Photos: Otmaro Rodríguez
Silvia Rodríguez Rivero: Love is a form of faith
A graduate of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Havana (1977), Silvia Rodríguez Rivero has had an intense creative life in several veins of knowledge: research, writing, and poetry, and she has also been the artistic director and record producer of musician José María Vitier, the son of two quintessential icons in Cuban culture: Fina García-Marruz and Cintio Vitier.
In an exclusive conversation with OnCuba, this exquisitely simple artist confessed to us that “when you’re well past age 50, you begin to see everything differently and the everyday pressures begin to shift.” The need arises for a space of one’s own; in her case, perhaps it had to do with her “persistent effort to help my family and the voluntary and joyful renunciations that life forced me to make, but which in turn opened many other paths and other worlds.”
In the difficult 1990s —known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” when the island’s economy hit rock bottom— people joined together. She describes this time as “very fruitful,” especially since Silvia is very creative and gives fully of herself. But, painting came to her in a surprising and unexpected way, as she tells it: “our son José Adrián is, among other things, a painter, and one day he told me that he was going to attend drawing classes that a friend was teaching and I told him: ‘I think that if I knew how to paint, I wouldn’t stop.’ He asked me, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’, ‘No way,’ I said, ‘I don’t even know how to paint a piglet!’ However, I attended three classes that were held sporadically because at that time we had a lot of work and several trips. I remember that the first class was drawing a cup and a mug, and that worked out well and when I got home I started drawing lamps and everything in sight. The third class taught by this budding teacher was watercolors and, really, I wasn’t all that bad. She took out a paintbrush, poster board, and acrylics and she made a few brushstrokes and then gave me all the materials. For me that paintbrush was an immense object —although today I suppose it would be a common brush— and I felt an almost childlike feeling. It was like a discovery, like something very strong that moved within me; I scribbled and suddenly I started to cry. I apologized and left and continued to cry with joy. Art is very mysterious, even at that time when I still didn’t know I was going to dedicate myself to it.”
She says she’s a quiet person, thoughtful and careful not to make a fool of herself but, in relation to painting, she had no fear or hesitation: “I threw myself into it without fear, with tremendous desire and with an incomprehensible faith; starting to paint was liberating and greatly fulfilling.”
After a first artistic phase in which winged angels fluttered about, her gaze shifted to femininity because she conceives of women as a poetic symbol that, she says, perhaps has to do with motherhood: “love is a form of faith.” That’s why several themes are juxtaposed within her work: “it’s true that the figure of woman is preponderant, but through it I address vital issues, such as nostalgia, remoteness, Havana as the city I live in, where I have felt everything and in which all my poetics and my need to create has grown.”
For Silvia, the township of San Cristóbal —celebrating its half millennium this November— is “especially motivating,” and those who observe her paintings carefully will spot farewells, tears, sadness, offerings, all that Havana has to offer, and what it lacks.
Just seven years into her career as a visual artist, Rodríguez Rivero hasn’t hesitated to leave her comfort zone. On the contrary, in parallel to her two-dimensional work, she also creates exquisite wooden altarpieces that each tell a story with a beginning, middle and end; they are like small/large mise-en-scènes made with a lot of creativity and ingenuity: “I’ve used volume to make playful and interactive objects. With the altarpieces, one can play and move them around so that people build their own stories.”
This artist —let’s call her “emergent” in the sense that she still has a lot to produce, to tell and show us— uses the complete palette and, at the same time, the sobriety of the ochres gives the final result a distinctive and elegant touch, seeking, perhaps, a more muted range: “I feel color, I live it, but I prefer that some [colors] dissolve into others. So much so that my backgrounds are abstract paintings, and some people have even recommended that I leave them like that, but the human figure always appears, suggesting stories to me. Many times, silhouettes appear on those same backgrounds, speaking to me and challenging me, strange cities that reveal themselves and all I do is capture them.”
She affirms, with deep sincerity, that she approaches painting “without pretension” and that the only thing she aspires to is to stand before a canvas and be able to fill that void with ideas. “My goal is to discover a different form of beauty in each painting. The feeling I have when I finish a piece is that it becomes a part of nature, of reality; it’s an interior landscape that reveals itself to me. I’ve been very fortunate in life to be surrounded by wonderful people and to begin painting at my age has been like a final prize. What greater gift could I ask for? I just give thanks.”
Studio address: Calle 160 no. 524, entre 17 A y 164 Playa, Havana, Cuba
Tel.: +53 52378326 (mobile)
Email: [email protected]