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.
This is the first painting i did about Cuba. I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. That music stole my heart. I studied with Cristobal Larrinaga, who was a member of Clave Y Guaguancó, wearing green here, looking at Pancho Quinto.
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.
This is the first painting I did about Cuba after going to study music there for the first time. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I studied with Cristobal Larrinaga, wearing green here, and looking at Pancho Quinto.
Yemaya, Keeper of the Oceans
Oya, Keeper of the Wind
Ochun, Keeter of the Rivers
Yemaya en La Habana
The dancer’s pose in this painting was inspired by Ava Square in a performance I participated in with Ojalá, a group led by Carolyn Brandy. I took artist’s license and included sacred drums from the town of Perico, Matanzas, Cuba.
Oya Rompe Cuero
Oya is keeper of the Wind , owner of sparks, and female ire, as well as determination and power. This painting was created for “Born to Drum”, the annual women’s drum camp held in the Oakland hills, sponsored by Carolyn Brandy and Women Drummers International.
The Other Guántanamo
These were some of the teachers i studied with in Guantánamo. I call it the Other Guantanamo, because most Americans only know about the American prison there.
Rumba en el Callejón
This painting was inspired by a performance of one of the greatest rumba groups, Clave y Guaguancó.
Rumba Taller Gráfica
This is a representation of Rumba Columbia, traditionally danced by men as a form of dance competition.. I call it Taller Gráfica because I included a graphic arts print shop in the background.
Rumba de Noche
This is a fantasy painting of two dancers with a mysterious, looming shadow between them. Drummers in the background are barely visible as outlines.
The Guardians at the Gate
Once I went to a party in Havana where the great female rumba band was in attendance. Significantly to me, they were not invited to play. I call this painting the Guardians at the Gate to signify the glass ceiling that still exists for female performers, though recently the glass has begun to crack.
La Caridad de Oriente
This is a group called Caridad de Oriente rehearsing for Carnaval in Santiago de Cuba.
Los Tambores de Clave y Guaguancó
This is a fantasy image of drums and performers after the show is over in Callejon Hammel, Havana. It includes drums painted by Salvador, and an offering for Ochun.
Rumba de Cajón
One day after class at La ENA, it was raining so hard that the rumba happened in the kitchen instead of its planned location in the neighborhood. I included tape recorders, which every student had, and a dessert, as well as a still life of batá and other drums in the background.
Oba Gemilere means King of the Party in Lukumí, the creole language in Cuba. It is a depiction of a rumba in Callejón Hammel, a wide, painted alley in Havana, famous for performances every Sunday afternoon. A fabulous artist named Salvador painted the entire street. I was behind the drummers because someone pulled me in out of the sun.
Rumba Morena is a dynamic female rumba group that performs regularly in Havana. I gave a print of this painting to the woman pictured here and she remarked that she had borrowed the shoes.
Ofrendas para Ochun
This image was inspired by a memory of drummers and dancers in an old dance hall in Matanzas.
Barroso Dances Chango
José Francisco Barroso danced with Raices Profundas in Havana. In my estimation he is one of the greatest dancers on the planet. Living here in Oakland, raising a family, teaching, performing.
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.
This young woman had recently married. Everyone in the clan received a few yards from the same bolt of cloth to sew clothing to commemorate the occasion. She accompanied us to Tasa Ibrahim, where her Wodaabi people were resting with their herd. The trip took several days from Maradi, driving a land rover on dirt roads, stopping for a day to repair a flat tire, weaving between sand dunes and thorn bushes. We arrived to find a few mud huts in the open desert, and a clan of nomadic people. My brother went to bring them an immense bag of rice.
The Yellow Turban
The Fulani were the most regal people I had ever seen. Their sense of style was timeless yet somehow utterly contemporary.
The Camel Man
This man gave us a ride on his camels in the Sahel, Niger.
When it Rains it Pours
The young girls walk on the paths selling food cooked by their mothers.
We visited Tasa Ibrahim, a temporary camp near the Sahara where nomadic Wodaabi herders rested with their camels.. This woman took my hand and looked off into the distance, saying something in the Fulani language. The landscape is so stark, there is nothing but thorn bushes. People never know if the rain will come to provide water and plants for their herds. Their lives are marginal, but they love their traditions and the open desert spaces they wander.
Young Fulani Man
The Fulani consider themselves to be the most beautiful people in the world, and I believe it. They wear elaborate jewelry and hairstyles and wander the s=deserts following their herds. Their culture is full of taboos. I was never as fascinated by any people.
Garaya is the name of the instrument this young man was playing. It is a gourd with one or two strings.
Sannu Means Hello
A young Hausa girl gathering firedwood outside Soura dan Nana, Niger.
Hello, How's Your Work?
There were many conventions, and one was the greeting system, with different appropriate questions and answers to be recited throughout the day. I had to learn them as best I could, and I wrote some of them in the frames of the paintings. This young girl was selling peanuts, and the counter weight was a stack of coins on the enamel plate.
This image combines and African dancer I saw in Soura dan Nana, Niger, with Afro-Cuban imagery of the deities of wind and fresh waters. When I sell a print from the Niger series I send a portion of the proceeds to a hospital in the Sahel, or directly to a settlement via a friend of my brother’s who has lived there for many years.
