María Brito: Interview

Date: 08-11-05
Interviewed by Lynette Bosch
Filmed by Norma Gracia
Transcribed by Paul Symington
Edited by Jorge J. E. Gracia

The interview took place in María Brito’s home and studio.

[Bosch]: “I’d like to focus this interview on María Brito’s art and especially on the idea of identity – negotiating identities – traveling between cultures through the visual arts and also addressing how María co-mingles her artistic vision with her personal experience and also with how the trajectory of being exiled, of having a dual identity – of really having multiple identities – functions within her life insofar as it plays a role in her work. María happens to be an old friend of mine and she and I have discussed these topics over the years and so I know that she has a lot to say. But I think it would be a good idea to start by asking her to tell us a little bit about how she began as an artist in Miami, because she is part of a larger group of Cuban American artists based in Miami who reflect a very particular experience of exile rooted in the Cuban culture and experienced here. So, María, tell us, how did you begin?”

[Brito]: “I never ever imagined that I would be a practicing artist. It just happened by chance. I enrolled in a class at the art center – Miami Art Center here in Miami. It happened after completing a few courses and receiving a Bachelors in Art Education – in essence, it was my coming together and learning about ceramics and touching the material that led to my career. It is as simple as that.”

[Bosch]: “So next you started exploring a three-dimensional medium and discovered a whole world.”

[Brito]: “Absolutely. I had experienced different subjects in school, I had never experienced clay. And I think it was because it was a dirty medium--one gets so dirty–and I was brought up differently, I wanted to be a nice, a very dainty student. I had two sons and after the second was born I was ready to go back to school. But clay interrupted everything and that led me into what I’m been doing now.”

[Bosch]: “Do you think that the introduction to clay made you become an artist as opposed to somebody who was thinking of a practical career – let’s say, art education or teaching art? What do you think made the transformation from looking for something pragmatic to ‘I’m an artist’?”

[Brito]: “To me it was a revelation to be able to make a three-dimensional object that you could touch and feel. So here you’re, dealing with a feeling that you cannot touch, you cannot describe as an object, but clay made possible to express those inner feelings. To me that was quite a revelation. I had never dealt with any other type of material where I was able to accomplish that. I wasn’t looking for that, but it so happened that clay offered it to me and it was quite surprising.”

[Bosch]: “What themes did you begin with once you began to understand that you could actually express what was inside in this three-dimensional form. How would you say you began to do your trajectory of thematic material?”

[Brito]: “Pretty much the same way I’ve dealt with it throughout my career. I dealt with issues that I had at the time: personal issues, family issues. And dealing with the material and putting objects made out of clay in juxtaposition to one another created, for me, a certain tension that reflected what was going on in my mind. Since then no matter what type of material I’ve used, it has always been the inner self that has come forth in these works.”

[Bosch]: “Now we’ve talked in the past about how you went from ceramics to the construction of wall pieces, to installations, and incorporating paintings. We’ve also talked about how you see the multiplicity of roles that you have in your life that come from being a woman, from being Cuban, from being Cuban-American, from being a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister. Can you talk about how you identify yourself? Where does you sense of ‘who I am’, ‘what I am’, come from? How would you say it projects into you work.”

[Brito]: “I think that what projects into my work is, again, those feelings, tensions, that are perhaps caused by all those multiple roles. I see myself as a mother. For instance, at one particular time in my career my sons were of an age where I was able to relate to some of things that they were doing and at that time came some pieces related to childhood. They did not approach childhood with nostalgia. It had to do with feelings and what went through my mind as a kid. I was able to go back to those times prompted by activities that my sons carried out and to which I was able to relate.”

[Bosch]: “Those memories took you back to Cuba, but now in the United States how do you feel about how Cuban are you? How American are you? How do you go between those two?”

[Brito]: “The only way that I can describe it is by saying that in my mind perhaps I’m more American, in my heart and in my emotional make-up I’m more Cuban. So I’m practical. I’ve been working in this format, the social format of this country, so I’m formed as an American in many ways. But my inner self is very Cuban with all of the – well, what?”

