Stealing is at the very core of my work, since I first started making art. After graduating from the Higher Institute of Art in Havana, Cuba, and with little access to unaffordable art materials, I stole dry paint chips from the crumbling city walls and the objects around me to make collages of recycled paint on paper and canvas. I called these works Stolen Paintings. I wanted to survive as an artist in the same way people do in Cuba – smuggling the State resources within the black market as a compensation for low salaries and scarcities. I wanted to explore the boundaries between destroying something or commiting a crime, and creating, as well as the concepts of ethics and morality within that society.
Coming to live in the United States in 2010 impacted my work in many ways. The exposure to masterpieces from mainstream museums such as MoMA or the Met, which I had only known through books before, led me to reconsider the genre of painting, its attributes and boundaries, as well as my position in the art world. Although having acces to art materials was not a problem anymore, I couldn’t renounce stealing. The skills learned in Cuba remain a good resource and metaphor to address other challenges, such as surviving as an artist in this context.
In my recent works, the source of materials is not the city anymore, but the museum. The museum walls are ambassadors of its policies and ideologies. They are carriers of memories, and ultimately of history. In the series Wallscape (2013 – present), I interact within museums’ permanent collection galleries. The first work in this series took place at El Museo del Barrio, NY, during its 2013 Biennial. On that occasion, I peeled off the paint from the wall I was assigned, and used the paint chips to make an exact reproduction of the permanent collection painting hung in front of my wall. Similar interventions in other museums of the United States and abroad are to come.
Another body of work consists of realizing detailed copies of masterpieces from museum collections using the same technique – the works are collages of acrylic wall paint on Drywall or sheetrock. The sheetrock panel is mounted on a wooden structure and hung from the ceiling, detached from the wall. There is a QR code next to the paintings, which allows the viewer to access the webpage of the museum featuring the original piece. Thus, my low-tech works are like ghosts that find their way back to their bodies through cutting edge technology. I have already reproduced renowned works by masters such as Vermeer, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Courbet.