Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Honduras, November 2010 - Part II - Cruz Bermudez

Cruz Bermudez is a self-taught artist who lives and works in a small, wooden house just outside of downtown Tela, a beach town on the north coast of Honduras. He is proprietor of an art gallery called El Aura, which takes up the living room of his house. Cruz, his wife Maria Lopez, also an artist, and their two young children, live in a couple of small rooms behind the gallery. Paintings are hung and stacked all over the house. The yard functions as a studio and arts workshop where Cruz, Maria and a couple of brothers from each side of the family gather to paint.

Cruz’ paintings are distinctive and easy to spot around Tela. Most of the hotels have a couple on display. Typically, he depicts life along the north coast of Honduras, especially the life of the Garifuna, an Afro-Caribbean community that has as much in common with the cultures of Haiti and Cuba as with Latino Honduras.

He paints men fishing from canoes and from the beach with nets, thatched huts, roosters, musicians and dancers. He is particularly adept at painting night scenes; houses glowing against near black foliage, deep blue water reflecting moonlight, clouds back lit against nighttime skies.

This is Cruz’ bread and butter work. There isn’t much of a tourist industry in Honduras except for the island or Roatan, but those who do travel on the mainland often pass through Tela. Hondurans of means, from San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, also come to the beach here, especially for Semana Santa, the week of celebration around Easter. Cruz supports himself as an artist. He is proud that his paintings have been taken home to the United States, Canada, Germany, France and Spain, rolled up in tubes, stuffed into suitcases or back packs.

Certainly these are commercial paintings, created to sell, to remind people of their experiences in Honduras. However, within this context, Cruz is often after something deeper.

For example, in a painting he recently completed it is nighttime. Off to one side a man paddles a small canoe out into the bay to fish. In contrast to his adult responsibilities, four boys are playing on a pier. The two oldest boys, probably teenagers, are in mid air, having jumped from the pylons. They seem to be at that exact moment of weightlessness before gravity overtakes the momentum of their leap. The next boy in line is a little younger. He is considering jumping. It seems likely that he will follow the older boys and take a swim in the perfect blue of the nighttime ocean. The fourth boy, younger still, hangs back. His posture indicates hesitancy. He is not ready. Maybe he is too young. Maybe he is timid by nature.

Here in the guise of a lush painting for tourists, is a perfect portrait of that moment when you realize that your life is waiting for you. It is yours for the taking. Will you dive in? Will you hesitate, play it safe?

This description is based in part on Cruz’ explanation of the themes of the painting and in part on my extrapolation.

If this painting was hanging above your couch and you looked at it every day, I believe you would find yourself making braver choices. Even if you never thought of it metaphorically, you would develop a yearning to join those boys in mid air, in that moment where anything could happen and nothing is retractable.

Cruz has been an artist since he was seven years old. Throughout his boyhood he drew and sold a comic book featuring a character named Jeiko. Jeiko was a Honduran Tarzan. He was born in the mountains and could talk to the animals. His adventures included combat with giant snakes, plunges into jungle pools from the tops of waterfalls, and swims across crocodile infested rivers. He swung a mean machete.

Cruz sold photocopies of his comic to his schoolmates for one cent. He always had plenty of pocket money. His buddies pestered him, “When will the next one be ready?” There are no surviving issues of Jeiko.

Cruz has two children with Maria Lopez. They are eight and ten. He had them show me their drawings. Both the girl and the boy had drawn themselves trying on outfits from a closet full of colorful clothes. They draw very well.

Cruz has two older children from a previous relationship. I asked him if they were artists, too. He replied, “Yes they play guitar and sing. We are a family of artists. All of this - painting, sculpture, music - comes naturally to us.”

Cruz, who is 55, has been with Maria for seventeen years. I’m guessing she is fifteen to twenty years younger than him. I asked if she was already an artist when they met. He said, “She liked to paint, but didn’t think she could. Now she is better than me because women are more perfectionistic. I can do it if I want to, but it doesn’t satisfy me. In fact Maria’s paintings are meticulous and yet seem fresh and lively. She specializes in portraits of Honduran women often at work. These portraits have strong psychological and social resonance.

I told her that Cruz and I had been discussing why he paints and that I wanted to ask her the same question. She said, “At first, I painted because I liked it and to make money. Now I paint because I want to show how things are at this time in this community.”

After a couple of hours of talking, Cruz said, “I make paintings to sell, but I also make paintings for my private collection. These I make for myself and for my children after I am dead. I show this work to close friends.”

Cruz had shown me some of his private work on previous visits. This time he went into a back room and brought out a half dozen canvases. One is a large painting of a boat with slack sails full of refugees, people with sad faces making a desperate journey. The boat is becalmed. It seems to be making little forward progress. Cruz said the name of this painting is El Viaje de Esperanza (The Journey of Hope).

Cruz said that all over Latin America people are leaving one place and going to another in hopes of a better life. Hondurans leave for the United States or Spain. Haitians leave for the Dominican Republic. Nicaraguans leave for Costa Rica. Cubans leave for where ever they can land. Many die just because they want a better life.

“I painted this for my children because I hope they never have to make such a journey.”

Maybe all the best paintings are prayers.

I asked Cruz about his plans for the future. He said that he would like to be an artist outside of Tela, outside of Honduras, outside of Central America. Visitors have said they will help him organize shows in Canada and Germany. He said that he would like to have an exhibition in the United States. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Here is a link to photos of more paintings by Cruz and Maria:

No comments:

Post a Comment