Between Land and Sea - an interview with Cuban artist Armando Mariño

One of Cuba’s most well-known contemporary artists, Armando Mariño studied in Havana, now lives and works in New York and exhibits all over the world. Now in London showing his large scale works rooted within the stories of migration that many including Cubans have undertaken - enormous and dangerous journeys made across land and sea – Mariño talks to Latinolife.
Sonia Ciruelo

Mariño’s works are stunning, characterised by his distinctive and highly saturated colour palette - bright oranges, yellows, pinks that are contrast with deep, dark shadows. These new works focus particularly on landscapes of isolated human figures surrounded by palm trees, seas, lakes and mountains, giving works such as The Wanderer and The Sea Walker an appearance reminiscent of a dream or childhood memory which leaves the paintings with a mysterious aura.

Latinolife: Can you tell us where you get your inspiration from?

Armando Mariño: I get inspired by daily life, the news, my surroundings and art and pictures in magazines or on the internet. Everything that catches my attention can be a point of inspiration for a painting. For New Paintings I was strongly influenced by the landscape I live in, The Hudson Valley, New York.

LL: How long does one project take you and what is your artistic process?

AM: It can take me months to put together a body of work. I start by looking at the images I selected for inspiration and I reinvent them by cropping them or extracting details. A large part of my process is manipulating my work digitally. I will then make small works on paper in watercolour or oil, and when I feel that the image is ready to become a painting, I will then start on a big canvas. This can take days or months. The end result is usually very different from the starting point. The original reference is lost. 

Fishing Dreams

LL: How did growing up in Cuba inform you as an artist, how did the country influence you? 

AM: I completed all of my art education in Cuba. For 12 years I learnt from skilled Cuban teachers who taught us to paint, sculpt and draw. My most important lesson from these Cuban artists was the awareness of contemporary art theories and concepts. 

LL: Did you always have the intention of becoming an artist, how did this start?

AM: Ever since I was a child I wanted to be an artist. This was a problem as I was born into a family of scientists. My father was an engineer and my mother a physicist, even my aunts and uncles were doctors. I am the "black sheep" of the family. I have to say my mother did everything possible to keep me away from the artistic path, because I was also very good at science. But I knew I had to follow that path, it was stronger than anything else in me. 

LL: How important is colour in your paintings and which mediums do you work with?

AM: Colour is everything in my paintings. I try to use a very strong, vibrant and intense palette. I work primarily with oil and watercolour. Colour is the most important part of a painting. This is what a painting is about in the first place.

Demon in Blue

LL: Has living outside Cuba influenced your work, if so please tell us about it?

AM: Definitely. Being in contact with the works in museums and galleries outside of Cuba changed the way I understand and see painting. The social climate, the landscape, my mentality - everything has been reshaped since I left my country and I am very happy it has. Leaving Cuba has made grow and shape who I am today. Cuba still has too many limitations caused by many years of the dictatorship. Those limitations affect the artistic mentality too. Freedom is very important in the creativity process.

LL: This is your first solo show at Coates & Scarry at Gallery 8, what inspired it, and can you tell us more about this exhibition?

AM: This is my first solo show in the UK and I am so pleased to be here. The show looks great and Coates and Scarry have done a hell of a job hanging the show. The gallery space is gorgeous. It was difficult for me in the beginning to start working for this show. Selecting the work to display was especially difficult. But the fear disappears and everything came easily after I had completed a couple of paintings. This show is about places and mental states related with those places. It is about me here and me there. The travel, the migration from one country to another, the fear, the anxiety about the unknown or the new. If I have to choose a painting that could explain the entire show I would select The Wanderer. It contains all the answers.

Armando Marino’s work will be at Gallery 8, 8 Duke Street St James's London until Saturday 15 October.