For Roberto Fabelo—a painter, draftsman, illustrator and sculptor—“creating is my greatest enjoyment” and a necessity that he has felt from a very young age. In his hometown of Guáimaro, he made lizards, frogs, and scorpions out of beeswax, and drew on his school blackboard and on polished paving stones with a carpenter’s pencil. Afterward, when he was a student at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), he carved chalk into tiny, magical sculptures…. He’s always worked with any and every medium.
Nevertheless, in recent times he has been making sculptures out of bronze, which is a very final medium; however, that’s not the most important aspect, he says: “Bronze is not a concept; it is a material, and I simply continue developing ideas and motifs according to my thematic agenda. Now it’s bronze, but if I feel the need to work in stainless steel, aluminum or bone—human or animal—that’s what I’ll do,” he says.
During Fabelo’s exclusive interview with OnCuba, we assumed that he prefers to work in large format, an assumption that he does not share. “That’s not necessarily the case. Between June and September of 2014, at the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) in Long Beach, California, I had a large exhibition that included medium-format pieces and a set of small drawings—which was actually the heart of the show—done on Leo Testut’s Traite d’anatomie humaine, an antique medical encyclopedia with anatomy sketches that I drew on, using the pages themselves and creating new images on them, texts and all.” Nevertheless, he admits that he feels “more comfortable” with large-format work, even though it “requires a lot of energy, because they are elaborate pieces, but I don’t set any limits on myself.”
With Goya and Velázquez as his inspirations, Fabelo also acknowledges that his “referential fabric” includes strands such as Cuban artists Fidelio Ponce, René Portocarrero and Carlos Enríquez, among many others, and this is because he has turned his eyes toward them. The influences are unquestionable.
“All Cubans are innate recyclers,” he once said, and he returns to that subject now. “It is something inherent to us as survivors of shortages and having to give up many things; recycling is a term that refers not only to material objects but also to our best sentiments—our memories, our culture. We have all had to recycle, and I’ve found myself in that tide, too. As a recycler and as a Cuban I’ve used materials that might seem finite or in a state of disappearance, and I’ve worked with them, and that perspective has turned a corner full of spider webs into a place of unknown poetry. You can’t underestimate anything from your surroundings, or anything made by human beings, even if it has completed its physical life cycle. In 1993, my friend the trova singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez dedicated a song to me that says, in one part, ‘country in which the trash is still loved.’ And it’s true; I love even this island’s trash.
José Roberto Fabelo Pérez (Guáimaro, Camagüey, 1950). A graduate of the Higher Institute of Art (ISA, 1981) and the National School of the Arts (ENA, 1972). Winner of the 2004 National Visual Arts Award, the highest honor granted by the National Council of Visual Arts, and the National Culture Medal, awarded by the Ministry of Culture. He is a member of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and of the International Association of Visual Artists.
His work can be found in major collections in Spain, Italy, Chile, France, Germany, Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, England, the United States, China, and other countries, and he has participated in several prestigious Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions in New York. Considered as one of the most outstanding artists of Cuba’s contemporary context, Fabelo, without renouncing his international commitments, is interested in showing his work in public spaces in Havana, a city to which he feels deeply connected.
His studio address
Galería Suyú, Calle de Los Oficios no. 6, esquina a Obispo (altos), La Habana Vieja, Cuba
Telephone +53 78612387