[Bosch]: “I was going to say that if you think about the idea of balancing this issue of identity, you’re balancing all the items that everybody balances, because you have all of these multiple roles to fulfill in your personal life. Then you’re also pushed into a situation where people are perhaps looking at you through the filter of ‘well how Cuban are you?’ and then the filter of ‘how American are you?’. So you really have a kind of hyphenated identity – which side of the hyphen do you fall on, the Cuban or the American side?”

[Brito]: “It’s hard to tell. I think it’s half and half.”

[Bosch]: “So you’re fifty-fifty.”

[Brito]: “And I say it because I don’t know that I’d be able to function in any Latin American society, including Cuba, given the way daily activities are carried out there. I don’t know. Then again my work doesn’t have to do with the place where I’m living, or so I think. Meaning that I could be doing the same thing here as well as anywhere else because the work deals more with my personal experiences.”

[Bosch]: “Masks come up in your work a lot and the idea of duality and things transforming and changing and things having two sides. Could you talk about that in terms of specific works in which you began exploring it?”

[Brito]: “It’s very simple really. It has to do primarily with the inner self and the self that projects to the outside. We all have dealt with this at one time or another. It began simply, with a simple concept…”

[Bosch]: “…just the social idea that you can’t let it all hang out. And then there are things that you don’t want to show and so everybody has that sensory block on – so it really is a kind of universal idea of duality and being two sided, not in the pejorative sense but just in the sense that there’s a private and a public self”

[Brito]: “Exactly.”

[Bosch]: “Can you think of some works that you began specifically exploring this?”

[Brito]: “Yes, there is one sculpture, one small self-contained environment, called ‘Room of the Two Marías’ where just by chance – and this happens in my work a lot, not necessarily accidents but things that do happen in the process of building any one piece or constructing any one piece, I guess I’m attentive to everything that goes on – I was working on two masks which were going to be treated differently. How? I did not know. One was a pristine mask, very pensive, very calm looking; and the other one I had to rush, in a way, in the sense that I wanted it to dry quickly so I could go on with the piece – I put it outside and before I knew it, it was raining. The mask became distorted and there was what I was looking for. I could have made another mask which was similar, but this distorted mask became the other self, the other part of the self. So that’s one piece that comes to mind where I deal with the issues we were talking about.”

[Bosch]: “And then more specifically taking them to, let’s say, the Cuban-American negotiation of identity, can you think of a work where you then pursued this idea of the hidden, the public, the private, the past, the present?”

[Brito]: “El patio de mi casa comes to mind. It’s a three-dimensional piece, a self-contained environment – as I like to call them for lack of a better term – where one side of the piece evokes the outdoors. And there’s a bed, a crib – it is sort of a mixture of both – and that whole side has to do with the past. On the other side of the piece there is kitchen where changes take place; it is a metaphor, which I realized only later on, when other people talked about the piece. Much of my work happens that way. I don’t intellectualize the work at all, I would say, or minimally, as the work develops. I like to think that the work takes place on more of a gut-level and that it is more spontaneous, there’s a lot more interaction between the work and myself than my intellect – it is not about coming up with an idea and carrying it out. Of course, there’s that germ of an idea on which I work, or with which I work, and as the piece develops things happen and I take advantage of whatever happens. It’s a sort of communication established between the work and myself. I see the need of a certain piece and take it from there.”

[Bosch]: “One of the things that I’ve always found interesting in your work is the additive nature of your work where so many found objects are incorporated. To some degree, this idea of the assembly of random pieces that come to your attention that you think ‘this needs that’, ‘this needs this’, ‘there it is’, to some degree I think it is a process somewhat analogous to the idea of constructing an identity. Because when you’re constructing a dual identity you’re pulling things from your environment and you’re reconfiguring them into completely new patterns. Is this something that you think would be an accurate description of your work?”

[Brito]: “This is why we need art historians. This is why we need people like you Lynette!”

[Bosch]: “Ah! I’ll always be important!”

