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Baruj Salinas interview - August 2005

Posted by Mark Schneider on December 24, 2011 0 Comments
Interview with Baruj Salinas(8/16/2005)

Interviewed by: Lynette Bosch
Filmed by Norma Gracia
Transcribed by Paul Symington
Edited by Jorge Gracia

The interview took place in Baruj Salinas’ home in Miami.

[Bosch]: “Let me begin by asking Baruj about his origins in Cuba, his career as an artist, the general artistic scene in Cuba, and the reasons why he made the choices he made in terms of the style that became his. Baruj, can you tell us about how you began studying art?”

[Salinas]: “Alright, I am going to start way before, when my family came from Turkey to Cuba. They emigrated from Turkey around 1918. They first went to Marseilles – stayed a short time there, a few months – and then landed in Cuba around 1920. My mother loved art. She painted, she did blouses with oil paints. I watched her paint and I loved the smell of the paint, the colors, so little by little, beginning when I was around six, I started helping her to paint–she usually painted flowers. So I did that and then, because I loved drawing, I started doing the comic strips from the Saturday and Sunday newspapers: El País.”

[Bosch]: “So you copied and then you elaborated?”

[Salinas]: “Yes, I had a bunch of notebooks filled with Tarzan, Mandrake el Mago, Dick Tracy, and Superman, which unfortunately remained in Cuba–I don’t even know where. And when I was maybe eleven, I started painting landscapes with my mother’s oils– at that time there were no acrylics, although we did have water colors. . . . And I started exhibiting at school….”

[Bosch]: “…and the landscapes were realistic, based on Cuban landscapes?”

[Salinas]: “…very…”

[Bosch]: “Very much an image of what you were observing?”

[Salinas]: “…exactly. Then, little by little, I started doing typical scenes of Cuban society. Most of them I put on paper or on canvas, but I mostly did black people. I had a friend that asked me ‘Hey, what’s the matter with you? Aren’t there any white people in Cuba?’ So I started doing them as well.…”

[Bosch]: “What kinds of subjects did you do?”

[Salinas]: “There was a black man that used to come around the neighborhood with a box – a tin box – full of ice and fish. He sold fish. And there was the icecream man, kids in buses, you remember? – maybe you don’t remember…”

[Bosch]: “Oh, I remember!”

[Salinas]: “They used to come around and sing, saying '[speaking Spanish [4.10]]'”

[Bosch]: “My father used to always say that to me '[speaking Spanish [4.13-4.15]' and see, here I’m doing it!”

[Salinas]: “Then I switched to market scenes; I did many typical markets. I used to go around in a tranvía (street car) or in a bus, and I would go to these markets, sketch them, and then paint them at home. I didn’t have a studio at that time; I painted in my bedroom.”

[Bosch]: “How big were these works?”

[Salinas]: “The biggest work that I did maybe was 30"x40". I remember a market scene that I did that was about 30"x40", and all in oils. I don’t know where the painting is now, unfortunately. I would love to be able to compare notes with what I did with what I’m doing now. There’s always a fine line that connects all these works. Somehow you can – if you get down to it…”

[Bosch]: “Yes, if you get deep enough in it, you can find the trajectory that took you from one place to the others all the way to where you are right now.”

[Salinas]: “…you find it. And you being a scholar would know how to connect the points. So I started going into the Círculo de Bellas Artes that was in Calle Industria, behind the Capitolio Nacional. I was maybe fourteen, fifteen; I was the youngest artist there, among all these older painters…”

[Bosch]: “…and you were self-taught?”

[Salinas]: “…absolutely.”

[Bosch]: “…and they were probably trained somewhere and there you were, obviously, with the in-crowd.”

[Salinas]: “Yes. And then my mother told me that she wanted me to study. So she took me to Sara Martínez Maresma’s studio and she saw what I was doing and said: ‘No, let him develop by himself, don’t’…”

[Bosch]: “…don’t touch him!”

