Paul Sierra: A Cultural Corridor (Exhibiton Catalog)
May 9 to October 9, 1998, The Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture, Los Angeles, CA
From the Curator
By: Monica Torres-Creason
Curator, American Art, The Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture, Los Angeles, CA
American Art, for the most part, has failed to recognize the artistic contributions of Latinos. Many diasporas of cultures create the American experience, and thus, American Art, within which lies the substantially unexplored Latino artistic expression. Paul Sierra: A Cultural Corridor is reflective of the immigrant experience and the Latino contribution to American Art. Paul Sierra's paintings show a transition from his homeland Cuba, to the United States. The memory of the country of his birth is persistent in Sierra's work as it has also been strengthened by its influence.
Paul Sierra: A Cultural Corridor presents a contemporary perspective of American Art within the United States. This body of work encompasses Paul Sierra's internal dialogue in which he consistently confronts memories of his homeland and reveals his perspective of man's relationship with nature.
Over thirty years into his exile, Sierra affectionately recollects tropical landscapes, actively participating within a figurative tradition. In Beacon, his most recent work, a magical scene of dark nightscape and moonlit beach is juxtaposed with a contrasting image of a man who appears to be summoning for help. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the artist's own disillusionment. Sierra describes this piece by explaining "how distant we are from the universe, because we are so wrapped up in ourselves." The use of such opposing images is irreducibly Sierra.
Similar to many Cuban artists during the mid part of the century, Sierra's work retains qualities of "Magical Realism". He subsequently creates magical settings derived from memories of his early years in Havana as well as from his imagination. As seen in Prophet and Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Off to Hell We Go, Paul combines dream like images, which appear to develop a narrative quality.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Paul Sierra immigrated to Chicago, Illinois at the age of sixteen, where he received his formal art training at the Art Institute. Sierra has adopted the United States as his home, living in Chicago since the 1960's.
Paul Sierra has contributed aesthetically to the American Art scene on the same level as William de Kooning, a prominent émigré artist from Europe, and key figure in American Abstract Expressionism. Among the ranks of Clifford Still, Sierra's work will remain an integral part of American Art.
Much like Arshile Gorky, Sierra combines imaginary landscapes with surreal images of foliage, fire and water. Using a vibrant palette with references to tropical landscapes, Sierra brings a "Latinismo" edge to contemporary art. In Birth and Ceremony we are able to sense the artist's reference to the tropical island terrain of Cuba. The employment of lush settings and warm colored compositions is a combination of the artist's personal style with the influence from his formal education of the European masters of the twentieth century. In their intrinsic nature, the works of Sierra, Arshile Gorky of Armenia and Roberto Matta of Chile all contain recurring themes derived from a drive towards self-examination and identity.
Sierra's canvases exist as a cultural corridor between Cuba of the 1960's and the contemporary American experience. The most recent paintings on exhibit at The Latino Museum, created between 1991 and 1997, represent the essence of Paul Sierra with a melange of magical settings and earthly scenes converged in the artist's mind. It is with Sierra's constant reference to man and his relation to nature that we too become easily absorbed into the vital force he has created within his paintings. His fantastical and countervailing paintings provide for us a sense of rediscovery.