[Brito]: “I have never thought of it that way but it is certainly possible. One of the things about my work in general is that consciously I work up to a point beyond which I think everything is explained or that the work becomes obvious. I don’t know why I brought this up in relation to your question but anyway, there’s layers, and layers and layers and it’s like a narrative, but if you leave the end open for interpretation I think the work becomes more appealing, more universal in nature …”

[Bosch]: “…because everyone constructs an identity out of this and that and the other and you don’t know exactly what piece you need and you make it up as you go along.”

[Brito]: “Exactly. A piece that’s called ‘Whitewash’ comes to mind. It’s, again, an installation, a self-contained environment which is basically a cage, a human-scale cage. Inside is an environment that can be construed as a home environment, even though all of the details are not there. I showed that piece somewhere, I forget where, and I was lecturing, giving a slide presentation, and after I finished I took questions from the audience. There was this older woman who was a Holocaust survivor, and she was able to relate to that type of confinement and imprisonment – not necessarily imprisonment but confinement; and it’s not necessarily physical but also emotional and psychological. So this again goes back to what I was saying, leaving enough information there.”

[Bosch]: “That somebody can open it up and make a universal experience out of it.”

[Brito]: “Right.”

[Bosch]: “You and I a long time ago talked about something that I think is shared by many Cubans who came to this country and has to do with this additive, spontaneous, sometimes maybe haphazard, quality of gathering objects. Remember we talked about how Cubans would pick up junk?”

[Brito]: “Including my family!”

[Bosch]: “Yeah, oh, my family too! Can you talk more about that in terms of being part of your creative process and, again, thinking about how we construct these identities out of other people’s garbage? Tell me about where you would go with your family.”

[Brito]: “Along Coral Gables Way, an upper-class neighborhood. The word spread like wildfire among Cubans that the residents there would, every so often, throw out discards. They included sofas that were beautiful, and chairs, and lamps, and what-have-you, and so there was a whole procession of Cubans just arrived from Cuba down that road. My mother was a terrific seamstress and she reupholstered for the first time ever – it just took a little imagination and a lot of know-how on her part – many of those pieces. You and I were talking about that and I remembered that I thought, well maybe. . .”

[Bosch]: “…the idea of sampling and reconfiguring. Because that process of transformation is such an integral part of the experience of Cubans – you don’t have enough money, you didn’t have enough at the beginning – so you took the discards of other people but at the same time they were American discards that you were now reconfiguring to this Cuban-American identity. I remember you talking once about how you would go around in your truck looking for things – of course, this was later on when you were already an artist – and then bringing them home and putting them in the garage.”

[Brito]: “Right, as a matter of fact, I once picked up a beautiful headrest – what do you call it? Headboard! – and the other part of the bed, thinking that I was going to use it in one of my pieces, when I got here I realized it was made out of – what do you call this floor?”

[Bosch]: “Hardwood.”

[Brito]: “Hardwood? No, no, the type of wood. I’m trying to think of – very fine wood, turned pieces, and it ended up being my own bed. I put it together and it was only missing a few pieces.”

[Bosch]: “It became yours so to speak. One of the things that has interested me about this reconfiguration of identity and the re-contextualization of signs of identity is the way that you incorporate Renaissance and Baroque art in your work because to some degree this addresses the idea of the larger Hispanic identity that Cubans share with Latin Americans and of the course the idea of culture and connection. When did you start looking at Renaissance and Baroque imagery and what did it mean to you? Why were you drawn to that?”

[Brito]: “To begin with – and this is something that you and I have talked about before – because of all of my different roles and I was going to school at the same time, I had very little time to educate myself; not only with everything that was going on in the art world or that had gone on before, but also visually I had very little visual information that I could draw back on. So that’s been one of my hang-ups for a long time. I think also – and I’ll get to your question in a minute – that ignorance and lack of knowledge of what had been done and what was being done at the time helped me tremendously in developing my own iconography and exploring my own ideas without any idea whatsoever what “art” should look like, which was very important. In reference to those periods that you mentioned, little by little I became more interested in looking at what had been done in the past and what is being done in the present in the world of art. But I connected very much with the work of Fra Angelico, Duccio…”

[Bosch]: “…Giotto turns up in your work a lot, so does Mantegna.”