[Salinas]: “…don’t constrain him with academia or anything like that, let him develop by himself. And so I never formally studied. I kept on painting. Then I received a scholarship to study painting at Kent State University. Once I got there, and after maybe three months, I decided that perhaps, coming from a family with no means and poor, art was not for me. So I switched to architecture, but I kept on painting on the side, I never stopped.”

[Bosch]: “What were you painting at that time? Because when you came to the United States as a student obviously all of a sudden there was a whole new world for you.”

[Salinas]: “I was doing landscapes, American scenes and also, to help my income, I did portraits. I did portraits of my friends and their parents or whatever. But I never liked doing portraits. They were very realistic, because people…”

[Bosch]: “…needless to say....”

[Salinas]: “…love to see themselves, and in a much better light than they really are.”

[Bosch]: “So they were flattering, idealized portraits in a realistic matte.”

[Salinas]: “I remember that Juan González, who lived one block away, used to do the same thing, and I remember him telling me once that there was this old lady that wanted to have a portrait done looking like Raquel Welch, so he did it.”

[Bosch]: “There you are, pay me, I’ll do it. That’s fabulous”

[Salinas]: “That tells you about human nature.”

[Bosch]: “But you were doing your own painting besides these portraits for hire.”

[Salinas]: “Yes. Now, having studied architecture, my natural inclination was to go through the influence of what I had studied–facades, buildings. But little by little I transformed the facades from something realistic to something more abstract.”

[Bosch]: “And the facades were American buildings or invented buildings…”

[Salinas]: “…invented. Although at the beginning they were from American buildings…”

[Bosch]: “…and mixed in style–Classical, Renaissance or contemporary–well, I can see why architecture would take you to abstraction because of the 3-D conceptual part of it.”

[Salinas]: “Exactly. But, at the same time, while living in San Antonio and working as an architect, I started showing at the Witte Museum. I won a few prizes and began to steer away from architecture. I felt constrained by the straight line, the rigidity of architecture. So I started developing a different line of work, and my evolution has always been slow. Sometimes it came spontaneously and sometimes I nudged it a little bit; I forced the evolution. This happens to all artists because we get tired, bored…”

[Bosch]: “…you need to make that jump and sometimes it just comes and sometimes you have to make it happen.”

[Salinas]: “I started doing works related to space conquest. I followed Apollo XIII, the moon walk, and all that. I got interested in astronomy and read a few books by Fred Hoyle, the great British astronomer and then I started painting totally abstract space…”

[Bosch]: “…so you just made the jump.”

[Salinas]: “…constellations, nebula, anything that dealt with outer space.”

[Bosch]: “Suggestive of form but not graphically descriptive in terms of the actual visual presentation of the thematic content.”

[Salinas]: “Exactly, the color and maybe a little bit of the structure, but the structure was loose, it was not architectural. That was my main subject matter throughout the ‘70s until I went to live in Barcelona. In Barcelona, the quality of light, the architecture, the influence of other artists such as Antoni Tàpies and even Joan Miró–although Miró’s work has not much to do with my own…”

[Bosch]: “…but indirectly just absorbing the idea that you could branch out in all of these different ways. That there was no set pattern…”

[Salinas]: “…not, not at all. Then, my paintings started changing. The palette got greyer, the colors got lesser. Because of my connection and collaboration with poets and writers such as María Zambrano, José Angel Valente, Pere Gimferrer, and Michel Butor, I developed a concept of the language of the clouds. This consisted basically of a grey background with white as the main color of my palette–the white symbolizing clouds. I also used pictograms, ideograms, and strange alphabets like the Greek alphabet, the Hebrew alphabet, and the Iberian alphabet.”

[Bosch]: “Words and pictures began to come together but in an abstract way. Not at all narrative.”

[Salinas]: “With white as the main color. This was brought about by a conversation with my good friend, María Zambrano. I would visit her, and I would listen to her talk–because she monologued, I never had a chance to dialogue with her.”

[Bosch]: “But you took notes.”

