My new work contains memories of places I have travelled and people I have met, especially in Africa and Cuba. The images synthesized and combined with symbolic content.
The White Chair
This is an image of a garden in San Pedro Betancourt. The white chair invites the ancestors, and the rice and nine small gourds water feed them. My friend Pupy has been living the gardener’s house on this site, the now defunct sugar refinery “Cuba Libre". His father once worked in the refinery and died at a young age. Josefina Tarazas’ father owned the refinery, and she and Lidia Cabrera lived there and collected work songs that can be heard on Smithsonian recordings. They came to the United States during the revolution.
The Madonna of 30th Avenue
This is a portrait of Lisa Valenzuela and her baby, Sella Mullenzuela.
Portrait of Amadou Thiam
Amadou Thiam is a Senegalese art dealer who specializes in Ancient and contemporary art. He invited me to exhibit in his gallery called Galerie Yassine for DAK’ART 2016, the Dakar biennale. DAK’ART is the biggest international art event in Africa. This is a portrait I did as a gift for him.
Amadou Thiam with his portrait at Galerie Yassine, Dakar, Senegal
This is a depiction of the aftermath of Hurricane María, the category 5 storm that devastated Dominica, The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in September, 2017.
Secrets Under the Skin
In 2005 I joined a collaboration called “Secrets Under the Skin”, a project which connects a small team of contemporary urban artists in the US and Cuba with traditional spiritual practitioners in rural Cuba and Ghana. Through her study as a dancer, Jill Flanders Crosby, our project director, discovered striking similarities between the ritual music, dance, and language in Perico, a town in Cuba, and that of Dzodze, a small village in Ghana. Our project has facilitated communication between them. We have developed a multi media exhibition and installation reflecting our interaction with the people in Perico and Dzodze, utilizing dance, video, and visual art. Secrets Under the Skin was exhibited at the Ludwig Foundation in Havana, and the Museo Constantino Barrero Guerra in Perico in December 2010, and in early 2011 at The Kimura Gallery at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and The Bunnell Street Gallery in Homer, Alaska.
My contribution to the project includes eight large acrylic paintings on canvas and 20 illuminated manuscripts on paper. These works contain images, portraits and narratives from Perico and Dzodze. Ultimately, I plan to create an artist’s book from high quality prints of my manuscripts and paintings as a gift to the museum in Perico. Throughout the process we have given prints, videos, and photographs to the people of Dzodze and Perico.
A complete discussion of the project, reproductions of the paintings and manuscripts, videos, and photographs can be found here.
Cabildo de Ma Gose
This is an image of a cabildo in a small rural town called Agramonte, Matanzas province, Cuba. It has been continually in use as a ceremonial center since it was established by enslaved Africans. The sacred drums in the foreground are very old and are still played on special occasions. Some of the objects are said to have come directly from Africa.
The Women of Dzodze (Ghana)
These Ghanian women are viewing photographs from Perico and Agramonte, Matanzas Province, Cuba.
Reinaldo Robinson, (now deceased) in his home/shrine in Perico, Matanzas Province, Cuba views photos from Dzodze and Adjodogou, Volta Region of Ghana/Togo.
This chair belonged the the deceased Justo Zulueta, and still can be seen in a shrine formerly kept by his son, Reinaldo Robinson. (Robinson is now deceased) As is indicated on the sign, no one is allowed to sit in the chair. Legend has it that Justo was very handsome, and fathered 44 children by different women. He received Oddu Aremou (Arará deity syncretized with Babaluaye) in a small lake called Laguna Ramona, just outside Perico. Oddu Aremou is said to live in the lake to this day, but no one receives him anymore because knowledge of his ritual ceremonies has been lost. I gave Reinaldo a print of this painting, and he instructed me to stand it up in the chair, where it can be seen today.
