The world renowned Cuban artist, Luís Enrique Camejo, will be exhibiting his works in London from October 2016.
Camejo’s studio can be found at the far end of a sunny roof terrace. After mounting a flight of steep stairs in an ancient Havana apartment building, a warm welcome is guaranteed. Paints, brushes, pots and bowls inhabit any available spaces. Finished canvases and works in progress are stacked against the walls. A few are on display on smaller easels. Camejo, born in 1971, will be at work, paintbrush in hand. Strong, sweet Cuban coffee is on offer, and most importantly – chat, to the sound of local roosters. “I like to use my studio this way. I always keep working and talking when I have visitors,” he says.
An art’s education
Camejo has loved drawing since he was a child. As a talented 12-year-old, he entered the Elementary School of Art of Pinar del Río in western Cuba where his specialised art education began. After finishing his studies in his hometown, Camejo was accepted at the National School of Art (ENA) in Havana. His graduate work came next, at Cuba’s prestigious Higher Institute of Art (ISA). After graduating – from 1996 until 2007 – he worked as a Professor at ISA.
From the time he began life as a professional artist, Camejo explored diverse styles and sources before settling on his readily recognised current oeuvre. In his early days, he was inspired by the Informalists, such as Spanish artist Antoni Tapies, using dirt and organic materials on the canvas. In the nineties, it was the way the Impressionists captured light in their paintings, and how they engaged with the outdoors that led Camejo to experiment with the pointillist technique. His fascination with light and movement and the outdoors remain with him.
Modern cityscapes and the Malecón
Today Camejo is known above all for his cityscapes, from New York to St Petersburg to Shanghai. But paramount is his enormous output, in oils, acrylics and watercolours, exploring Havana, and in particular, the Malecón – the iconic four and a half mile sea wall that in the popular imagination has defined Havana as a city since construction first began in 1902.
Throughout the years, artists have portrayed this famous boundary in many mediums and styles, including many Cuban writers and filmmakers, but Camejo has been able to capture and synthesise a myriad of elements in single compositions. His exquisite handling of waves breaking over the wall captures the physical movement of the wind as it drives the rain and propels inhabitants down the streets of the city. It is reminiscent of works like British artist JMW Turner’s Snow Storm (1842), an artist who Camejo admires. But the absence of movement is just as deftly portrayed – the immobility of a scene by Camejo often evokes the still of a film, or a postcard. He describes his images as lacking a defined beginning or end, just like a single shot taken from a series that makes up a sequence in a film.
What the viewer does not see but is left to consider are the events that may have happened before or after this shot. Since 2003, this filmic image has been evoked with a wash of colour across the canvas. The monochromatic painting not only ‘strips away the ornaments’ of a painting, but also allows the artist to introduce a psychological element. Sometimes only the trace of the object appears. He captures the points that the headlights of a car leave behind in a rainy scene. “I even improvised with my tools, putting two or three brushes together to imitate the effect created by lights,” he explains.
Camejo sold his first work in 1991 and today he has achieved considerable success in the international market while gaining numerous awards and showing in up to a dozen solo and group exhibitions around the world each year. “I always try to be coherent with myself, with my principles as an artist… I always try to please myself”. If he can’t satisfy these ideals, he simply won’t sell his work.