[Salinas]: “Yes, and then one day she tells me – and she wrote about it – ‘I see you as white.’ So the white became my main color, and in most of the work I did in Barcelona white is the vital element.”

[Bosch]: “How do you respond to it? When you use it, when you manipulate it, what is it that comes out?”

[Salinas]: “I don’t know...the idea of purity, the idea of cleanliness, I really don’t…”

[Bosch]: “…and as a color, when you add the others, is the white the background, the accent, the highlight, for you?”

[Salinas]: “That is a good question because lately I have been using it as background. But while I was living in Barcelona, I was using it as the subject. The Chinese and the Japanese use black for their pictograms and ideograms and I used white instead of black, in a negative way.”

[Bosch]: “It really was your accent and your form and the subject really.”

[Salinas]: “I developed a white calligraphy in broad forms. I did that for maybe ten, twelve years and then I came back to Miami in 1992, and color started creeping up in my work again. It had to do with the light. The quality of the light here is different than what we have in Spain. Even though the Spaniards…”

[Bosch]: “I just came back from Spain and, after not being there for ten years, when I got off the plane the first thing I realized was ‘Wow, the light is so different!’”

[Salinas]: “Very much so. The light in Barcelona is sort of rosy and because of the grey architecture, the contrast is strange. That, I’m sure, influences Spanish artists and it did influence me very much. So I started doing paintings that related more to earth even though I still kept clouds as sort of a mainstay in my work. Lately I’ve been doing something I call ‘Sun flares.’ And the flares can be white, instead of red or orange or yellow. So white is again becoming the mainstay of my painting.”

[Bosch]: “It’s returning.”

[Salinas]: “...somehow life…”

[Bosch]: “…goes around and comes out different but it’s the same thing you’re always mulling over and working with.”

[Salinas]: “One thing that I would like to insert about this trip that I have done with my work is the work that I’ve done with Masafumi Yamamoto– the Master printer with whom I worked some fifteen years in Barcelona. I did all my etchings and lithographs with him in his atelier. I would spend half of my day there and – it’s funny because doing an etching like ‘Fuji-San’ would take me three weeks and in that time I could have done five paintings. It is a very slow process, very involved…”

[Bosch]: “It is a significant investment of time and energy, collaborative.”

[Salinas]: “A lot, yes.”

[Bosch]: “You don’t always have the last word because you have to take the medium into consideration and the other person with whom you are working, and so it becomes much more involved.”

[Salinas]: “Not only that, there was a time when I would be influenced by what I was doing in my etching work, so the painting took from the etching and that developed in a different direction. So much so that a friend of mine, a poet, told me that I was becoming ‘yamamotisized’.… There’s no question that my work with him influenced me but at the same time I influenced him.”

[Bosch]: “It’s the back-and-forth.”

[Salinas]: “It was a dialogue, a real dialogue. I was fortunate enough to be able to do a book, called Trois enfants dans la fournaise, with Michel Butor. He told me that I should do the etchings first and then he did the texts – which are very poetic – afterwards. That book came out in 1988 and was shown in the Museum of Bayeux in France with a number of other artists that had been collaborating with him. We still correspond – he is an older man now, but a real swell guy. And my collaboration with José Angel Valente and María Zambrano I treasure. The work that I did with Valente, Tres lecciones tinieblas, had to do with the Kabala and fourteen Hebrew letters and his poetic interpretation of each letter. Like the letter ‘aleph’ – which is the beginning – he calls it the ‘first blood.’ And the letter ‘beth’ – which is the ‘b’ in our alphabet – means ‘house’, morada, dwelling, a place to be. The book is very beautiful and won the National Prize of poetry in Spain in 1980. And with María Zambrano I’ve done two books, ‘Antes de la ocultación: los mares’ with four lithographs. In these lithographs I incorporated texture, so it was a double process: first the lithograph and then the texture.”

[Bosch]: “You’re very unusual in all of these collaborations because the idea that one has of artists is that they work alone and then they bring out what they’ve made. But clearly, you’re fairly unique in that you keep jumping into these group projects where you’re working cross-culturally in some ways but also in an interdisciplinary manner in other ways because you’re collaborating with writers and with poets.”