The Story of Oddu Aremu
Oddu Aremu is an Arará deity syncretized with the Lukumi Obatalá. The story in Perico goes that Oddu wanted to swim back to Africa. His entry point was Laguna Ramona, a small spring near the sugar refinery called España. The people begged him to stay, singing and leading him back to the refinery by covering his path with white sheets strewn with his favorite herb. One day Justo Zulueta was walking near Laguna Ramona and he was mysteriously pulled into the lake. Although he was afraid of water and couldn't swim, Justo emerged 45 minutes later with Oddu Aremu’s favorite herb in his mouth. This confirmed that Oddu still lived in the lake, and this is how Justo received Oddu Aremu. He then was led back to the refinery just as Oddu had been, walking barefoot on the white sheets strewn with herbs, as the people of the town sang Oddu’s special songs..
Dashi's Togbui Shrine
This is Dashi, a powerful priestess in Dzodze, Ghana. She is pictured in her sacred hut, where she invited us for a blessing. Togbui is syncretized with the Lukumi Babuluaye, deity of sickness and health. Dashi had to obtain special permission from Togbui to allow me to paint this picture.
This image haunted me until I finally painted it two years after I was actually in the village. I wanted to have it in my space. I was impressed by the orderly atmosphere, where everyone seemed to have their place in the functioning of the village. We visited small farms and coconut groves surrounding Adjodogou, and we were able to see sacred drums and dances.
All Shall Pass
This image depicts a ritual we were invited to attend in a village outside Accra, Ghana. Everyone was required to wear ”cloth”, or, to wrap themselves in traditional cloth. The dancer has covered his head to protect from spirits. He is lighting gunpowder in order to change the atmosphere to allow the deities to come down and dance. The phrase “All Shall Pass” was written on the wall. For the painting, I intensified the warm red color of the wall, and isolated the dancer who was lighting the spark. In reality, the space was crowded with dancers.
Cuban Music and Dance
My Afro-Cuban paintings are a result of many visits I have made to Cuba, beginning in 1995. Initially I went to Havana to study percussion and dance at Escuela Nacional de Arte, but I was soon inspired to paint about my experiences. The Cuba paintings focus on popular and ritual music and dance. I have met and studied with many of the people in the paintings, and whenever possible I have given them photos of the paintings. I have exhibited in several venues in Havana, including Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba, and Museo de la Revolución.
In both the Cuba and Niger series, the communities I have depicted are not commonly known to Americans. My hope is that these paintings will give the viewer a sense of familiarity with them, and open a path to their inclusion in dialogues about contemporary art and culture.
Yemaya, Keeper of the Oceans
Oya, Keeper of the Wind
Ochun, Keeter of the Rivers
Yemaya en La Habana
The Other Guántanamo
In 2004 I went to Niger and visited traditional Hausa farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the Sahel, a dry strip of desert at the edge of the Sahara. I was welcomed in the villages because my brother and his family had been living there for fourteen years. To my surprise people were delighted by my digital camera, and everyone wanted to pose for it. From these snap shots I created a series of formal gilded portraits. I used gold, silver, and copper leaf backgrounds to create portraits that recall Byzantine icons. I donate a portion from the sale of paintings and prints from the Niger series to a grain bank which benefits the Wodaabi in the Sahel.
99 Portraits Project
The 99 Portraits project came into being when people started talking about the 99 vs. the one percent. I had done so many portraits of people in Africa and Cuba, that I wanted to zero in on Oakland. My first portraits were of people who hang out at Merchant’s Saloon, which was right downstairs. The only criteria to have your portrait painted was that you had to have a drink with me at Merchant’s. Gradually I began adding friends and family, but the main idea was to create a body of work about the 99 percent, most of whom would never have been documented in painting, but who nevertheless less deserved to be painted, as the wealthy and influential had been ever since the Renaissance. I later added three lines of biographical information to each portrait, including the sitter’s name, birthplace, occupation, and city of current residence. It occurred to me that most people in the 99 percent don’t live where they were born, and most of their moves resulted from their own or their parents’ search of work. This project is ongoing. I hope to one day show the portraits in an airport. Contact me if you want to be painted.
Lilia was a bartender at Merchant’s Saloon, downstairs from my studio near Jack London Square. Although she is of German heritage, she grew up in Mexico.
The ultimate gentleman, Jesus is a waiter in a restaurant at Jack London Square.
Woody Johnson is a sculptor/printmaker/painter, and an important Oakland artist and teacher. Fluent in Spanish, Woody served in the Peace Corps in South America.
