Connected to home through art
Local artist taps into his Cuban culture as inspiration for his vivid art pieces
By Josh Staloch
In a non-pandemic year, local artist Eduin Fraga visits his home town of Havana, Cuba at least once – which he said feeds his creative spirit and provides him with the inspiration needed to capture “dynamic fragments of the society in which I live.”
With a style as unique as it is vivid, Fraga said he tries to recreate, in his own way, the little things about everyday life in Cuba – from its economic struggles to aging infrastructure – in a medium he refers to as collage painting.
“I like to show these kinds of situations,” he said. “Like the kinds the Cuban people live with every day, the little things that show how they are going. It could be something like just a crowded bus in Havana, but everyone on that bus has a story. I try to put that in my painting.”
The results can be as ponderous as they are visually stunning.
Fraga said he begins each project by covering his canvas with newsprint before moving on to outlining the image or scene he’s hoping to articulate.
From there, he said he brings the image further to life with acrylic, oil paint or charcoal.
Throughout the process, Fraga said he goes back to the use of news print to form the shapes of his subjects – sometimes using pages from publications in Cuba. If the subject of the piece he’s working on has a local flare to it, he said he will use American newsprint.
Upon careful inspection, the bits of news clippings that might make up someone’s t-shirt in one of his paintings, Fraga said, will often contain text relevant to the subject of the painting itself.
For example, in a piece Fraga painted in which he explores police brutality, the sidewalk depicted in the image is made up of American newsprint from stories across the country that covered the topic while it was occurring.
In a sense, which Fraga notes on his website, his art “serves not only as something extremely pleasant one can hang on a wall, it serves as an historical reference for a social experience.”
The narrative Fraga said he conceals in his art through the use of newsprint isn’t the only profoundly unique method he incorporates.
Most of the faces in his images are featureless, oftentimes consisting of just two separate shapes that, together, resemble the likeness of a face.
But there are no discernable features, no nose, no chin, no eyes, no mouth. Yet, somehow, the subjects of Fraga’s pieces convey emotion – even though their facial features are made up of nothing more than a few cobbled-together pieces of newsprint.
The people in his paintings seem to have the ability to look right at you.
Longing for the inspiration of home
Fraga is quick to point out he is enjoying his life and family here in Green Bay, but it’s difficult for him to go as long as he has – more than two years now since the onset of COVID-19 – without visiting Cuba.
In addition to family and friends in Havana, Fraga said he relies on the people, sights and sounds of Cuba to inspire him.
“I can still see photos, videos of Cuba,” he said. “I also still speak with people, friends and family that I have in Cuba, and they tell me how the situation is now. So, I can kind of see.”
Fraga said he is taking the stories he has been getting from back home and applying them to new projects – including the piece he is currently working on – which features a bus full of riders, all masked, with another crowd of people waiting outside of the Cuban mass transit vehicle, waiting for their turn to ride.
He said the underlying narrative of the piece, which he will backfill with newsprint containing stories on the matter, is that during the pandemic, gas has been in such short supply that there isn’t enough of it to run full bus schedules, resulting in overcrowded routes and riders often forced to wait for the next bus to come along.
“The thing that I like to do is show the real life of people in Cuba or here in the United States,” Fraga said. “And also, I enjoy learning with this, too. I use newspaper articles for my paintings of (the Green Bay) Packers, articles that have to do with what you are seeing in the painting. It’s good. It’s very easy to find some articles about the Packers.”
A traveling display
Fraga is no stranger to getting a couple dozen of his pieces meticulously packed up and shipped to various exhibitions both here in America and in Cuba.
His next big exhibition is this June in Boston, at Bunker Hill Community College, an institute with more than 11,000 students.
Advice for young artists
Fraga said if he were to tell an aspiring artist anything to keep in mind as they attempt to make a living in the art world, it would be to simply focus on the love of the work, and the rest will fall into line.
“Work. Just work, as much as you can,” he said. “Young people in this business are sometimes too often thinking, ‘How long until I sell (my art)?’ But try to work without thinking about this so much. Enjoy your work because when you are enjoying it, it looks good and the money will come.”
The artist’s background
Born in Havana in 1974, Fraga said he did not embark on his journey as an artist until he became a young adult, but has been painting regularly for more than 20 years.
He formally studied the trait at the Experimental Center of Visual Arts in Havana, graduating in 2012.
Fraga currently lives on Green Bay’s east side with his wife, Christin, who is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and their 8-year old son, Dario.
He said he speaks to his mother, Cathlina, in Cuba every day and also keeps in close contact with his brother, Jorge, who is also an artist living in Germany.
Fraga’s art can be seen online at eduinfraga.com and found at local art shows and at the Farmers’ Market on Broadway.
He also has prints of his work for sale.
Josh Staloch is a staff writer and photographer for The Press Times, and is a contributor to Green Bay City Pages.