[Salinas]: “It enriched me a lot and I miss it. After I moved to Miami, I haven’t collaborated much because there are no etching ateliers in Miami. There’s one that a young fellow by the name of Joaquin González has opened up, but it’s very…”

[Bosch]: “…modest in scale?”

[Salinas]: “Yes, very much so.”

[Bosch]: “And you need something larger…”

[Salinas]: “…yeah, because it has a small tórculo, a small press… And also, I don’t have the interaction with poets and writers.”

[Bosch]: “You are missing the whole cultural context that was ready made when you went to Spain.”

[Salinas]: “Barcelona is another story. It’s a very cultural city, a city that is vital.”

[Bosch]: “It has a history with layers from the very beginning through the medieval age, the Renaissance, the Baroque, the Art Nouveau, it’s all there.”

[Salinas]: “Yeah, we have two bookstores in Miami: ‘La Universal’ and ‘La Moderna Poesía.’ Over there, you walk three steps and you find a bookstore.”

[Bosch]: “Oh, the antiquarian book shops also, I mean, the things that you could find if you’re interested in the concept of book and what’s in them. It’s a major center. Now, while you’re following this sort of trajectory in your own work at the same time you’re looking around at other artistic productions, how are you situating yourself with the development of twentieth-century art? Were you conscious of it? Were you thinking that you formed part of something? Or were you thinking of yourself as ‘I’m something different, on the side, kind of getting along. Every so often I touch base with something’?”

[Salinas]: “That second point. I strive to find a language that people can recognize in me by the work and not by my signature. And yes, I received a lot of influences from the different artists with whom I had contact in Barcelona…”

[Bosch]: “Who were you especially looking at or having contact with?”

[Salinas]: “There is a guy by the name of Albert Rafols Casamada – very abstract – in the manner of Diebenkorn here in the U.S. He definitely influenced me, although his work is much more colorful than mine was at the time when I was living in Barcelona. But it attracted me because deep down I knew that I am a colorist and therefore this is really what I want to do. Also Tàpies because of the strength of his work and the power that you encounter with all the texture, all the effects that he has.…”

[Bosch]: “…so those were your touch points for what was happening.”

[Salinas]: “Yes, but, at the same time, I was trying to do my own thing.”

[Bosch]: “Obviously, the big thing in terms of the discussion that we’re having has to do with identity, so your identity as an artist is going to be one of the things you’re going to be going for, but I’m struck by the facts that you’re traveling around to all of these places: you’re living in the United States, you’re living in Barcelona…”

[Salinas]: “…and Mexico.”

[Bosch]: “…and you’re Cuban.”

[Salinas]: “Yes.”

[Bosch]: “So, how Cuban were you in all of these places?”

[Salinas]: “I don’t know. You see, that is what I’ve been told by other artists. They tell me, ‘In Cuba most people paint figuratively.’ But that’s not totally true because I can recollect the Grupo…”

[Bosch]: “members of El Grupo de los Once were all abstract… Hugo Consuegra for example.”

[Salinas]: “Some were geometrical, like Raúl Martínez…”

[Bosch]: “Soriano started out being geometrical…”

[Salinas]: “Still, somehow the Cuban psyche connects better with the figurative work.”

[Bosch]: “You are thinking of Carlos Enríquez.”

[Salinas]: “Victor Manuel, Portocarrero. But Amelia Peláez....”

[Bosch]: “Again, we go to the abstract. So it’s been type-cast.”

[Salinas]: “Yes. But we tend to generalize: that also has to do with the human condition.”

[Bosch]: “So, the question is, How Cuban was your art, since you weren’t painting the palm trees with the bohío, the campesino…?”

[Salinas]: “Let’s get back to when I moved back to Miami and started doing a series I called, ‘Penca de palma triste.’ In a way it dealt with the situation that our country was living at the moment and is still living. It was a political commentary because the palm tree is…”

[Bosch]: “…the symbol of the quintessential Cuban vegetable thing.”

