An interview with Reinaldo Pagan Avila
Satyrykon: Is there a big difference between the European and the Cuban sense of humour? I’ve seen a movie in which you say that the Cubans have an inborn sense of humour and they just can’t live without jokes. Has anything changed in that aspect in you since you arrived in Europe?
Reinaldo Pagan Avila: It’s impossible to change something so deeply rooted in the Cuban culture and something which has become our way of life. We’ve got a saying in Cuba: “When the times are tough, wear a cheerful face”. Once you can laugh at your problems you can bare tough times better. That’s why the Cubans can face any insufficiencies and distress in their country whose resources are scarce anyway. In spite of all that, they keep smiling and thinking. It’s thanks to satire that we can think critically of any of our problems.
You’re a well-known painter, one of the most outstanding Cuban painters. You’ve also dealt with satire since the beginning of your artistic path. Are they, in your opinion, two separate spheres of creation which require different means, or are they rather closely linked together? Or maybe there’s just one art?
I think there’s just one art. The instruments, gender or technique is of less importance. Satire, irony, humour will always be present in what I do, and I’m mostly concerned about dialoguing with the recipient. Art should always be provoking – an invitation to polemic, dispute and consideration, and if it brings the smile or laughter by the way, the better.
The works you’ve sent us for the exhibition struck us with the amount of links to Picasso. Is it just a part of Tauromachia cycle which you’ve been creating since you came to Spain, or is it a new, separate theme? And where do these themes come from? Is it a courtesy to Spain which has become your new home since 2012, or is it a quest for better understanding of that place, or is it something completely different?
Picasso’s art has a conceptual influence on me as he was an artist who never gave up experimenting with the styles and techniques. He never let the child in us die. I recon you need to think a little like a child to be a good satirist. For me Picasso’s the most influential artist of the XX century. I receive his portraits and self-portraits as caricatures. And the best caricature, deeply satirical painting, is Guerenica. That’s why I took him as a theme for my own series of caricatures.
So, what are the features of a good caricature? I’m asking as I’ve got the impression you’ve noticed in Picasso’s eyes something that others haven’t…
As I see it, a good caricature is not only the one which reveals the physical similarity, but also captures the soul of a person depicted in the portrait. The caricature should tell you something about the person, who the person is, what they thought and what they dealt with. Currently, it’s very easy to create the caricature by magnifying only the external features – the person’s looks, but for me, caricature is much more.
In your earlier creation there’s a striking amount of quotations and recalling to the past and culture history. We can find them in the exhibited works as well, although there seem to be fewer of them than before. Do you still think (as I’ve read in an interview with you) that originality consists in the ability of setting the known element, quotation in an unexpected context?
We formed an artistic group with my two friends back in the 90s. We used to exhibit together our works and the linking elements were the quotations from the history of art. That’s how my experiment with quotation started. We created critical art which contained the elements of social satire. It was a way of creating an anachronistic world filled with past and contemporary characters co-existing together. Though I use such quotation to much less extent nowadays, I still do think it is important and meaningful means of expression. Particularly when it is linked with some interesting idea and is able to bring something new to the common output which is a part of our human heritage.
Your creative work has been very varied, there are cycles which are monochromatic and the ones in which the wealth of colours plays quite significant role. Where does the idea to make “black and white” a theme of one of your cycles come from?
I keep experimenting with different things, including colour. At the beginning of my creative way I worked with black and white. Such was the case of my first individual exhibition entitled “My second face”. It was a series of pencil drawings on paper which focused in meaning on the other side of objects or of people’s second face. That’s basically it.
You’re keen in explaining the “message” and the content of your paintings admitting they are the expressions of very precise ideas which are born in your mind. Should the painting be equivocal or rather unequivocal then?
I’ve got nothing against discussing my works with someone who’s interested in them, but I also think that it’s very difficult for an artist to control different levels of meanings emanating from their work of art. Therefore I’m deeply interested in the recipient’s opinion of my work and confronting it with my own opinion. It’s always enriching and brings in something positive.
Should satire be always “socially engaged” and stand for the ones who need protection, or is it enough that it’s amusing?
In my opinion, satire always ought to be engaged in social issues. Although it bring smile on our face, it makes us think about some matters and should contain a moral lesson.
Coffee, acryl, watercolours, canvas, paper… You’re famous for having experimented and experimenting with lots of painting techniques. How about a computer, so widely used by cartoonists in their works nowadays? Do you use it?
Quite honestly, I’ve been experimenting with lots of techniques in my career because I’ve always thought that each of them contributes something new. I’ve also used computer, but rather as a means of making some sketches which I later fill in and complete in traditional method anyway. I just love interacting with pigments, brushes, pencils – I get inspired by my workshop smell. Computer is something cold, although I admit it allows to make some things in short time and with desired quality. But when it comes to artistic creation and work, I usually try not to hurry. I will always opt for painter’s craft and his workshop as it brings most pleasure to me.
Do you like beer? Have you had a chance to try the Polish one? (You probably know why I’m asking. [Reinaldo Pagan Avila is the author of a contemporary version of the best known Cuban beer label “Hatuey”, and Satyrykon will host the premiere of Legnica brewed beer “Staromiejski Piwowar” – note by BZ], and speaking more seriously, it’s your first visit to Satyrykon. What do you expect of Poland and the Polish people?
Beer is my favourite beverage and it’s not a joke! I haven’t had the chance to try any Polish beer so far and I’d really like to taste it. I’ll be happy to “test” it and share my personal “responsible” opinion. It’s my first travel to Poland and I hope its culture and people will appeal to me so much that I’ll keep coming back here willingly in the future…
Reinaldo Pagan Avila, a well-known Cuban painter and satirical cartoonist, living in Spain since 2012, has been awarded this year with a distinction in category: Joke and satire. The awarded work title is “Selfie” and as the author has taken part in the competition for the first time this year, he additionally has received a traditional debut award in the form of individual exhibition.
Translated from Spanish Karolina Rojek
ANNA PAŁOSZ & REINALDO PAGAN AVILA
Satyrykon 2017 best debuts
Satyrykon Gallery in Legnica, Rynak 36
13 June – 31 July 2017
A celebrated opening of the exhibition on 17 June, at 4 p.m.