Southern California artist Anette Power came back from the Paint Cuba! Publisher’s Invitational trip with a few thoughts on visiting the formerly forbidden Caribbean nation. Read her take on the “land of contradictions.”
 
This is the first time in history that this big of a group of artists have traveled to Cuba, to actually paint on location. Sharing it with 100 new friends made this a once-in-a-lifetime experience — one that I would now want to do again.
 


Anette Power painting on location in Cuba

 
Bringing 100 artists to paint is no small feat, and since there aren’t really any art stores (or many other stores either, for that matter) in Cuba, everything we needed had to be brought with us from the United States. I said quite a few prayers and labeled my supplies extremely well for the TSA to be happy, so I could have it arrive all in one piece. Even though Cuba is just about an hour’s plane ride from Florida, it seems so very far away. Life is lived at a different pace — on “Cuba time,” cut off from many outside influences.
 
I think that my trip there is the closest to time travel that I will ever experience. Somehow I even felt connected to my grandparents on this visit to Cuba (strangely enough, as they lived in Finland). It was as if I were visiting the world as it might have been when they were young, in the ’50s.
 
Cuba is a country that seems so separate from the rest of the world that I could literally sense the walls of isolation when I arrived, imagining what life would be like without much crossing over the borders — neither people, nor food or supplies, for many, many years. It gave me a whole new sense of gratitude for life in the U.S. and a lot of empathy and admiration for the Cuban people. Their friendliness was evident, as the locals would curiously watch us paint all over town. I had many Cubans come up and ask questions and make comments. I only wish I would have picked up a little more Spanish before I left, but there were plenty of smiles to go around. The kids were the sweetest as they would come by on their lunch break and stand by and watch us really closely, fascinated by our materials.
 
Every day our bus driver Hector would take us to a different location to paint, and our guide Maylin would give us great insight into life in Cuba. We painted in several parts of Havana, mostly in Old and Central Havana, and they each have their distinct flavor. It’s a city with a mishmash of international design influences. The architecture of Havana includes everything from Art Nouveau and Art Deco to Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Roman influences from colonial times. These colorful buildings, whispering of long-gone eras of grandeur, are now covered with soot, flaking paint, and the wear and tear of tropical storms. It was hard to get enough of these views.
 


“Grafica,” by Anette Power, oil, 12 x 12 in.

 
And then there are all the classic cars. Some are spotless and shiny, and others lovingly held together with spit and screws. We took several rides in these classic taxicabs, and believe me, you have to hold on for dear life. There are no seatbelts, a door could easily open up (as we experienced), and honking your horn at an intersection to get through, or speeding up at the sight of a pedestrian, is just par for the course. Every now and then we would get a whiff of fresh air in between puffs of exhaust.
 
We also went to the countryside and painted at an old sugar plantation that once held slaves. We went to Jaimanitas, where the artist Jose Fustos has covered a whole neighborhood with mosaic, using his earnings from selling his own art. And we made an impromptu stop at a small harbor close to Santa Fe, which was filled with boats that barely stayed afloat, scattered bits and pieces everywhere. It’s all worn down and dilapidated, which to an artist means it’s full of life and history.
 
It’s a land of contradictions, with so much beauty and struggle all in one.
 
Cuba is also a land of scarcity. There are no fast food restaurants, none of the stores we’re used to. I didn’t see any clothing stores except for the clothing you could find in a souvenir store. People wait in line for food that might be there one day and not the next. My roommate waited for a cup of coffee for 45 minutes — they were waiting for the water delivery truck to show up.
 


Havanna, Cuba

 
The week felt longer than a week, maybe because it was sensory overload. Being “off the grid” was an added bonus. It helped me live in the moment and experience all that color everywhere I looked, the smell of exhaust and cigars, the wonderful sound of Cuban music and vendors calling out their wares on the square, with plenty of chicken, beans, and mojitos to taste.
 
I went for the colorful architecture and the wonderful classic cars, which all exceeded expectations. But in the end, what really impressed me was the Cuban people. I admire their strength, grit, and joyfulness through it all, the passion that shows through their art and music, how helpful they were toward us. All that is what will stay with me for a very long time.
 
Some of my pieces can be seen at upcoming exhibits at the Crystal Moll Gallery in Baltimore and the McBride Gallery in Annapolis, Maryland. I’m looking forward to showcasing this series from Cuba at a local venue here in California as well.
 


Participants of Paint Cuba! Publisher’s Invitational working on location in Havana

 
Eric Rhoads, the publisher of PleinAir magazine, previously wrote about the trip in PleinAir Today, and you can read it here. Turner Vinson created a video that communicates the feel of the trip; it can be found here.
 

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