Artists’ studios – pt. 3

Saturday, November 16 – Norberto Marerro and Janette Broussard

We got up and had a light breakfast and met our new driver for the day.  Emilito, a charming man in a rickety car who agreed to drive us out of Havana to Guanabo to visit Norberto Marerro and Janette Broussard, two Cuban artists we met  in Massachusetts at Red Trillium press.  Emilito is a professional musician, a trumpet player with the National Orchestra and a music professor at ISA.  He drives a car for extra money.  The pay scale is pretty low and even artists of his stature can’t get by without supplemental income.  Visual artists can sell their art (to foreigners as there is virtually no art market in Cuba).

Norberto and Janette live and work in a small beach town east of Havana.  We leave Havana via the road that goes along the Malecon; it’s familiar until we enter the tunnel that takes us east.  We emerge into new vistas.  The city starts to drift away, replaced by vegetation, palm trees.  We pass East Havana, a housing project started in the 60s and abandoned.  Another example of the rug being pulled out from under the Cuban people.  They are giant tenements, they could be in the Bronx, and there is evidence of people living in them despite their dilapidation (laundry hanging from the balconies- the ubiquitous sign of residency).  We continue east past a factory town, more vegetation and views of the ocean.  If we expected to leave Havana and find a tropical paradise, we are dead wrong.  This part of the countryside is far less populated, but still as poor and makeshift as Havana.  We drive along what appears to be a major highway (divided lanes, cars moving swiftly), yet there are still people standing at the side of the road waiting for rides, people crossing the highway.  We drive pass several checkpoints manned by some kind of guards, but no one seems to be stopping anyone.

A half an hour later we arrive in Guanabo, a beach town that looks like it caters to Havana residents eager to get out of the city.  It’s not the resort beach of Santa Maria, which we pass on the way, and Emilito points out the two large hotels.  We can see the sandy beach and waves crashing in the distance.  Once in Guanabo we cruise the potholed streets until we fine the home of Norberto and Janette.  They live on the 3rd floor of a house with their young daughter, on top of a hill a couple of blocks from the beach.

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Their small home is filled with their art – Norberto’s gorgeous linocut and woodcuts, sculptural prints and books, and Janette’s paintings and carvings.  They too work figuratively – Norberto’s prints are full of symbolism about power (and lack thereof), sex, foolery, longing.  Janette’s work is about contrasts – both at home an abroad.  She carves on the back of signs that she buys on the black market.

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They serve us beer and crackers and the strange meat paste we’ve had a lot and we talk about art and travel.  They are two artists who have travelled a lot, most recently to Boston for an exhibition of their work.  They know many of the Boston Printmakers members.  Janette tells us about her recent trip to Saudi Arabia for 2 weeks and the work she did there.   Norberto pulls out some art books and we point to artists we like.  His tastes are edgy, as are Janette’s.  Norberto is also a poet (and a very good one we have heard from Roberto) and he gives us an anthology of poetry, which contains several of his poems, along with linocut illustrations. I give them my last etching.

After a while we wander several blocks to their printmaking studio.  The main street of the town is lined with little cafes and beach rentals.   It feels like a seaside getaway.  The studio is small but lovely, in another decaying building.   They do their carving, etching and printing there.  They give free art lessons to local kids, and show us some of the paper cuts and linocuts the children have made.  The etching press was stacked with prints they are contributing to a major artists’ book that deals with the chessboard.  Every artist we know here will be contributing to this book (an edition of 125).

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We decline lunch out because we are eager to go to the beach – our one and only opportunity, so they walk us the two blocks to the rocky beach and explain that the reason there is so little sand is that the storms of November has washed it away.  Down the shore we see a sandy part of the beach, so we part ways and head down the beach, over rocks (so many are really construction debris softened by the water), past the exposed roots of palm trees, businesses catering to the beach crowd, crumbling buildings, sun bathers and a few swimmers.  The Cubans all consider it too cold to swim, but it’s in the 80s and we are primed.  We take turns going into the strong current and waves.  It’s refreshing and salty.  After a couple of hours, we pack it up and walk back to Janette and Norberto’s house to meet our driver.  More heartfelt goodbyes, requests to help them get a show in LA, and invitations to come to ZMP.

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