For Juan Suárez Blanco his life's work is still to be done. This is what he confesses in a dialogue with Maxima Gallery-Studio, days before the opening of his first personal exhibition Counterpoint, which will remain open to the public until 17 February in this exhibition space, located in Monserrate Street, on the corner of Tejadillo.
The artist gives a special dramatism to his pieces, in which one can observe high doses of sacrifice, of a constant reaffirmation of himself through art. Suárez Blanco can give himself the privilege of remaining silent in a context where exhibitions are inaugurated almost daily in Havana, sometimes more, because he has sown the seed of good work, either through his creative hands or by multiplying knowledge as a teacher. Forgetting, forgetting, these dangerous areas of life have not been made for series like Erosion, Connection, Stigmata or The Skin of the Ocean.
At Maxima we always imagine him immersed in his muses, in some new project that is both hard working and long lasting. To think of the author of The passage of the fish is to challenge the intellect and to undertake a journey through areas of the human mind that we cannot even imagine.
You are an established artist in the Cuban context. With which works or series do you think you have reached creative maturity?
With all the sincerity in the world, I've been preparing to do a great work, but I haven't been able to do it yet. I have been working for sixty years because since I was seven I won some competitions for Artemis, while at ten I enrolled in the School-Workshop, and happily I had the possibility of having a Spanish master sculptor, Benito Paredes, who worked with Rita Longa. One day Benito told me: 'you are going to be a sculptor because that is your line, you will never be a great painter'.
When I made the first sculptures I was ten years old, they were heads, human figures, objects. To my teacher, Benito Paredes, I owe almost everything, a man of tremendous talent like a Michelangelo Buonarroti of these times, people so modest and humble that they never valued his work.
Only working with Rita Longa and carrying out her projects made him happy. To his students he transmitted that spirit of non-conformity, of never feeling fulfilled with your works. That also happens to me, I can never say that I feel fulfilled with a work, that one is still to be done. I hope that life gives me the possibility, because I have been preparing for it.
Your works seem to come from a big studio-workshop because of their invoice and quality. How does Juan Suárez Blanco really work?
I can say that I have never had great work teams or the great workshop to realize some dreams. I like to enjoy everything in the work, if I have to make an object I don't have to have it made, I could delegate it to some carpenter or a blacksmith, but it's not like that. I do the work of carving, welding or assembly, that is, the whole frame of the piece. I think that at some point one of my disciples gave me a job to gain time, but the final completion was given by me. I don't see the process in an agonizing way, but on the contrary, I see happiness and beauty.
How much has your life and work partner contributed to your professional career?
I owe Delfina almost everything. Without her it would have been impossible. She was a bit my Frederick Engels. That is, in order to do things she had to sacrifice herself and was my patron. We're a family that sacrifices for each other.
And your facet as a teacher, how useful do you feel?
My students have taught me to renew myself every day, to find other ways. Teaching is so noble and dignified. To never keep anything, to give everything without hiding your tricks, your magic because in the end each person is unrepeatable.
I have had wonderful students who have made it easy for me to feel as young as they do, panicking at the blank canvas. I enjoy that rich fear, that of not knowing what will happen, of always being surprised. When I'm not surprised by a work I take a knife and cut it because there is no emotion.
I learned one thing from Servando Cabrera, whom I met as a child. He said that every year he had to open a door because he was suffocating himself doing the same thing. I think he is the most versatile painter Cuba has ever had and one of the most controversial in his time. Every five steps you discovered something new in his exhibitions, and that was a mark he left on many of his disciples, to jump into the void without fear.
Are you a man of faith?
We are all men of faith, whether in work, love, belief in man, family, or yourself. That is faith beyond any religious connotation. When I set my mind to something, I see it from afar and I reach for it at any cost. Of course, I don't set myself great goals, but those I can reach.
What does Juan Suárez Blanco still have to do?
Many works. I'm working on several series at the same time. For example, I started Estigmas in 2010 and there are still pieces coming out. Then Huellas appeared as a tribute to Hugo Consuegra, then Conexión, another tribute to Mondriaan and the painters of concrete art. It is followed by The skin of the ocean dazzled by the beaches of Cancun, where I tried to express what is under the ocean, that is, what is left and humanize it.
One of the last series is Galatik, which is related to certain philosophies to seek communion with the universe.
How would you define the artistic here and now of Cuba?
I am a son of Artemisa. I have never been interested in being anything other than a consecrated art worker, a worker as a good carpenter, welder or shoemaker can be.
A little paraphrasing Martí, "I am art among the arts" and among them a man of art.