[Salinas]: “So it has been said for a long time. I didn’t do the whole palm tree but the branch – la penca.”

[Bosch]: “A piece of it which is very interesting considering the disjunction of exile: you’re just a piece of Cuba, so you just need one piece of the palm tree.”

[Salinas]: “Even more, it gave me the chance to project my abstract sense of painting into the work because even though you could see the penca – you could also see maybe a waterfall.”

[Bosch]: “It’s more suggestive than graphically detailed, giving you the freedom to play with the form, color, and light.”

[Salinas]: “It could be the tail of a very exotic bird....”

[Bosch]: “It’s open.”

[Salinas]: “The interpretation falls in the hands of the observer.”

[Bosch]: “So that’s a Cuban piece then.”

[Salinas]: “Yes.”

[Bosch]: “In Barcelona, how did you feel? Some Cubans go to Spain and say ‘Oh, I’m home again. This is so familiar, it’s such a familiar culture.’ But other Cubans go to Spain and they think, ‘Whoa, these people really are foreigners!’”

[Salinas]: “They really are different!”

[Bosch]: “Were you more Cuban in Spain than the United States, for instance?”

[Salinas]: “Definitely. The first two years were very hard for me because the people over there react differently to different situations. I remember that once I was in a bus and I was sitting down and this old lady came inside the bus and I offered her my seat. And she just looked at me and didn’t say anything, didn’t move. And I thought, ‘This is a strange reaction to a nice courtesy.’ Another time some old lady dropped something on a corner and I was standing next to her and I picked it up and gave it to her and she didn’t even look at me either. And I was really flabbergasted. I couldn’t fathom what…”

[Bosch]: “…in the cultural divide was making that happen?”

[Salinas]: “And then you would say something ‘por favor…’ ” Speaking Spanish [28.57-29.02] “…so I learned to say…” Speaking Spanish [29.04-29.09] “…Things like this showed me that I was different. But to me, they were different!”

[Bosch]: “I find that when speak with some Cuban Americans, they say ‘When we’re in the United States, we’re more American, but when we go Spain, we’re more Cuban all of a sudden, because of the shock of what should be the same but isn’t.’”

[Salinas]: “You’d think the language would unite us more and it doesn’t.”

[Bosch]: “And yet there are people who feel very much at home in Spain so it is such an individual jump, but for you it wasn’t. Now you’re Jewish too…”

[Salinas]: “Yes.”

[Bosch]: “…so now you’re Jewish in Spain, the country that threw Jews out. How was that for you?”

[Salinas]: “In Barcelona that’s an interesting situation because the Catalans feel that they are different from the rest of the Spaniards, and they call themselves the Jews of Spain.”

[Bosch]: “Oh how interesting!”

[Salinas]: “Yeah, and it’s because they are more into culture, more into working; they are the real producers of industry and other stuffs in Spain. In that respect some of my Catalan friends would tell me: ‘I’m not going to Madrid until they require a passport from me.’ There’s this…”

[Bosch]: “…separatist mentality–I think it is still very much there. Recently they’re starting to refuse to speak Spanish; they want to just speak Catalan.”

[Salinas]: “That’s affecting their perception of universalism because they always talked about ‘El Catalan universal’…” Speaking Spanish [30.59-31.05] “…they have enclosed themselves in a cocoon.”

[Bosch]: “Yeah, they’re losing that. And now apparently even to tourists they will only speak Catalan, they don’t want to speak Spanish.”

[Salinas]: “Many intellectuals that speak Spanish and were living in Barcelona are leaving. And if you go to study at the University you have to really learn your Catalan because otherwise you won’t be able to…”

[Bosch]: “…survive. So, if you think about your life, you have kept moving. And if you think about the history of the Jews, they keep moving. Is this part of your experience of ‘I’m a Jew, I move’?”

