art review The Requiem for Havana

Does abstract art leave your brain tied in knots? Do the blurry brushstrokes of impressionism give you a throbbing headache? Sometimes people appreciate art that is more straightforward, that which seeps into your very core and thrusts open the doors of your own emotional warehouse.

Maybe Ismael Gomez Peralta’s work fulfills this role. The 34-year-old Cuban artist presents his first solo show in Coral Gables this month at the Cernuda Arte Gallery, which lies a mere three miles from campus, tucked unassumingly into the rows of offices and shops that line northern Ponce de Leon Blvd. Inside, the classy wood floor and white walls combination is the perfect setting for the artists’ ethereal, solemn paintings. His exhibit, Requiem for Havana, exposes the stark depravity of the city’s dilapidated, communism-weary streets.

What has happened to Havana? Generally, it is is feeling the repercussions of decades of neglect, as Castro has ruled for nearly 50 years with an iron fist and an even harder heart. The collapse of the Soviet Union some ten years ago dealt a further blow to the already struggling city. Now a place with much aesthetic abandonment, Cuba’s capital still remains Gomez Peralta’s place of residence, and he is determined to capture the turbulence of his home in his artistic creations.

Gomez Peralta’s Requiem works concentrate mainly on architectural ruins, the remnants of Havana’s once opulent streets and colonnaded buildings. Haunting themes of decay and ruin prevail amidst deep tones of black and navy. The subject matter features broken-down scaffolding, chilling depictions of deserted street corners, and eerie, hallucinatory images of abandoned edifices, often reminiscent of Friedrich’s chilling “Cloister Graveyard in the Snow.” The consistent mood of solemnity and lamentation surprisingly succeeds, coming off as somber but not overwhelmingly depressing.

The artist was present at the show and was smiling often, which contrasts with the duskiness of his work. He spoke enthusiastically of his paintings, citing Dali, Lorrain, Tatlin, and the aforementioned Friedrich among his influences.

His piece “Calzada y Dos, Hotel Trocha, Vedado,” features an unexpectedly intact, ghostly white hotel, and is particularly striking. The building looks almost electronically illuminated, its otherworldly pallor contrasting with the dark surrounding sky.

One of the more unusual elements in the works is the jarring use of unexpected color-most significantly, how tiny slices of red slash through the tones of gray and dusty blue. According to the artist, these slivers symbolize communism, the ideology that sent Havana and the nation into the downward slump of poverty. Another salient detail is the tiny trees sprouting from the crumbling buildings, perhaps meaning a sign of hope or, possibly, a symbol of even further neglect.

Yet amidst all the bleak imagery, one senses that Gomez Peralta deeply loves his city, drawing out a passionate feel of beauty from all the rubble and despair. He reflects it best himself in his “La Ofrenda,” a collage depicting the artist’s heart bowed before the crumbling streets of Havana. Overall, the paintings are powerful and are able to excavate our own raw emotions, while simultaneously encapsulating those of humankind.

The exhibit runs through October 25th at the Cernuda Arte gallery. For more information, call 305-461-1050.

Jessica Misener can be reached at