Joyce Gordon is an Oakland treasure. Vibrant and tireless, she owns Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland. Her gallery features artists and musicians, supports young people, and causes of all kinds. Joyce has a heart of gold, and her gallery is a cultural center in the heart of the city. Go visit her.
Joyce Gordon with her portrait.
Every year Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica hosts a carnivalesque exhibit featuring over 60 artists who produce 50 works each, displayed on identical grids in the gallery and hallways at the center. Buyers are invited to take the piece home at the time of purchase. The openings are packed, noisy, and festive. I have participated several times, and each experience is a small revelation, as I choose a theme and make 50 tiny, 6” paintings. I have included an image the entire 2017 body of work, and a few pieces from each of the other series. 2018 was especially fun, as I painted 25 household faces and 25 household objects and juxtaposed them. For example, Trump next to a teapot, or Maxine Waters next to a wine carafe. Each painting was assigned an adage from Erasmus’ 1508 collection. Robert Mueller’s adage read: “Make Haste Slowly”. All of them are for sale at a very reasonable price!
The paintings in this gallery are unrelated to any particular series. Some were commissions and some were small watercolors I did at the UC Botanical Gardens. Paintings of flowers offer opportunities and surprises of strange shapes and colors. Nature is never to be outdone. Sometimes random paintings are harbingers of images to come.
Camels in Tasa Ibrahim
Tasa Ibrahim is a resting spot on the edge of the Sahara for the nomadic Woaabi people. I was privileged to go there when I visited my brother Joel and his family, who lived in Niger for 16 years. Please see portraits of the Wodaabi in my African Portraits Gallery.
This painting was commissioned for Jesus Diaz’ CD called El Jardinero. Jesus is a master percussionist and leader of the Cuban band QBA. His music is unbelievably complex and shows that highly intellectual forms of expression exist in languages that transcend words. Jesus is part of a lineage of drummers that reaches back to a time when drums did transmit messages that could be understood by whole villages.
The Cat Lady
This portrait was commissioned by Claudia Stanten to commemorate her beloved cats. It is larger than life, at 74” X 78”.
This painting was done for the 10th anniversary of Festival Flamenca Gitana, produced by Nina Menendez, who is the daughter of Bay Area Blues singer Barbara Dane.
Born to Drum
Born to Drum was founded by Carolyn Brandy and Women Drummers International in 2006 as an opportunity for women to study various styles of drumming with world class women drummers from all over the world. For the past few years born to Drum has been held in an Oakland Hills group camp, where participants can camp for several days. Over the years I have done many of the images for the drum camp.
Seeds of Our Freedom
This is an imaginary depiction of Osain, Cuban deity of medicinal plants. Seeds of Our Freedom is the theme for the Women Drummers International Drum Camp held in Oakland, July 2019.
Into the Deep was the 2018 theme for Women Drummers International drum camp called Born to Drum. The image is a depiction of Olokun, deity who lives in the deepest part of the ocean. The drums are sacred Olokun drums which exist today in Matanzas province, Cuba.
Babaluaye the Healer
This was the image for the 2017 Women Drummers International Born to Drum camp. It is a depiction of Babaluaye, deity of sickness and health.
This was the image for the 2016 Women Drummers International Born to Drum camp. It is a depiction of Obatala, owner of all things white, creator of human beings and earth, owner of the head, and of thoughts and dreams. Obatala’s attributes include the elephant, the spiral, and white beads. This was one of 8 paintings I exhibited at Galerie Yassine, in the 2016 Biennale in Dakar, Senegal.
This is a depiction of Oshun, deity of romantic love in Afro-Cuban folklore. The drums still exist in a ceremonial house in Perico, Matanzas province. They are newly painted every year and resemble Ghanian drums.
This is a depiction of Amelia Pedroso, virtuoso drummer and singer of Afro-Cuban sacred music. Renowned worldwide, Amelia came to teach in Oakland and tragically, shepassed away several years ago, long before her time.
This is a painting of Rumba Morena, one of the great performing groups in Havana. An all female Rumba group these performers are an inspiration to women drummers everywhere. I did this painting after one of my first trips to Cuba, and I brought a print to the group as a gift.