[Salinas]: “Yes. I move and I adapt. But the Catalans reject this type of adaptation and it’s hurting them. After all they are only, what? six million? It’s a small number in the context of the whole country.”

[Bosch]: “But if you think about it, how many Cubans came to Miami and refused to adapt to the United States?”

[Salinas]: “I know old men who haven’t been able to learn one word of English and they don’t want to. Which I think is sad.”

[Bosch]: “So it’s that closing off again of the world.”

[Salinas]: “And many Americans that were living in Miami moved. They didn’t want to deal with the new situation. Many have gone into Broward County, to Fort Lauderdale.”

[Bosch]: “Because again, it’s that intransigence that doesn’t allow for that opening up and deal with the global situation. Now, let’s head to the Diaspora and the situation while that was happening. Obviously, the idea of exile is something that everybody came here with. So this was a Cuban exiled community. It wasn’t a bunch of Cuban Americans because there’s been a big shift in terms of how Cubans identify. I can remember coming–I was eight years old when I came in ’61--as a refugee. And then there was the period where you were an exile. And then there was the idea that ‘We’re not going back, we better adapt’ and so the adaptation process began. And then suddenly we were Cuban Americans. So how did you go through this and what were things like for the artistic community when you first arrived?”

[Salinas]: “When we started exhibiting as a group, Grupo GALA with Enrique Riverón, José Mijares, Osvaldo Gutiérrez, Rafael Soriano, Rosana McAllister (who was Argentinian, but we adopted her). She told me once that she was…” Speaking Spanish [34.08-34.11] “…because she lived in Cuba and had to leave when Castro came. So she considered herself part Cuban. But that’s why the Grupo GALA means Grupo de Artistas Latino-Americanos–because of her. Otherwise, it would have been Grupo de Artistas Cubanos. But being that Rosana was Argentinian, we broadened it. And we started looking for places to exhibit and the first place was Bacardi. At the time they had a gallery on the first floor of their building. I remember that Gloria Luria had a nice gallery in North Miami and she gave us an exhibition because we were gaining a reputation as a group and individually because we kept exhibiting individually and as a group every once in a while. But, as a group there were conflicts–clashes of personalities. Mijares always introduced an obstacle, to do things, to move on…”

[Bosch]: “How often did you meet?”

[Salinas]: “We used to meet at Riverón’s home maybe once every two weeks, some times once a month.”

[Bosch]: “…to plan the exhibition.”

[Salinas]: “Yes, and just to chat and exchange ideas and see what we were doing.”

[Bosch]: “How did you survive financially? Because at that point it is not as if Cubans had a ton of money to spend on art and you guys didn’t have much money, so how did you manage to get money for materials and sell work?”

[Salinas]: “I worked as an architect–painting was a side-line-but it wasn’t what I loved to do. Until I got the Cintas Fellowship for the second time in 1970 (the first time was in 1969) and I decided to quit architecture and devote all my time to painting. And it’s worked out.”

[Bosch]: “Obviously.”

[Salinas]: “To me, painting is not work. It is something that transcends labor. I love to be in my studio painting because I forget about everything else. I’m so concentrated on it that it is like a meditation. I concentrate on what I’m doing and I enjoy it while I’m doing it. I enjoy seeing a wide space being developed into something that has life. It’s always been the most important thing in my life. And architecture was never so.”

[Bosch]: “Architecture was the means to the end of being able to paint and because you had the skill and there was no money you practiced that until you could take off.”

[Salinas]: “But remember that I had started by studying painting…”

[Bosch]: “Right, but you were in a manner of speaking already established in the United States because you had been exhibiting here. You weren’t exactly new to the American system, you understood already how things worked in the art world in the United States…”

[Salinas]: “I had lived in San Antonio for two years, yes, and in Mexico.”

[Bosch]: “…and you were educated here in a manner of speaking, so you had a kind of advantage that some of the other artists who arrived and did not speak English, for instance, did not have. But still, it couldn’t have been easy.”

[Salinas]: “No, it was never easy. I remember in 1963, ’64, I was selling paintings for twenty-five dollars.”