[Brito]: “…Giotto and Mantegna especially. It has to do with what I perceive of their work as being frozen in time. My sculptures have that feeling. I’m talking about the environment – the small environments – that I’ve created. They all have this feeling that something happened and the work is almost a snapshot – a photograph – that you take of a particular moment in somebody’s life – and I saw in these works of Duccio or Mantegna, that feeling of the frozen…”

[Bosch]: “…the momentary and the timeless together.”

[Brito]: “Right, exactly.”

[Bosch]: “You talked about photography in your work. You incorporate a lot of photography into the work and then you talked about this idea of a photograph as being suspended in between reality and a painting and then again of capturing that moment in time that becomes timeless. There is almost a threshold of consciousness here. When you think about incorporating specific photographs, how do you go about making the choice, because once you’ve put into your work, your work is identified with you, it’s a piece of you that you’re exporting as it were for the public consumption so it’s your perfect ‘private going public’. What make you choose certain types of photographs over others?”

[Brito]: “I’m trying to think of works where I’ve used photographs.”

[Bosch]: “The Traveler, for example, where you integrated a painting of that little photograph of you as a little girl.”

[Brito]: “Right, and actually, the incorporation of that image into the piece created the title. The piece did not have a title up until that time. In terms of incorporating anything, including paintings of photographs, into a work, it’s intuitive. Thinking back to when I was working on the The Traveler, I chose that little image because there was innocence in it; it was me as child, but to be honest with you, I don’t know, it’s a very intuitive kind of thing.”

[Bosch]: “In terms of a journey, one thinks about the process of exile and, again, the formation of identity. Exile has a certain external aspect to it. You see the person go from one place to another, so there’s travel in terms of space and time, and the title of the work is The Traveler. Do you ever stop to think about the identity of an exile as being something that is a journey that had a beginning in one place and then undergoes a metamorphosis as it goes through? And how does the idea of being a traveler in that sense relate to you as an artist? Because the artist also travels and that’s also external – being an artist in some ways is a form of exile because you’re never like other people. So, there’s always that sense of separation.”

[Brito]: “But then again, I don’t play the role of an artist, do you know what I’m saying? I don’t live the life of an artist…”

[Bosch]: “…how would you characterize it, then? What do you think an artist is? Define these artists.”

[Brito]: “Well, going back to when I was younger, the idea of an artist to me was something very foreign to the way I carried on with my life. I was a mother, I enjoyed the family, while to me an artist was eccentric.”

[Bosch]: “The Romantic notion of the mad artist locked away from society?”

[Brito]: “Right, everything that I was not, including those stupid roles that are assigned to artists.”

[Bosch]: “So, how do you relate the idea of exile and of a journey, and the idea that an exile is transported from one place to another – which are intrinsically different – to the idea of the artist. For the artist is also intrinsically different, you’re a traveler and an observer because this is, again, something that an artist does. How would you link up with these ideas in terms of your role as an artist and your being an artist, your identity as an artist, given that you don’t think you are an artist because you’re not insane and you don’t do strange things and you’re normal.”

[Brito]: “To be honest with you…”

[Bosch]: “…because you are an artist! And you’re a very well known artist! How do you deal with that? You are a very well known artist!”

[Brito]: “To me, María Brito is somebody else and María Cristina is me also but in another role. Okay, here’s the role playing things going on.”

[Bosch]: “So María Brito is your public artist persona?”

[Brito]: “To begin with, I was born María Cristina Brito, my name changed over the years because of marriages, so I’ve been a number of people. And I’ve come back to María Brito, minus the Cristina, and that’s sort of a stage name…”

[Bosch]: “…your public mask.”

[Brito]: “…yes. So about everything that happens to María Brito, I’m happy; I mean, I’m not that disjointed…”

[Bosch]: “…we understand that you don’t have multiple identities!”

