During the spring of 2017, France paid homage to Joaquín Ferrer (Manzanillo, Cuba, 1928) with two exhibits, a retrospective at the Maison de l’Amérique Latine in Paris and another one at the Wagner Gallery in Le Touquet. At the age of 90, the Cuban painter has lived and worked in Paris since 1959. This outstanding retrospective was conceived by curator Serge Fauchereau bringing together around 110 works created between 1948 and 2017.
(…) Throughout his work one can notice the influences he later freed himself of. Originally figurative, his representations evolve given his interest in the surrealism of Y. Tanguy and J. Miró, and in the abstraction of V. Kandinsky and P. Mondrian from whom he takes formal subjectivity and color. In the 1960s, Ferrer reduces color to a minimal palette and simplifies shapes. The work of P. Klee inspires him to reduce to the essential and to more spiritual references. He always maintained a distance from all movements, searching for his own way of painting. In 1967, Ferrer met Max Ernst and Jean Hugues, signing a contract with Point Cardinal Gallery and exhibiting in many places in Europe and Latin America.
(…) How did you get to Paris? Can you tell us about this period?
When the revolutionaries were in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, I was working at the Cuban Art Center and knew many students. Eighty percent of the people were in favor of the Revolution, Batista was a terrible dictator. When the Revolution triumphed, a group of artists and I took care of the Fine Arts Palace, we worked very hard and I was happy. (…) In 1959, (…) the Ministry of Education offered me a scholarship to study art in Paris. Many other artists were recipients of the scholarship. It was wonderful to have this kind of help, because living in Paris was tough and luckily Cuba had the Casa de Cuba (Cuba House) in the University City. But the one hundred dollars they gave us started to arrive late and unfortunately the National Bank eliminated the scholarships to prioritize other sectors. They sent us a letter telling us we had to come back, if we didn’t, Cuba was not responsible for us. Some people came back, but Camacho, Cárdenas and I stayed because Cuba did not have much to contribute to our art anymore. R. Matta told me that by staying here and working as a Cuban artist in Paris I would do more good for Cuba than going by back. Maybe Cuba did not appreciate it, but I tell this story because despite my decision I never had a single gesture against the Revolution.
How did you make your way into the Parisian art world?
There were many important art critics like Alain Bosquet. He bought some of my pieces and he knew Max Ernst. One day Max told Bosquet: “you have to introduce me to that painter”. So Bosquet called me right away and we met the next day. (…) He came to my house and looked at my works, but walking through the workshop he noticed a painting I was working on and he gave me some advice. Then he discovered a white painting I had in my bedroom and asked who the artist was. I told him the piece was mine (…) He said it was extraordinary (…) He was so excited that he bought three pieces that day. He saved my life. Later his friends would go to his house and see my paintings hanging on his walls and they would call me to buy my work.
(…) Would you like to exhibit in Cuba?
Why not? It is my country, they should get to know my work, but it would be difficult. I never came back, but I have never been against the Revolution. Today I am 90 years old and I hope that, someday, somebody informed in the arts in Cuba finds my work and wants to show it to the young generations of painters. To show that even though I was influenced by European painting I kept a Cuban essence. I just Europeanized it and created a personal painting. I developed it with a Cuban feeling. It would be a good opportunity for Cuban painters to see my personal pursuits. I hope that is possible one day.