[Bosch]: “Time-machine, time-machine!”

[Salinas]: “Fly back, fly back, fly back!”

[Bosch]: “And of course people had a hard time paying you those twenty-five dollars. ”

[Salinas]: “There you go! It is all relative.”

[Bosch]: “I can imagine it! I can remember, I arrived with fifty dollars. And my aunt and my uncle immediately needed that money because there were six of us to feed and so there was no question about what to do. Imagine thinking about spending half of that money for a painting! Are you crazy? We needed to buy eggs! I imagine that the people who were buying your paintings for twenty-five dollars were actually sacrificing to do it.”

[Salinas]: “And they were buying it on time.”

[Bosch]: “Wow!”

[Salinas]: “Five dollars a week, or five dollars a month, that’s right.”

[Bosch]: “Were these people the same who bought art in Cuba and had left collections behind or people who began to do this here?”

[Salinas]: “Both. There were a lot of people who had collected in Cuba and they wanted to recreate their collections; they had left good stuff in Cuba.”

[Bosch]: “Of course, because they couldn’t take it out.”

[Salinas]: “I have a friend who left Portocarreros, Amelia Peláez, stuff like that. My cousin, Chalon Rodríguez Salinas, left a whole collection in Camagüey where he lived.”

[Bosch]: “So they started going after artists that they had already owned, trying to build up collections again and then…”

[Salinas]: “…substitute, yes.”

[Bosch]: “Can you think of anyone in particular who provided important pieces to the art world in Miami?”

[Salinas]: “José Manuel Martínez Cañas for sure. Mario Amiguet, Frank Mestre…”

[Bosch]: “These are the ones who started…”

[Salinas]: “There weren’t too many.”

[Bosch]: “No, I understand that there weren’t crowds. So mostly you were selling a painting here and there to people who you never saw again. And who then have disappeared with their Salinases, not knowing what they have.”

[Salinas]: “And now some of these paintings are appearing on the internet.”

[Bosch]: “No kidding!”

[Salinas]: “Yes, absolutely. A friend of mine who lives in Orlando calls me every once in a while and says, ‘Hey, there’s a painting of yours – is that yours for sure?’ And then he tells me where to go to look at it and I look at it and every time that I have looked it’s been mine, yeah. So I’m talking about paintings from 1963, ’64, ’65.”

[Bosch]: “Wow, that’s amazing!”

[Salinas]: “It’s like encountering old friends.”

[Bosch]: “At that point then what you really had was this scene where these people were on the one hand desperate for culture and for re-establishing cultural patterns and on the other hand absolutely no money with which to do it.”

[Salinas]: “It was a tough situation.”

[Bosch]: “When did it get easier? When can you think of that you said ‘Okay, whew, the worse is over!’”

[Salinas]: “For me, it was in the ‘70s. And then I moved to Barcelona in 1974. I was lucky because I remember in Madrid I met Juana Mordó who was the dean of the art dealers in Spain at the time and she loved my work; she kept some of it; she sold some of it; and she put me in touch with people in Barcelona -- that’s where I finally landed – and then somehow things worked out because…” Speaking Spanish [42.19-42.25] “…I didn’t know anybody there but Juana Mordó introduced me to many people, that’s how I started developing a network.”

[Bosch]: “One of the things that comes in throughout your career is a kind of mystical, metaphysical aspect to your work. Talk a little bit about that.”

[Salinas]: “I think it has to do with my Jewishness and what I learned in my home – the spirituality of my mother and my grandmother. At one time I remember a doctor friend of mine telling me that I was – he kept looking at my work, he collected my work and he was not a psychiatrist but in this way brought out some of the psychology of a humanist – antisocial.”

[Bosch]: “Oh my God, you of all people!”

[Salinas]: “Yeah, because there were no people in my paintings. He says, ‘Rarely do you put a person in a painting’ and it’s true. So perhaps I always had this latent feeling of abstraction toward painting and I don’t know exactly where it came from – I gather it has to do with my Jewishness.”

