International Caribbean Art Fair (ICAFair)

Cuban Artist Jose Acosta on Family, Art and Inspiration

By Marina Vatav

Posted: November 3, 2009

Jose Acosta

Jose Acosta,Untitled Courtesy: The Artist

Jose Acosta photo"I had to decide whether I wanted to create art or I wanted my family to have the finer things in life"


I’m a Cuban American. I spent my summers in Florida where you can see the tropical colors and the palm trees. I like bright colors, and I can relate to them because I’m from a Caribbean island.


When I was a student at the Art Students League in New York, I participated in a class show. My paintings were already different. They were a lot more colorful and brighter than everyone else’s. I also wanted a different, contemporary frame for my works.


I chose to create my own frames because I am an engineer. I have a friend who makes custom eight feet lengths of 1/8 inches galvanize angle that I cut and weld into my frames, then sand and polish them.


When people come into the room, they see the frame and they recognize my paintings from far away and know that they are mine because of the frame.


I’m an inspirational painter. When I feel inspired, I go ahead and paint something. I paint the experiences that I’m going through in life, whether it’s places that I’ve seen, things that I’m thinking about, or moods that I’m going through. Or they may be things that I see people strive for to raise their standards of living.


I left Cuba at a very young age. I was three years old. My father had to struggle very hard to get us out of that country because of the communist government. He didn’t like the communist government, so he took us out in order for us to have a better education and higher chances of success in life.


I still have family in Cuba. We communicate through letters and phone calls. They send me pictures, and I send them pictures and things that are going on with my art. I have friends that go to Cuba and they videotape different things and places for me. They bring it back so that I can see a part of Cuba.


I’ve never been back since I left, because I respect my father and the struggles he endured to take us out of Cuba. I will not go back until Cuba is free of communism. But I am very close to Cuba and I always have Cuba in my heart.


I do collect paintings.


I try to collect from artists that I know, because I want to have something of theirs to remember them by. I like to buy just the pieces that I really fall in love with. But sometimes it takes me a long time to buy them because they are very expensive.


Artists who influenced me were John Hultberg, my teacher, and Robert Graham, a sculptor. They both passed away last year. I consider John an idol because he was such a great teacher. He helped me to improve my techniques, but he did not impose any one style on me.


My friends would look at my art and say “My God, I've never seen anything like that." It’s different not because I want it to be different, but because that’s how I express myself.


I sold my first painting back in 1986. It wasn’t actually a painting. I was doing fabric art. Someone called me from Lancôme and I ended up selling a lot of things to Lancôme in New York City for their corporate headquarters. After that, I was busy with life.


Back then I was 20 years old. I had just gotten married and I had to decide whether I wanted to create art, or I wanted my family to have the finer things in life. I was the Chief Engineer at the Roger Williams Hotel in New York City. I also started my own painting company and painted the interiors and exteriors of homes. I had decided that I wanted to make money. That I wanted to have good things: a big house, a few cars, and kids. That’s why I didn’t go and do art at that point. I didn’t want to be an artist and be worried about whether I was going to afford the necessary materials to create. That’s why I didn’t follow or create art. Because at that point, I didn’t think that you could even have a career or make money as an artist. I just thought that people create art, they die, and hundreds of years later they become famous. I thought then that it was not what I wanted.


At the beginning I was very energetic and I wanted a lot of things. By the time I was 24, I already had a house, four cars, my two kids, and a dog. I had a very happy life and I believed in providing for my family.


As an artist, I didn’t want to go through financial hardships neither. When you want to create, you want to create what comes from inside. You never want somebody else telling you, “make this for me or make that for me." It was important to have the financial freedom to create what I wanted.


I was the Chief Engineer of many New York City hotels. In 2000, I worked on the Hudson Hotel and I got to work with Philippe Stark, who is a famous designer. I got to work with Francesco Clemente who is a world famous artist. It was great to work with these marvelous people. They are geniuses in the art world. It was very inspiring.


In 2003, I went back to the Art Students League to take some art classes and I decided to start painting again. And from there it kept going.


Art is very strong. It’s like poetry and literature, and you can have a very strong feeling from it. It can give you inspiration to go forward. When I sit down in front of a painting, I have fun. The hours go by so quickly and it’s like a gift for me.


When I create my paintings, I want them to exude joy or a joyous moment, to give people some energy. Sometimes in life you need that as you are going through it.


Once the paintings are created, they take on their own lives. They go to exhibitions and then to different people. I just enjoy creating them, which is the most important thing for me. It has always been about that.


I have a few religious paintings that I’ve painted way before 2003, probably in the ‘80s. They are in my room. Those I would never sell. They have religious values for me. Family, religion, and enjoyment are very important in my life..


I am religious. I believe in God. Sometimes you would see an eye, like an eye of God in my paintings. Or you would see angels. I put these types of religious elements in my paintings. My older pieces have the cross of Jesus. Those I would not do anymore, because they are very personal and are only for myself.


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