Buying a painting in Cuba
Che Guevara - acrylic on canvas
I've only ever bought two paintings but when I saw a painting of Che Guevara in a gallery in Cuba I was struck and had to have it. The process of buying it and getting it home has made it worth all the more to me and given me memories I'll never forget.
On a boiling, humid, Caribbean afternoon in July 2012 I was walking the streets of Trinidad in Cuba, trying to keep in the shade as much as possible when I passed a small gallery and looked in. The first thing I saw was a stunning young woman sitting in a child's chair in the middle of the room, reading a book. As I walked in she jumped up and flashed a huge smile. I'd scanned the walls and not seen anything very different from the kind of generic offerings I'd seen in Havana and Vinales, but as we stepped into a second room I saw this painting of Che. He appeared to be staring right at me and I was immediately captivated.
I made a pathetic attempt to appear uninterested when I asked how much it was. I wandered around a bit and pretended to be vaguely interested in other things but my brain was telling me to pounce or risk losing it to the next tourist that steps through the door. It was low season, middle of the scorching, wet summer, absolutely boiling and not many tourists around so I thought I could probably negotiate. I made a bid and the young woman, who had introduced herself as Tatiana, phoned the artist to put it to him. She came back with a price and I said I'd have a think about it and come back. I sneaked a snapshot of the painting with my phone and made my way to a small corner bar nearby to contemplate. I've made rash decisions in the heat before and just wanted to make sure of my feelings over a cold beer. The shops were closing soon so I reckoned I was safe to sleep on it and go back first thing in the morning.
As I entered the gallery the following morning Tatiana rose from her chair with a broad smile again, but it was a different smile. I could tell the painting had gone. She simply said 'German lady'. My heart sank but my mind raced. 'Can you get hold of the artist and ask him to paint another one?' I asked, rather desparately. She said she would try to get hold of him and that I should come back in the afternoon.
Three days passed with Tatiana trying to get hold of 'Jose' by telephone and me combing the bars looking for him armed only with a description. Apparently he would be celebrating the sale of the painting for a few days. I just had to find which bar he was in. On the third morning Tatiana had found him and we met at the gallery. Jose was younger than I had expected and spoke a little english. We agreed a price for a new painting and I was told I could collect it in three days time. I asked if I could see Jose's studio but the translation kind of broke down and I just settled for collection in three days. I had all sorts of images in my head of what his studio would look like. I was desperate to see the place that my painting would be made and, if possible, photograph Jose.
When we met three days later Jose asked me if I wanted to see the painting. It was in his studio. I followed him a few blocks then entered a building with a large room, double height and with several work areas for artists. On the left, near the back of the room, I could see my painting, glowering in the gloom. I laughed at my own childishness when I realised that I already preferred it to the one I'd missed. That one had been very red. This one was cream at the edges and the face was made of blues, greys and terracotta. I absolutely loved it as soon as I saw it. And it was massive.
Jose patiently sat for me while I fiddled about with my camera and opened the bigger barn door to let more light in. He sat on a paint can and lit a cigar while I tinkered with my exposure, focussing and composition. I paid up for the painting and we retired to bar where Jose would not let me buy a drink for the next four hours. What a gentleman. I heard that he left Cuba for an Argentinian girlfriend last September. I love his style and I'm sure that wherever he is now there are people queuing for his work.
JosePortrait of an Artist
I'm planning to go back to Cuba in the near future. If you have any tips, advice, desires or contacts you're happy to share please do get in touch or feel free to leave a comment on this post.
Jose. Trinidad, Cuba 2012
Hi Rudy - thanks for the comment, I'm glad I made this blog post now! I doubt many people in Cuba have a Facebook page but I suppose that will change. I hope to get back to Trinidad in 2016 and will be looking for Jose with a new commission.
I did also buy a awesome Che painting painted by Jose i remember that he gave me his card but i lost it during my trip, I am really interested in the rest of his work dus he has Facebook?
Jose is back in Trinidad - now married :-)
Similar story for us last month - fell totally in love with one of his paintings in a gallery. Gone the next day, but the gallery guy walked us down a few blocks to Joses gallery where we met Jose and his lovely wife. Ended up with a bigger and better painting - really love his work.
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