[Bosch]: “The Jewish mysticism, even the Kabala, pierces through the letters, opening up other realms; you go through the material form into the spiritual world. So you think that plays…”

[Salinas]: “I believe so, although I couldn’t really pinpoint it. There’s no ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’ that I can really point to in my progression in painting and the way I visualize art.”

[Bosch]: “Abstraction for you, then, is an internal process as opposed to the art world abstract expressionism controlled by Clement Greenberg saying that everything has to be…”

[Salinas]: “Harold Rosenberg, yes.”

[Bosch]: “That crowd coincidentally were doing that in the twentieth century, but you are doing something completely different that is then linked to your identity as a Jew, connecting to the mystical side of Judaism, and you’re not really part of that even. So, someone comes to your work and say, ‘Oh, yes, abstract expressionism’.”

[Salinas]: “There is a connection, yes.”

[Bosch]: “There’s a connection because you’re aware that they’re there but your motivation for doing it, your intention, is very different…”

[Salinas]: “My way was different, yes. The path was different.”

[Bosch]: “…even though it comes out at the same place. When you work on subjects, can you think in terms of thematic material that responds to the Jewish in terms of the way that ‘La penca’ responds to being Cuban.”

[Salinas]: “I did many paintings based on the Hebrew alphabet, but I stay away from doing the typical Jewish scenes…”

[Bosch]: “No rabbis.”

[Salinas]: “…no, no rabbis, or the Jerusalem scene…”

[Bosch]: “…or the menorah.”

[Salinas]: “My perception, it’s on the side.”

[Bosch]: “No Pesach plates for you.”

[Salinas]: “No. I think that pretty much covers it.”

[Bosch]: “Is it difficult to negotiate and navigate the idea of being Cuban, Jewish, American, and of having lived in Spain for a while, or is it just natural – a part of a flow of a continuum of things you are and respond to and relate to?”

[Salinas]: “Natural, yes. I think that it comes natural and very spontaneously and I don’t perceive myself as one thing or another. Even though, when somebody asks me ‘What are you?’ I say, ‘I’m a Cuban painter’ even though I’m Cuban American. I always place myself in the position of a Cuban painter. And while living in Spain I remember that I had discussions with artists and poets and the intelligentsia, and most of them were leftists or communists…”

[Bosch]: “Sure, because that was the intellectual fashion at the time.”

[Salinas]: “Right away they’d place me in the band of the gusanos and I had great arguments with these people. Most of them had never been in Cuba; they only had read about what was happening but they still sided with Castro against Americans and against the Cuban exiles. So it was not easy.”

[Bosch]: “No, I can imagine that it wouldn’t have been easy. One of the questions that I’m going to ask you–that people always ask me and most of the time I just stare at them–is: ‘How would you identify as Cuban in your work other than the obvious, such as ‘La Penca’? Is there anything intrinsically Cuban in what you do?”

[Salinas]: “I don’t think so because I developed in the U.S. I developed with the abstract expressionist movement, with Willem DeKooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko…”

[Bosch]: “And they form also part of the larger European movement which I think is important to keep in mind.”

[Salinas]: “Yeah, the U.S. art scene was enriched when the Second World War started and Max Earnst and André Breton, and even Lam came back from Paris…”

[Bosch]: “People like Duchamp–all these waves of Europeans coming to the United States.”

[Salinas]: “Dada, exactly.”

[Bosch]: “You’re connecting to that also.”

[Salinas]: “I definitely think so, yes. Not perhaps directly but indirectly, yes.”

[Bosch]: “Indirectly, that you formed part of this global movement. And of course other Latin American artists with whom you are also familiar are also part of that continuum.”

[Salinas]: “Absolutely.”

[Bosch]: “Now we should take a look around at all this art surrounding us.”

[Salinas]: “Right.”

Speaking Spanish [49.10-59.11]

The remaining tape contains a Spanish discussion of Salinas’s paintings, and of the book he illustrated for Zambrano.


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