By Robin Jay
Seeking a place of solace and refuge from the ravages of coastal pirates, in July 1689, nine Cuban families fled to the center of the tropical island where they founded the city of Santa Clara ― Cuba’s hidden gem. From Carmen’s Hill, where the first church mass was held beneath a Tamarind tree, to the Parque Vida center square near where a theatre, dance halls and public libraries were erected, Santa Clara has grown into a town known for its vibrant artistry.
An Artistic Gift
Three-hundred years later, in October 1989 ― perhaps a divine symbolic tri-centennial gift to the Island nation ― a baby boy was born into a seasoned family of artists in Santa Clara. Today ― at just 28 years old ― Luis Enrique Toledo del Rio holds the talent of a master oil painter eons ahead of his time. His fanciful canvases have taken art collectors by storm, both in Cuba and abroad.
“I was born in one of the most vivid cities of my country from a cultural point of view, from where great world-famous fine artists have come out. It’s a small, but magical city with innumerable festivals of theater, dance, music and art exhibitions; a very favorable environment for creation and good art,” Toledo del Rio told Eloquence. “I come from a family of artists, but of different manifestations: Painting, theater, literature. Since childhood that was my world. My mother, a puppet theater actress, my well-known fine-artist father and my grandmother, poet and narrator with a dozen books published, fed my inclination for art.”
As a boy, Toledo del Rio and two close friends dreamed of being artists“ in a society where things were very difficult.” They longed for a moment when someone would discover them, trust their work and guide then through the competitive world of fine art. In recent years, that opportunity arrived when curators from the Conde Contemporary art gallery in Miami discovered the magical realism of the young Cuban dreamer.
From Mind to Canvas
“The medium that I use is oil paint, because it allows for so many possibilities of experimentation: Veiling, glazes, working in layers, strippers; you never finish studying and looking for new processes,” Toledo del Rio said. “With most of my works, I do not know what I’m going to paint. I sit in front of the blank canvas and start to dream, to look for stories; they can be anecdotal or not, of those fantastic, idyllic places where reality is disconnected, to create magical places, characters that have a life parallel to the one we live. Nearly all the characters I create are not real, I do not like to be tied to a copy of reality because I create my own reality. If there are always women [in my paintings] it’s a matter of taste. In my work, I pursue beauty, and for me there is nothing more beautiful than the woman.”
The young painter says a distinctive hallmark of his work is its totality ― including chromatism with strong color contrasts using complementary shades. He aims to give his characters light that comes out from the canvas for a conversation with the viewer.
“Toledo del Rio considers his creations a form of magical realism, evoking dreams, fantasy and magic,” said Stacy Conde on Conde Contemporary.
Calypso on the Cover of Eloquence
As a magazine editor, I first viewed Toledo del Rio’s stunning artworks a few years ago at an annual luncheon for the Friends of Uffizi Gallery hosted in Palm Beach, Florida. The compelling Renaissance-style compositions had me entranced. I was enamored to learn the skilled master who painted them had barely reached adulthood at the time he created the works. Recently, when Ms. Conde sent me an image of Toldeo del Rio’s “Calypso”, I knew it must grace the cover of this issue of Eloquence. It’s simply breathtaking.
“Calypso is my representation of the goddess of the seas,” Toledo del Rio said. “When I set out to create in another world, another dimension, I believe the inhabitants have their own lives and are responsible for something specific. In this case, she is the one who controls the tides, the night, the one who moves the threads of the dark and fascinating sea.”
Everything and Nothing At All
“The idea behind all of my work is to transmit a feeling. All of these characters have their own lives with joy and sorrow, just as we do in our version of reality. I am capturing a moment of time in their lives; it is not for me to say what the paintings are about. It is ultimately the viewer who will say what my paintings mean to them. What is wonderful about a portrait is that it tells you everything about the subject and almost nothing at the same time … it’s about the look in the eyes.
“The truth is that I love being a painter; creation is fascinating. I’m always seeing life differently. Everyday things, a stain on the screen, is something that transmits an idea ― a perception and sensitivity for the beautiful and the ugly. It is to find interesting what is not. Painting is a constant search, and time eventually catches up, it reaches you; at this stage of my life, I do not want to waste it. All I do is just for her, the visual arts …”
To view more paintings by Luis Enrique Toledo del Rio, go to www.CondeContemporary.com or visit the Conde Contemporary gallery at 204 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. 239.961.0452.