José Antonio Rodríguez Fuster, known to all simply as Fuster is an exponent par excellence of luminance and joy. With his mastery of technique in painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics, his multimedia work shows remarkable conceptual and stylistic unity within the diversity of techniques.
A graduate of the School of Art Instructors in 1965, Fuster began his professional career in the Cubanacán Ceramics Workshop with renowned artists such as Alfredo Sosabravo, Reinaldo Gonzalez and Julia Calvo. Considered one of the founders of the New Cuban Ceramics, Fuster’s –his excellent pieces on display at the Ceramics Museum bear witness to this –but if we look at the firm brush strokes, the absolute mastery of color and composition in his paintings and drawings, held in many Cuban and international galleries, then we prefer to speak of the painter. And what about the amazing sculptures that embellish his home and surroundings? This man is definitely not easy to pigeonhole.
Determined to uncover the “mystery of Fuster,” we visited his home in the town of Jaimanitas, several kilometers west of Havana, where he has lived since 1975. Carefully climbing the stairs trying not to touch the beautiful mosaic-covered steps, a warm, friendly and restless human being, whose travels and successes throughout the world have not eroded the unaffected and cordial courtesy of Cubans from the provinces, confirmed the initial image that is transmitted through his vast creation.
I put the same passion into everything I do. For instance, I hadn’t worked with clay for two months and precisely today I began teaching two of my children–to see if they take a fancy to it–and I was filled with happiness. Painting is also a spiritual need. I prefer oil painting but I also enjoy painting in acrylics and drawing. Besides, I can’t abandon painting because that’s what supports my project, all of this that surrounds me, which requires considerable investment.
When the artist speaks of his “project”, he opens his arms as if to embrace everything about him and the emphasis in his voice resembles that of a sovereign speaking of his kingdom. Born in the coastal town of Caibarién (1946) in the province of Villa Clara, Fuster moved to the also coastal town of Santa Fe, in Havana, and finally to the neighboring town of Jaimanitas, also very close to the sea. This may explain the regular–and at times obsessive–presence of fish and blues in his paintings and ceramics, and the Gaudilike coral shapes that make his home a sort of tropical Park Güell decorated with majolica and mosaics, an enchanted palace. In Jaimanitas, Fuster has carried out a huge amount of work in the beautification of facades and public areas, as well as hospitals, such as CIMEQ and Hermanos Ameijeiras. He speaks with pride and emotion.
“When I began this work in 1995, my plan was to embellish my house and little by little I became more excited and got my neighbors excited about the idea, too. At first, the people were surprised, but they got used to it. The first intervention was here in my driveway, and then I asked my neighbors’ permission. Some of them are aware that they are exhibiting a work of art on their walls, others are not. Some adults explain to their children the importance that this effort has for the community, while others allow their kids to throw a ball against the ceramic-decorated walls. This is an indication that we have to continue working.
“Have I gotten into trouble? Oh, yes. I’ve even been fined several times because the bench at the family doctor’s office has invaded the sidewalk, or because the mural that pays tribute to contemporary art exceeded the allowable height, or whatever. Can you imagine? A street mural made on the occasion of the 9th Havana Art Biennial with paintings by Zaida, Adigio, Fabelo, Sosabravo, Kcho, Choco, and there’s still space for other painters to add to it. I pay all the expenses, and I am happy to see how the front of many homes that used to look like chicken coops are now beautiful, filled with art and colors. We even fixed a neighbor’s roof!
“And I will not stop dreaming. I want to develop a cultural movement in Jaimanitas beyond visual art; create a theater group, for example–the Ópera de la Calle (Street Opera) company, which is reviving the Cuban musical theater, was born here; arouse people’s creativity. Human beings are essentially creative. We are all creators, but you have to work hard.”
(This is the first part of a look at José Antonio Rodríguez Fuster. Click here for Part 2)