[Brito]: “…no, but when I get together with my family and with friends that have nothing to do with the art…”

[Bosch]: “…you don’t go in as ‘María Brito, artist’.”

[Brito]: “Absolutely not. That takes place in the studio…”

[Bosch]: “…and so when you walk into your studio, who goes away?”

[Brito]: “…that’s such a blessing! I’ve gone through periods where it’s been difficult for me to work, given family and personal problems, so for me to able to go in there and work is a gift.”

[Bosch]: “So when María Brito goes into the studio, who doesn’t go with you? María Cristina stays behind?”

[Brito]: “I disconnect all phones and I make sure that I don’t hear them, and I try to disconnect myself from the rest of the world. It’s difficult many times, but that’s what I try to do. I go into this place that’s my own and nobody else’s. I’m willing to share everything else but not that…”

[Bosch]: “…that’s your private sphere.”

[Brito]: “Right. There it’s just me and the work; we’re just one.”

[Bosch]: “And then there’s María Brito who has to do openings and has the shows and plays ‘public artist’. Who’s that?”

[Brito]: “That’s the one who smiles all the time.”

[Bosch]: “…puts on the little artist mask.”

[Brito]: “No, I’m a simple person. I’m a very simple person and one who again is grateful to life for having given me this.”

[Bosch]: “What was the most exciting things that happened to you as an artist when you said ‘wow, I’ve arrived! I really did jump there.’”

[Brito]: “It happned when I was in Seoul, Korea. I was commissioned to do a piece for the Olympics; actually, the educational-cultural part of the Olympics that took place in Korea in 1988. I went there with my husband at the time, all expenses paid by the Korean government and it was just a big, big party. And there was one point during our stay there where the artists were asked to go by themselves to this opening of a huge sculpture park. It was decorated with balloons – the Korean people really went out of their way to show the world how much they had accomplished since the war. So I was in this wonderful place surrounded by sculptors from all over the world in the most beautiful setting, and I happened to ask someone who had become a friend – a sculptor – ‘what day is today?’ And it happened to be the same day that my dad had passed away, so here I was in this incredible environment and I knew he was there with me. And in terms of my professional career that was the highest point. That personal touch made it ever so…”

[Bosch]: “…so the two came together.”

[Brito]: “Right.”

[Bosch]: “What was the piece that you did for them?”

[Brito]: “It was a piece based on a work I had done a couple of years before. Again, it’s a self-contained environment. I learned of this opportunity, around five months prior to the time it had to be shipped over to Korea. So there really wasn’t that much time. Not only that, I was supposed to be working with materials that I had never dealt with before, outdoor type of materials. The logical thing to do was to go back to a piece that was already thought out and realized and translate it into a piece that used outdoor type materials. I was fortunate to engage the help of Guy García, master Guy García – a wonderful human being and a terrific sculptor. He helped me put the piece together. We used steel and aluminum. And the piece was shipped over to Korea. We took buses to different sites throughout the park and when my piece came up I thought I’d faint.”

[Bosch]: “I can imagine. You mentioned Guy, and one of the things I wanted to talk to you about was your part in a continuum of Cuban art coming to the United States, and forming part of the history of Cuban art which extends to Cuban American artists, the idea of generations. So when you worked with Guy García, you worked with one of the major classics who came out of Cuba to this country already as a fully formed artist. Do you think about your place in this continuum? How do you see yourself in relation to the generation of Guy García?”

[Brito]: “I don’t think about things like that, I don’t.”

[Bosch]: “You just know that you’re in there.”

[Brito]: “No. I think that anything that would make me feel ‘whoa, María Brito the sculptor’ would affect my work in the studio. I am a humble person, and when I go in there I have all the fears of a beginner; all the concerns, and there’s no BSing. You’re facing your own mortality so to speak and you’re facing your work and you’re going to be as honest as you can be.”

[Bosch]: “…so you don’t think that ‘my role is this’ – but do you feel yourself connecting to a history? Leaving aside these sorts of ‘ra, ra, hoopla’, how do you feel about being a ‘Cuban-American artist’? How do you deal with that?”

