indeed. It is not like in the movies with parties, drinking and excesses of all kinds. At least, that’s not my life. There are long hours in front of an easel by myself; and the rest of the time, I am doing all the administrative work that needs to be done to be able to make a living.
Fortunately, I do a lot of workshops at different schools and organizations. I work with kids and adults creating individual and public pieces that reflect their dreams and communities. It is challenging and very rewarding because I get to interact with a lot of people and use different tools and media that expand my comfort zone.
Q. What does your work aim to express?
A. My art tells stories of current events and universal and individual existential stories. It is never my intention to challenge the viewer to understand my work or to educate them. If I do my job right and I am lucky, I will find an audience that my paintings can talk to.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. Great art is distilled honesty.
Q. Apart from making art, what do you love doing?
A. I love spending time with my family and friends, playing and coaching sports, watching movies, and cooking and eating good food.
Q. If you had not chosen to be an artist, what would you have dedicated yourself to?
A. I would have dedicated my life to science: to observe, quantify, try to understand and explain singularities in this universe. I have always thought that scientists and artists are very similar in the way that we look at the world. The main difference is that artists are more concerned with the appearance and attributes of an object or subject in its environment, and scientists are more concerned with the functionality, principles that allow an object or subject to interact in and with their environment. It is equally fascinating to me.
Q. What advice would you give to the next art-generation?
A. I would say that finding your artistic voice and becoming a professional artist is never easy. It is a long winding road up high mountains and deep canyons, with a lot of tempting shortcuts and benches that invite you to stop and rest in the shade. It is your unique path and you will get there when you get there. Your ever changing responsibilities, priorities and life are not an obstacle but part of it. If you stay true to yourself, it is fun and worth it every minute. You will meet a lot of good and bad people along the way. Enjoy them all, their stories become yours to tell.