The Blue Bowl
I saw this woman in a market in Niamey, Republic of Niger. The blue bowl was a begging bowl.
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 63 artists who produce 50 6”x6”works each, in 50 days. They are displayed on identical grids in the gallery and hallways at the center. Buyers take the pieces home at the time of purchase. The openings are packed, noisy, and festive.
50 Tiny paintings, all based on the same layout, produced an infinity of designs. One could entertain oneself forever making these.
Time Reveals All Things 2019
Here are 49 of the 50 6’X6’ gilded portraits I did for 2019. You will probably recognize most of them. Those you don’t know are refugees or so called migrants. It is an impartial view of the day’s news, as if seen from an earlier era.
Tiurre, Kayapo Tribal Chief, Brazil
Representative from Massachusettes, and member of so called “Squad”
The background was stained with tea and the border was stained with red wine!
Representative from Detroit, member of “The Squad”
Representative from Minnesota and member of the so-called “Squad”.
Central American Migrant
Teen Climate Activist
Rouhani, Iranian President
President of Japan
Venus Williams, Tennis Champ
Soccer champ, activist
Serena Williams, Tennis Champ
British Ambassador who lost his job because he called Trump “inept”
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.
This is my first series of portraits. The paintings are all 7’ tall X 5’ wide, with the exception of The Oakland School, which is 5.5’ tall X 15’. wide. They depict people in my Oakland circle of friends and students in the early 1990s.
Buck Wright was our class president at St. Elizabeth in Oakland. The painting was done 20 years after we graduated.
Portrait of a Woman
This is a portrait of Denise Webbly-Wright, who married Buck, our class president. The mirror image was the result of repositioning the figure farther to the right. I decided to keep both images, but changed one to reflect the other. The background “wallpaper” is cloth applied to the canvas.
Lysistrata Munson was a student of mine at Maybeck High School in Berkeley. She is named after the heroine in the fabulous Greek play “Lysistrata”, written in 411 BC by Aristophanes. She and a bunch of other kids had their heads shaved by the math teacher on a school camping trip. It took me a while to realize that I had painted her with two left feet, but it seemed so funny that I left it that way.
Portrait of a Screen Writer
John McCormick sat behind me all the way through high school because his name came after mine in the alphabet. He was and is the funniest person I have ever known. After majoring in film at SF State he became a screen writer in Los Angeles, where he still lives. This painting is in the collection of Claudia Stanten.
Portrait of a Musician
Joie Mastrokalos was my sister’s boyfriend, a punk musician and wildly handsome. His mother was Mexican and his father was Greek. Apparently they couldn’t really communicate when they first married. Joie was a great cook, funny and charismatic, and a heroin dealer, unbeknownst to my sister. He spent the last years of his life in prison, and sadly, left this world a few years ago. He had tattoos of the virgin on one arm and Santa Barbara on the other, long before tattoos were obligatory.
One of my favorite students at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, was Sandra Pantoja. She grew up in East Oakland, like I did, so we immediately bonded. Though they are only a few miles from each other, East Oakland and Berkeley were worlds apart. Every summer Sandra would go to a small town in Mexico and speak Spanish with her family, and when she came back to Oakland she spoke Ebonix. One fall she came back from Mexico and showed me her Quinceañera photos, and I asked if I could paint her. The last time I saw Sandra she was working at Home Deopt. She was funny and smart and now has lots of kids.
The Covert War
I painted this self portrait during the covert war in Central America. I had spent a lot of time with a backpack hiking around the vertical cornfields in Guatemala, and I got a good sense of the strength and tenacity of the native people who worked the land . The fire represents the guilt I felt as I made my coffee while the coffee fields were being stolen away from the natives who had always tilled them.
I Danced with Chocolate
I was crazy about salsa dancing, and once I went to see Chocolate Armenteros, the famous trumpet player. Chocolate asked me to dance, so i did, and he took me right in front of the stage. It was embarrassing, because although I was a pretty good dancer, i couldn’t follow him.
This was a student of mine who was a wonderful artist who made his own clothes. He wore this outfit every day for a whole semester. He asked me to correct the length of the pants to below the knees, which I did, but after I photographed the painting. Troubled Sleep is the title of a novel about soldiers by Sartre, that I was reading at the time I painted this.
The Judgement of Paris
This is a guy I knew who had three girlfriends. I included images from the other portraits to create the three graces, who were judging him, rather than being judged by him, as in the original story from Greek Mythology.
No Soy Chilango
A dancer I knew who was struggling with his identity and being called Chilango when he identified as Tarasco. (In Oakland).
The Oakland School
This is a group of Oakland artists, all of whom I still know, all of whom are still artists, although some have gone to the great beyond. They include myself, Charlie Chavez, Xochitl Nevel Guerrero, Roberto Guerrero, Rick Arnitz, Jeff Carr, Jude Pittman Jamey Brzezinski, George Hurt, Carolyn King Hurt, and Ken Gulley. In those days (the 1990s) it was possible to rent a studio in Oakland, although you will notice there is no food at the feast.