[Brito]: “ I take everything with – what’s the expression – a grain of salt? I don’t mean to demean it in any way. I try for everything just to happen and not to affect me in any way or thinking of myself as having a place in history; that’s too heavy for me to deal with.”

[Bosch]: “It would interfere if you started to think about that.”

[Brito]: “It would scare the heck out of me. So I’d rather keep on doing my things.”

[Bosch]: “Would you say that your attitude is that if people want to picture you as a Cuban-American artist that’s great, but you’re not going to seek it, you’re not going to push it away, it’s simply a way for you to get your work seen? How do you respond to this whole idea of being a Cuban-American artist?”

[Brito]: “I see that there’s a need out there for labels and I’m fine with that. I make my work and I get satisfaction out of showing it. So if it’s shown under the context of Cuban-American art, that’s fine, and if it’s shown in the context of sculptors or work by sculptors, that’s fine also. It’s my work and whatever is out there, is what it is.”

[Bosch]: “It gives you venue.”

[Brito]: “Absolutely, and originally when – I’m thinking of in the early 1980s – there was a whole movement and people started organizing shows…”

[Bosch]: “…the Miami generation…”

[Brito]: “…the Miami generation was one of them. But then again, Hispanic works or works by Hispanic women and a lot of artists have problems with that.”

[Bosch]: “And you were featured in most of those shows so you’re part of that.”

[Brito]: “Exactly. But I had to make a decision whether I wanted to see my work out there as the work of a sculptor who happens to live in Miami, who happens to be of Cuban ancestry, or just someone just born in Cuba, and then there are all of these other little labels, green eyes, curly hair, I don’t care. The work was being seen, the work traveled and the work is serious in nature; as long as the venue was also serious, I have no problem what the context is.”

[Bosch]: “In terms of speaking about identity, I’m always amused because you always refer to yourself as a sculptor and yet you’re equally known for your paintings. It’s like the Michelangelo paradigm; there’s Michelangelo always signing himself, ‘Michelangelo Buonarroti, the sculptor’ and yet we know him for the Sistine ceiling.”

[Brito]: “That’s true.”

[Bosch]: “And it’s funny because you always talk about your installations, your sculpture, you think of yourself as a sculptor, yet, you do these wonderful paintings. How come the paintings don’t come up when you talk about your work in the same way – how do you negotiate that identity? Because you’re as much of a painter as you are a sculptor, and yet I have never heard you identify yourself as a painter.”

[Brito]: “I think that I have a lot of respect for painters to call myself one. I was a sculptor before I actually attempted any type of painting on any type of surface. And it just came naturally to me. But then again I have a lot of respect for painters.”

[Bosch]: “So you think the sculpture is the part that comes first, it’s what expresses more deeply what you are as an artist. You began to paint at some point, but somehow you don’t think you’re at the point in which you can call yourself a painter, that would require another jump on your part.”

[Brito]: “Maybe that’s the reason, yeah. Maybe that’s the reason.”

[Bosch]: “You talked about how an artist is this crazy person, but if you really leave aside what the world thinks about artists, what do you think being an artist is? What makes a difference between you, as an artist, and me? I’m not an artist, you’re an artist.”

[Brito]: “I don’t know what makes you tick. I wouldn’t know how to compare the two because I don’t know you that intimately at all. So I guess an artist is someone who is a sponge in many ways. It’s like your whole psyche, your whole emotional make-up – and I’m speaking for myself, I am the only point of reference – is being channeled that way. I work from my own emotions, my own perspective, although some of the pieces also reflect what has happened to others and how I perceive their emotions. Now I’m looking more at the international and national scenes in terms of human beings, not politics – the human aspect of situations taking place all over the world, including this nation. It’s always the human aspect…”

[Bosch]: “…the individual story.”

[Brito]: “…yes, the individual pain, that sort of thing. A few pieces have come about because of this new interest, or maybe a change in focus.”

[Bosch]: “Right, expanding into a larger world from the more Hispanic world. That kind of thing. Jorge, do you know of anything that has been left out?”

