Story by DLX special correspondent, David Latt, edited by Susan Michals
Last December, special correspondent David Latt was in Havana on vacation. By sheer coincidence, while walking in the Old City (La Habana Viejo), he stumbled upon the Almost Famous Gallery. In a space the size of a walk-in closet, artist Dennys Santos creates and sells his paintings, some of which stand close to six feet tall. Latt, was fortunate enough to spend some time with the artist and talk about who has been pivotal in his career, and what inspires him to do what he does.
Destination Luxury: What inspired you to become a painter?Dennys Santos: (laughing) Well, not my mother. When I told her I wanted to go to art school and be a painter, she said you must work and stop dreaming all the time.
Destination Luxury: Even without your family’s encouragement, you went to art school anyway.
Santos: For one year I attended a very famous school in Cuba. Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “San Alejandro.”
Destination Luxury: Some of your striking images and bold colors remind us of the wonderful New York painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Santos: Thank you. I am a big fan of Basquiat. Also, of Francisco Goya, Joaquín Sorolla , Claude Monet and Edward Munch.
Destination Luxury: What about Cuban artists? Are there ones you love?
Santos: There are many. My favorites are Antonia Eiriz, Servando Cabrera, Wifredo Lam and Fidelio Ponce de León.
I would see their work at the National Museum of Fine Arts Havana (Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes). Besides school and the teachers I study with, the museum is where I learn about art. In life, what influences my work are the stories of the Yoruba religion. That is part of our Afro-Cuban culture, which is very strong here. In some of my work I paint the Yoruba gods.
Destination Luxury: When did you have your first art show?
Santos: In 2004, a collective show in Havana at the Frida Kahlo Gallery. That was very exciting. After that my work was in a show at the Casa de la Cultura of Romerillo’s Gallery and in Mariano Rodriguez’s Gallery.
Destination Luxury: Has your work been shown outside of Cuba?
Santos: In the UK at Essen University, in New York at the Learning Center Gallery and the Bitcoin Center, in Spain at the Recidencia Palomart in Ibitza and in Barcelona at the 360 Art Gallery.
Destination Luxury: Will your paintings be exhibited in galleries outside of Cuba this year?
Santos: In 2016 I am to have shows in the UK in Camden Town, in Zurich, Switzerland and in a gallery in Italy. I was supposed to go to Germany to talk about a show, but they would not give me a visa.
Destination Luxury: Why not?
Santos: (laughing) They thought that I would stay there for life. The only way to get a visa to go outside of Cuba is to first get an American visa. Then the other embassies will give me a visa.
Destination Luxury: Your work is very different from the paintings sold on the street to tourists.
Santos: I sell to tourists too. They need to find me like you did. People who like my work send their friends to see me when they visit Havana. I tell them, please call before they come by the gallery and make an appointment to be sure I am here to meet them.
Destination Luxury: How difficult is it to bring back art to the United States?
Santos: Very easy now. Even my large paintings come off the frames and I roll them up. I give a paper saying the painting was bought from me and I put a stamp on the back so at the airport everything goes without trouble.
Destination Luxury: What does your mother think of your painting now?
Santos: (laughing) She is so proud of me.
Almost Famous Gallery, Cuarteles #3 between Cuba and Aguiar (Habana Vieja, Cuba),
Mobile +53 5 302 9164.