One of my most important teachers has been Cuba and Cuban art with its identification with Santeria practices. That connection led me to Ifa, the wisdom of the Yoruba, and its fusion with art as a living practice, an offering and a prayer. Creation is at the center of manifestation.
What is manifested becomes a template for the future. Art is the medium of transformation and our expressions as artists help shape the future. However, like the Rain Forest, goals for a livable atmosphere, and social constructions for sustainability, human expression and its transformative potential have been ruthlessly plundered, savaged and sold to the highest corporate bidder. War is the mechanism of destruction and laid waste is creation.
It is to balance, to counter-poise the onslaught, that we prevail – to make music, to paint, innocent and hearty in the belly of the beast. It is like being the quickening of a rather sick, earthly organism, humanity. In this, the artist is the medium through which expression is transmitted. We bring form through many creative forces and this in turn gives power to those forces.
For five years after the election of Ronald Reagan as President of the U.S., all my paintings were 9‘ high by 5’ wide. My first visit to Cuba in 1985 provided me with a revolutionary/evolutionary vehicle for holistic transformation, a sense of a square format. The painting, “Havana/ New York” started with the first painting after that trip in the center (“Cuba, Que Linda Es Cuba”). To the right is New York, characterized by the Twin Towers, a President Reagan shooing away photographers who are questioning him about Iran/Contra connections. The Statue of Liberty (200th anniversary year) looks on in horror as Black people framed by an African mask grasp for survival (including Steven Biko’s son). Moving leftward, through the red star with a heart at its center, is Havana, Cuba, with the Malecon, a scenic place where many mingle, Cuban hero Che Guevara (from 2-peso bill), and Blacks, proud of their lives in Cuba libre. The bronze mirror signifies Oshun in the Yoruba pantheon, and human transformation through nature is a part of Cuba’s living reality.
The most remarkable of Cuban influences was the exposure to African religion through its art. Never before had I seen works that carried purpose with such conviction and humility.
As my involvement with Ifa grew, so did its place in my art and life. The last eight years has been a series of paintings (all within a 36″ high x 28″ to 36″ wide format) which started out as an homage to the deities of the Yoruba pantheon that I sought to understand through painting. I have been enormously aided by John Turpin, mentor, musician and teacher, whose music in my studio abetted painting in dramatic ways. Painting to live music is a means of tapping into its energy directly (perhaps the right brain?) so a kind of synergistic relationship of forces can manifest. John Turpin has suggested these paintings are self-portraits and certainly some are; they are also face(t)s of his music.