[Gracia]: “Oh, I think that you have covered everything very well. But one aspect that interests me is that the woman side of it. There are two things that I think I want to ask you. One is, you are a woman artist, there’s no question about that, and does that affect your work? Do you feel that it affects your work? Do you feel that it brings into the work something that would not be there otherwise?”

[Brito]: “The way I see it is that a woman is also a human being. I’m not being feminist in any way, and all human beings share so much that my work is not particular to one or another sex or ethnicity or even nationality. We’re all basically the same, and that’s what I ultimately concern myself with.”

[Gracia]: “With the basic humanity that we all share, so you’re not really exploring any particularities?”

[Brito]: “I may have done that in a piece or two, but I don’t think of my work as being feminist or as being concerned with a woman living in this country or in this century. It’s beyond that, I think.”

[Gracia]: “The other question I had has to do with the art world itself. It’s a difficult world, I assume it is. I know the philosophical world is very difficult. There are cubicles, there are people that basically determine who goes forward, who doesn’t go forward, at which time and so on. There are galleries, curators, collecors, and art historians, and the artists are trapped in many ways in this very difficult environment, and they have to eat.”

[Brito]: “To begin with, ever since I decided I was going to continue doing what I was doing, I realized that I had two children to feed and I had a mortgage to pay and what-have-you. Thankfully, I had a lot of support from my parents and both my ex-husbands in that respect. So I feel like they have contributed to my career as well. But I always had a job outside what I was doing in my work as a sculptor or painter, so that I felt that I had the income necessary for me to function and, at the same time and most importantly, not to compromise the work. To me it was, ‘you do not touch this! This is not to be touched!’ And as far as what you said about the art world being difficult, I think that it’s a matter of what your goal is; it’s as simple as that. My goal has always been to do the work, that’s what I derive the most enjoyment from. I’ve been very fortunate to have had good galleries representing my work. I’m not a sales person – I’m the worst sales person in the world -- so I need Bernice Steinbaum to help me. She would love this!”

[Gracia]: “And she certainly does a very good job!”

[Brito]: “I think that my role – and I can’t speak for others – is to produce the work, and the rest I can’t deal with. It would fragment my life too much. It would take away time from the studio and that’s why artists need someone they can trust and represent their work.”

[Gracia]: “I have one other question that occurred to me. As you know, I’m not an art critic, I’m not an art historian, and I’m not an artist. But I see two things in the art that I see. I see an aesthetic dimension – is it aesthetically pleasing? – and I see a cerebral part, the thought behind it. You have talked a lot about the intuitive factors in your work; basically you ‘work from the gut’, that was your expression wasn’t it? There are some Cuban artists whose work is very aesthetic and there is less evidence of thinking in it, although there are others that are more cerebral and less aesthetic. So, how do you see your art, and how do you see your aim? What are you trying to do, balancing these two areas? The thought behind it and the aesthetic element?”

[Brito]: “I think I know what you’re asking me. The intellect has to come in at some point, during the process otherwise I don’t know what would happen. The intuitive aspect of it is this – it’s hard to describe it because it’s a process, and how do you describe a process? The germ of the idea comes not when I’m taking a shower or sleeping or daydreaming, it comes through hard work. I go in the studio, whether I have something going or not, I go there – I’m very disciplined when it comes to that – and sit around or pace the floors or go through my sketchbook to look back at some ideas. So, a germ of an idea comes forth. Something that I can’t even draw because it’s not formed. It could be a theme, perhaps, an impression, this, that. If it’s going to be a sculpture the process is different than if the piece is going to be a painting, and that I decide early on. The processes are totally different. Am I answering your question?”

[Gracia]: “Yes you are but let’s say, let’s take this painting here behind us. I think this is very aesthetically pleasing, isn’t it? You can’t help looking at it, and so we go, ‘oh, that’s nice’ and so on and so forth. Yet there are all sorts of things going on in it – there are these lines, these ropes coming down, there is this wrapped-up baby – and you are supposed to be the baby – and then the sky with all these clouds. So let’s say that you’re in the process of creating this painting, are you at any moment thinking ‘I want to make this a beautiful object’, or are you thinking ‘I’m trying to develop this particular idea’? Or you are not actually paying any attention to any one of those things and you’re just working at it and things intuitively come through?”

