The Cuban 7 beautifies Toronto

Aproximacion, Oil on canvas by Cuban artist Niels.

Aproximacion, an oil painting on canvas by Cuban artist Niels, is on display at the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto. (Stephen Smith photo)

Column by Ilona Kauremszky Senior Writer

TORONTO, ONTARIO — If you didn’t know any better the avant-garde art on display in the heart of Toronto looks like it could be a stand-in for New York or London, the mecca for Modernism and the abstract.

Bold rich hues depicting imaginary gardens and the gritty textures of sisal and neat cut-outs that change tones depending on the light are some of the surprises.

The other — it’s an exclusive exhibition of seven of Cuba’s hottest contemporary artists, dubbed Siete 7. The showcase features 35 paintings at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel’s Galleria Siete-7.

The afternoon I met the famous seven, who were in town for the debut of their work, you could feel the influence of other great artist movements that preceded them. I thought of Canada’s own Group of Seven, who were busy in the early 20th century pushing the creative boundaries in the Canadian north.

Now enter Havana’s Group of 7. Never before have these acclaimed Cuban artists been exhibited ensemble outside the island nation.

“Cuba’s greatest resource is its people — and its artists have a unique voice recognized by a growing number of collectors worldwide. We are proud to bring this collection of works to North America so that Canadians and visitors may appreciate their quality and depth,” says Guy Chartier, president of the Cuban International Cultural Council (CICC), a non-profit group established by the agency 360 VOX, the organizer of the exhibition.

The freedom of movement is restricted in Cuba to most Cubans and so the means to travel is limited. Yet Cuban visual art, as is the case with dance, music, and theatre, continues to break cultural and artistic boundaries and traditions. The best of Cuban artists in all these disciplines have enriched and surprised the larger world with their art. The art is rich in subtexts and has visual snapshots blending imaginings of the outside world with the very real textures that is Cuba.

Here’s a sneak peak of the Siete-7:

Vladimir Leon Sagols of Havana stands in front of his painting Post Evas 3 in Toronto. (Stephen Smith photo)

Vladimir Leon Sagols

The artist who’s never been on a plane let alone to Canada until now is a creative sponge. For years he obsessed over Picasso’s The Three Dancers, a painting Sagols viewed in a book that he consulted daily. His other key influences are Modigliani, Matisse and Klimt.

But a few of his dreams have come true with the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current exhibition: The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces of the Guggenheim Collection 1910-1918. The day after Sagols arrived he visited the AGO and was awestruck at the sight of Modigliani’s The Nude.

“I said nothing. I just processed what was before me and stood there. I wanted to be quiet because before me there was this masterpiece,” he says, describing the pivotal moment he had faced one of his dream paintings.

Sagols himself uses the human figure as his subject for his oil paintings on canvas. In the Siete-7 exhibition his five oil paintings on display use black and white to reflect the contrasts in the human condition. He readily admits there were times he has created sketches using charcoal and coffee beans. “You can make nice things from coffee,” he says with a smile.

This shy, understated artist is one of Cuba’s emerging artists. Collectors are eying his work very closely.

Rigoberto Mena

Even The Prince of Monaco knows of his work. Mena is highly celebrated. His work is popular with European collectors and more recently American collectors, too.

With an eye on the natural world, Mena plays in the abstract to create pieces depicting earth but with a symbolic nod to Cuba. We stand by his work titled Un cometa paso por La Habana, a mixed media piece depicting a bright shooting star falling eastward. “The light is like a comet and here is Cuba,” he says of the piece.

The Havana artist who started painting in the 1990s, believes Cuban artists are creating images of the changing Cuba more now than ever.

Roberto Diego

Arguably Cuba’s hottest artist, Diego is in high demand. He told me he was returning to Havana in preparation for another exhibition the day after the Toronto gallery opening.

The highly acclaimed painter has other shows in Miami and New York and collectors cannot get enough of his creations.

Diego uses paint and textures like sisal and cardboard to emphasize neutral tones on large wall-size canvases, creating various Cubist renditions and abstract mixed media pieces.

Siete-7 has five of Diego’s works on display.



Dates: Siete-7 is on view until early March. Free admission.
Location: Fairmont Royal York Hotel, lobby level, 100 Front Street West, Toronto, ON (see map below)
Hours: Monday and Tuesday by appointment
Wednesday and Thursday: noon to 6 pm
Friday and Saturday: noon to 8 pm
Sunday: 10 am to 4 pm
Telephone: 416-433-8511
More Info: Cuba’s vast talent pool in the arts has never been disputed. This exhibition stands as a marker on the times facing the Communist island nation and further promotes the important and inspiring cross-cultural exchange between Cuba and Canada.


View Larger Map

Ilona Kauremszky has worked with numerous tourism offices around the world. An award-winning journalist, she is a travel columnist and has penned pieces for inflight magazines and major tour operators. She also makes appearances on TV and radio. Co-producer of Ilona is forever finding great stories in the strangest places. Follow her travel pursuits on Twitter and YouTube @mycompasstv

Leave a Reply