Rachel Valdés, the Cuban painter who falls in love with Spain: “Nothing compares to the beauty of nature”
There is a way of explaining where you are, almost without giving details, that anyone who has been concerned about their privacy will have used. So, when Rachel Valdes explains where you are answering the call from magasINreveals only that she “has just arrived at the sea” and that she is watching “a sunset that envelops her,” and these statements sometimes sound like lines from a song.
Later in this interview he will speak “of the same sea” of his native Cuba, so all indications lead us to a Spanish South Atlantic. Rachel Valdés has had an intimate personal universe for years, closely related to the sea. She is now based in Madrid, as they say in many countries, but Ella Valdés remembers the most pleasant moments of her childhood with her family “on the Malecón and on the beach of Santa María where I grew up”.
He considers water “as a symbol and as a spiritual, contemplative and almost meditative matter.” All of his works, whether “public installations or paintings,” have to do with nature and they seek to “create an act of presence in the viewer.” As examples of his creations, the blue cubeat the 2015 Havana Biennial, also inspired by water or Infinite Composition and Happily Ever After.
What is your first memory related to art?
I think it would be a book. I remember a volume of Art History from my grandfather and another from the Louvre Museum, that was where I saw the first paintings that fascinated me.
Any painter who impressed you then?
Delacroix! That mass of people, that maelstrom… do you know what the scene of The Death of Sardanapalus? I remember that she seemed very strong to me, very aggressive… then over the years I researched that story.
Her grandparents were the first to encourage her to create and connect her with Spanish painting, Velázquez, Goya and Picasso. Valdés tells a beautiful scene: “My grandfather’s pottery to which my grandmother had put enormous red flowers. I remember passing by and saying ‘how nice, I want to paint it!’ My grandmother gave me some cardboard and some tempera paints and I started to paint it. Then “That painting was there forever, it was my first painting.”.
“I like that the scale of the painting exceeds the human scale, because it is immersive for the viewer”
There are youthful exercises that project us into the adults we will be. Valdés relates that, as if it were a serialized novel, she drew in successive notebooks a female character who traveled the world and got to know cities and people. She also remembers something typically Cuban, “a portrait I made of Fidel Castro, in Cuba There were a lot of these types of contests and I won the first prize and it was perhaps my second important piece for me. So at a very young age I decided that I was going to dedicate myself to the world of art: first I went to the painting competitions in San Miguel del Padrón and then I decided to sign up for the painting school where the García Lorca Theater was, the great theater of La Havana and finally I entered the National Academy of Fine Arts.”
Where would you say you found, so to speak, your style?
At the School of Fine Arts, there began my concern for Nature, also for reflections and optical illusions…
There, too, in Fine Arts, I began to be fascinated by figures such as Malevich either Kandinskybut the truth is that I first explored figuration with material painting, I made more self-referential works, pop style… then I found my world.
What is your daily ritual like?
Normally I wake up and go to the studio, I like natural light to work and start, sometimes I put on incense and music…
What kind of music?
It depends, sometimes a little Cuban music or I also like silence…
And do you use the same work process?
Yes, I use sketches, drawings, tests… Then I prepare the palette to take out the colors, mix them and from there, I start with the application to the large format.
Do you like the major scale?
I like that the scale of the painting exceeds the human scale, so that it is immersive for the viewer, I also look for that with my installations. The small size allows more spontaneity, quick sketches, testing color compatibility. I love working automatically, very loosely, exploring the possibilities that painting offers you.
At this moment, Valdés interrupts the conversation to exclaim ‘the sunset!’ and take the opportunity to take a photograph with his cell phone. “It is the Atlantic, of course, it is almost the same sea as my Cuba, a little different, at the other extreme.” Nothing compares to the beauty of nature, his main inspiration. With his creations, he seeks “for the colors to embrace and encompass you, as is happening to me right now, of course it is not comparable, but it inspires me.”
Do you get a lot of inspiration from Nature?
Yes, for me there is nothing bigger and more important than Nature. I take photos of places that inspire me, colors or shapes, ranges that are in the sky or in the sea, terrestrial landscapes or aerial images… I like the idea of ’landscapes within a landscape’.
She said that when she was little you drew a comic about a girl who traveled… What was the first city outside of Cuba in which you lived?
I lived in Barcelona for a while, which is a very artistic city, which fascinates me. My connection with Spain has always been there, a place full of history and deep culture, my second home because Cuba will always be the first, I have a very deep connection to my culture and my history, to my roots, here I feel like at home but I’m from there.
With a studio now in Madrid and another in Havana, this elegant woman, connected with a circle of relevant people from different fields of acting, music, fashion and gastronomy, would choose “a good country rice or a paella” as her favorite food. She feels lucky for the opportunities that life gives her, and recounts how she was recently visiting the studio of De Kooning in the Hamptons, one of her favorite painters “for his way of mixing colors, the speed and strength he had.” , and his granddaughter showed him the place where he painted and he was able to “even touch his brushes.”
If I hadn’t been an artist, she smiles, “I probably would have been an archaeologist, even an Egyptologist, because I have always loved learning about the mysticism of other ancient cultures.” Just like her with her paintings, with which she seeks, above all, “to explore different layers of reality. Maybe it is a very individual and introspective searchbut I believe in appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, in looking at the relationships we have with our own environment. “I like it and I feel very comfortable in these states of tranquility and disconnection, which are actually pure connection with Nature.”
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