[Brito]: “The beautiful object part doesn’t come through. It’s trying to solidify, to give form to a feeling more so than anything else. And how do you substitute, or what type of imagery do you use in order to make this feeling visual? That’s the challenge. So if you’re dealing with entrapment, not only physical but especially emotional, how do you deal with it in a form? This baby, obviously cannot move around very much, even though wrapping it had some use at the time for certain reasons – it still does and it’s meant to be good for the baby. I’m looking at the irony of how it is good for the baby. I’m dealing with the idea, thinking about the idea, playing around with thoughts. As far as the piece, this particular piece was meant for a sculptural piece, an environment, but it didn’t quite fit the piece visually. So as I was painting it, I left this area of it dark. So I just daydream sometimes. You look at something and start thinking – it is like players in the theatre, or positioning players in a stage – and I start.”

[Gracia]: “Well, I think that's it.”

[Bosch]: “…we’ve wrung you dry!”

[Gracia]: “…this is extreme.”

[Brito]: “No, your questions are way infinitely more interesting than my answers!”

[Bosch]: Now let’s go to the studio and look at what you are woking on.”

Now in the studio.

[Bosch]: “…this is your new work! Could you tell us about how this started, what it is, its theme is? We can see that it’s obviously Goya, Los Caprichos.”

[Brito]: “It actually started when I discovered this new material that I’ve been working with which is phenomenal. Clay is a wonderful medium and I would never ever, contradict that, but this material has certain advantages that clay does not have. For example, it doesn’t dry until you fire it. So first I discovered the material. Second I began to work with it making small figures, intended for a piece that I had completed. And the more I worked with it the more I got to know it’s pros and cons. I was able to achieve a degree of detail that I was really enjoying. For a while I was working with pieces that were very clay-like, with the exception of the heads of the persons which were very detailed, so the contrast really interested me. That led me to a number of pieces including this new group based on Los Caprichos. I’m just enjoying working with them tremendously.”

[Bosch]: “How are you hoping to display them? What is your ideal installation for showing them?”

[Brito]: “I’ve been thinking about that for quite a while and these are eventually going to be displayed with a very minimal base which will consist of a small platform close to the floor; a rod sticking up from that platform; and a surface on which these pieces are going to be sitting, which won’t be visible. In essence, they’ll look like they’re floating in space in a very controlled environment in terms of lighting so as to add to the drama.”

[Bosch]: “What was the emotional catalyst, what was the impetus, for doing this series? What were you hoping to achieve in terms of the effect on people who come and look at it? What were your feelings when you started working on them? What were you hoping people would walk away with?”

[Brito]: “For quite a while I’ve been dealing with pieces that have to do with the not-so-pleasant side of human nature, the dark side of human nature. In the past I based those pieces on experiences I had and things that I had learned. Then looking at the ugly side of other human beings. So when I started looking through Los Caprichos and started reading about Goya and specifically about Los Caprichos I realized that Goya is very contemporary. And then again, that’s basically what I base my work on, the premise that we’re human beings and no matter whether it’s the seventeenth century or the twenty-first century, we’re all made up of the same stuff and unfortunately there’s a dark side to all of us – and in some darker than in others.”

[Bosch]: “So you are hoping, like Goya, that once somebody’s confronted with the dark side in a visual concrete form, she might say, ‘let’s run away from that! Move towards the light.’”

[Brito]: “Well, hopefully not. I was once as a student asked to describe the work ‘beauty’. But beauty is many things, and to me it’s not necessarily ‘the pretty’.”

[Bosch]: “Because these are beautiful, there’s no question. They have a strength and it is the dark side of beauty. The kinds of things you see in your nightmares but at the same time they are so fascinating that you can’t look away so they’re really gripping and they do indeed show us the less than ideal – but you’ve worked with that for a long time. Thank you.”


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