Hailing from Guantanamo, Cuba, Joaquin Avila is making waves in the art world. His donation of an art piece entitled Alepo to the United Nations auction for Scholas, an organization dedicated to education worldwide for underprivileged youth went for a considerable sum on auction for which he was flown to Rome in March, 2019 to meet his Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican. Recently, he painted the largest mural in New York City history.
His work has been covered by publications such as Huffington Post, Miami Herald, and Miami Diario
From Havana to New York: Joaquín Ávila, reinterpreting the past
By Piter Ortega. Curator and Art Critic
Cuban artist Joaquín Ávila has discovered in the appropriation and recycling of art history the most solid path in his young creative career. His paintings make intertextuality, pastiche and parody the fundamental axes on which the discourse is articulated. Reviving classic paintings and bringing them to the present time is Ávila’s greatest obsession, but he has managed to do it with great creativity, humor, and delicious irony. Joaquín’s paintings are not naive at all. It is not about dusting off the past in a gratuitous or haphazard way, but trying to understand how much of that past lives in our present, how much we owe to those masters of art history, what is the moral, ethical, human and sociocultural legacy that those classics of universal painting offer us, how much life there is behind those old canvases.
Thus, when we look at the works by Joaquín Ávila, we come across versions of “The Abduction of the Daughters of Leucippus” by Peter Paul Rubens, “Las Meninas” by Velázquez or Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, among many others. But in all cases there is an essential and profound transformation that makes the works acquire a strongly contemporary dimension: the brushstroke. Joaquín uses a gestural, spontaneous, free stroke; a thick brushstroke full of fillings where there is no room for preconception, but everything flows in an improvised way. Ávila uses anything without fear or limits: he even paints with his own hands many times. That is why in his paintings the material paste is thick, dense, being the textures the great seductive element of his paintings. This is where all the contemporaneity comes from: the soft and delicate brushwork of the masters is now converted into a whirlwind of stains, paint grooves and colors that challenge the untrained viewer.
Other typical features of Joaquín’s paintings are strong color contrasts and movement. It’s about bold color combinations that hit us hard at first glance. Joaquín explores the chromatic range in all its extensions and in all its complexities. As for movement, it never ceases to exist in his paintings. Ávila needs the constant movement of lines and areas, mostly curved and sinuous, which give great eroticism and vitality to many works, as well as offer a dynamism in the compositions that we enjoy tremendously. There is no place for statism. That is a word that does not exist in Joaquín’s paintings. It seems that we are facing a hurricane of shapes and colors that mercilessly drags the past before our eyes, and returns it to us crushed, shaken.
Another important aspect in Ávila’s paintings is the monumentality of the formats. The artist likes huge paintings that shock the viewer from their very size. When I am in front of his works, I feel a kind of force, a sensation that something very big and powerful minimizes and annuls me. Maybe it’s about that past, “oppressing like a nightmare” my brain.
The “horror vacui” also distinguishes Joaquín’s style. His paintings are loaded, baroque. The artist is fascinated by filling the pictorial space and making the figure-ground relationship more complex. His human beings, animals and mythological themes fill the space in a visceral way.
At first glance, there is not much of Cuba in Joaquín’s paintings. They are rather universal proposals, oblivious to any local feeling or longing for the island where the artist was born and trained. However, in indifference and forgetfulness there is also a hidden way of loving. A silent way of carrying in our hearts that place where, one day, the artist -and many others- left in search of a better future.
Today Joaquín is in a moment of artistic maturity. He has found his own, personal, authentic path. He is already clear about the route to follow. The final success will be in discipline, in perseverance.
Something that Cuban artists have in abundance.
So let’s follow the clues of this young man full of dreams who has come to the Big Apple through the big door, and whose motto seems to be the famous phrase by E.B. White: “No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky”