News »

Nelson Domínguez Cedeño: “I transmit everything I feel with the brush or my hands”

nelson-dominguez-1-580x330Nelson Domínguez Cedeño conceives of art as a way of existing. Perhaps, a way of thinking for those who believe in their magic or those who perform it through the brush, the voice, the hands or the body. “I have no idea what I would be if I weren’t a painter. I would die then to be one, because I am passionate about it and without that nothing exists”.

The artist considers himself an observant man. In fact, a painter starts from how he sees his reality and then projects it on paper. “I have many ways to work. Sometimes I start by staining the canvas in white ─which everyone is afraid of. Other times, I draw what I want to do in a sketch and go live, or I mix the two ways of working”.

His mind is full of ideas and from there he selects the topics that interest him. The creative process that he follows is as simple, or as complex, as seeing the reflection of a dog drinking water and taking that image to a painting, or photographing snapshots with his phone that catch his attention and then have them as materials to work with. “I am always with my eyes open, attentive to what surrounds me and to the provocations of the morphology, the forms and the suggestions that the landscape gives you”.

How do you react when all eyes are on you?

“I’m scared of it. If I’m at a conference I get nervous because I imagine what the audience thinks of the nonsense I’m saying. My method is to focus on a person and think that I am having a conversation with them.”

And when nobody looks at it? What is Nelson Dominguez like?

“I am a happy man. Calm. I smoke a cigar while I think about my work or girlfriends”.

-How do other people define it?

“That answer can only be given by someone else.”

-How do you define yourself?

“I like puns and talking to people. I abhor closed and bitter faces. There are times when people get bitter for no reason and are predisposed with life and happiness. Bad character is one of the reasons why a man can last less.


-Master, why art?

“By chance. When we are children we are encouraged by many things. He studied at the Camilo Cienfuegos School City, in El Caney de las Mercedes in the Bartolomé Masó municipality of Granma. They invited me to a workshop where they stood up and recorded things. He was about 12 or 13 years old. My friends and I got excited and became the painters of the school, the first after January 1, 1959. I am student 126 of the Revolution”.

-How do you remember your childhood?

“Family life outside the city is simple: work in the fields, eat, sleep and the next day the same routine. As a child I was always very observant. I can now mentally walk, piece by piece, my father’s estate. They are memories that remain in your imaginary archive and that feed you without realizing it.

“I was born on a farm between Los Negros and Matías, in Baire, Santiago de Cuba. My mind is deeply rooted in those places where I traveled through my childhood and adolescence. Once, when I was fourteen years old, I went with my father and he told me: ‘look, you were born on that little piece of land’. I have a project called Rural Galleries, I did an exhibition in the Escambray and the other I will do in that place, on my grandparents’ farm.

“I cannot deny that growing up in that place has influenced my way of conceiving art. In the first moment of my work there is a lot of relationship with the field. The departure was always that, and from time to time a peasant appears in some canvas”.

-What does Cuba mean?

“The fundamental reason for being Cuban is the attachment to the land where you were born. That of your parents, your brothers. All that is Cuba. There are many countries where you can live, but always, I don’t know why, you long for this land. I have never thought of settling outside this country, under any circumstances. Being a foreigner hurts a lot.

-What is the decision or project you have taken that you feel most proud of?

“I have many projects: Gallery Hospitals, Rural Galleries, Skinny Pocket. I take them little by little and along the way I involve many people. I’m always up to something. I would say the saying: ‘when I am not in prison they are looking for me’”.

-What is the biggest mistake you have made?

“Falling too much and, above all, without being reciprocated. The best thing is that there is reciprocity, and that is valid for many things in life. I overreach. Sometimes I have no brakes with passions and that has affected me a lot. I advance like this, making mistakes”.

Nelson Domínguez says that the Camilo Cienfuegos School City was a kind of “laboratory” for Fidel to later found the schools in the countryside. “At the beginning of the Revolution, an internationalist brigade from various parts of Latin America came to Cuba. There was a Chilean, an art and trade graduate, who taught us many things about ceramics in the circle of interest workshops, such as preparing a cloth.”

The artist remembers that in that center there was a director, Isidoro Gómez Palacios, who was his tutor and saw something in him. “I had forty options to continue my studies and it was that teacher who told me to forget about all the other possibilities because I was going to take the tests to enter the National School of Art.”

He took the exam and with a lot of work he passed. The first three years were very difficult for Nelson Domínguez, to the point of almost dropping out of school due to poor performance. “He had no training as a painter unlike a group of students who were graduates of art schools and provincial schools. I worked hard and improved in the second year. In the third and fourth I matched up. In the fifth year, together with Pedro Pablo Oliva and Flora Fong, we were the first records of the group”.

After graduating from the ENA, the outstanding Cuban painter Antonia Eiriz chooses him to be her assistant to her. “That has been the greatest of my joys. During that year I learned a lot, teachings that I still use”.

What would you like to do that you’re not doing right now?

“Hear a concert that I like. An operates. Music attracts me a lot. I was going to study it but I left it because of the solfeggio. He was bad with numbers. Once I asked Leo Brouwer why I never understood that subject and he told me that music is pure mathematics”.

-What is your biggest flaw?

“Trust. My family says that I think everyone is good, but in the end that is not a defect. The mistake would be to believe that people are bad. All people have their truths.”

-And virtue?

“Falling in love with beautiful things, believing in people and their good intentions. I also highly value altruism and solidarity.”


-What did his time at the National School of Art mean?

“It was the school that placed me. Also, at a certain age you see art differently. Later I was a professor at that center and together with Luis Miguel Valdés, we made all the study plans of the University of the Arts”.

-And the magisterium?

“I stand in front of a student and start from those times in which I was taught and how important the load of responsibility that a teacher has with a student was for me, although I became aware of it in its full dimension when I practiced teaching .

“I was a professor at the ENA with a teaching system based on the Renaissance where the student chose his professor in some way. I had about 12 students. He worked that day alone with a student. He was teaching her today and I didn’t see him again for 15 days. He went to the national library and brought him boxes of books related to his line of creation of him. Once Arturo Montoto said that he painted as Nelson Domínguez had taught him. I felt proud.”

-What are his characteristics of him as a plastic artist?

“I always take a lot of risks. I am not afraid, nor do I settle for success. Even if a painting has a very nice part and I realize that another part is wrong and that is why it has to be removed, I do it. I work from doubt. I am always doubting myself and my work. That has done me good.”

-Is there any point in common in his works of him?

“Although the themes are different, in the work of a painter there are always points in common. For example, Picasso had seven or eight themes and then he took them down different paths. I think that artists don’t have so many topics to deal with, but it has to do with sensitivity. For example, everyday life is something that really catches my attention.”

-What do you prefer to do in your free time?

“I really like gardening, but I’m more passionate about cooking. My detractors say that I am a better cook than a painter. I also write, but for myself. Abel Prieto affirms that I should take literature seriously, but the jealousy I have for the visual arts prevents me from doing so. I can betray everything except painting.”

-What has been your biggest dream?

“Having a nice big house in the country. I recently bought a farm by Nicho de Cienfuegos and I am dreaming of that project. I think that at the end of my life I will live in the country.”

-Any secret that you have not shared in a previous interview?

“Life is full of secrets and they have to be kept secret to be secrets.”

Nelson Domínguez Cedeño defends the thesis that the paintings are not famous or become important because of the topics they deal with, but because of how they are made and the intention that their creator wanted to give them. If you ask about his work, he says that he does not keep track of the exhibitions he has done. “Perhaps we have to tell what I have not yet achieved.”

One of his favorite shows was “Self-Portrait”, when he won the National Prize for Plastic Arts. “I had the right to do it in Fine Arts, but since I had exhibited twice in that place, I decided that it would be in the Pabellón Cuba. Later Lázaro Expósito took the exhibition to Santiago de Cuba, from there to Baracoa and ended up touring the entire country, except for the Isle of Youth”.

Precisely, he feels fulfilled as a plastic artist when he gets his works to be seen by as many people as possible. “‘My friend Alicia’ is an exhibition that has given me many pleasures. Now I will take it to Mayabeque, then to Matanzas, Pinar del Río and it will end on the Island. I like that my creations travel throughout Cuba.”

If you ask him what he prefers between painting, sculpture, engraving or ceramics, he assures that the emotion of each medium is what is important. “I try to respect the parameters of the procedures.”

-What are you scared of?

“To the dentist or to get sick, although I know that the day he dies it will be from a bump. Sometimes I fear losing myself in the desire to have money. I feel like a rich man, although I don’t know if he really is, because material possessions are not what make people rich. True fortune is having a little of what you need. No accumulation.

“For example, I really like antique furniture and I’m not an antique dealer. If I see one that I like, I invent how to find money to buy it. That is one of my passions. Look—smile—I just told you a secret.”

-If a new person came into his life, what can he do to get to know him better?


-If everything disappeared and you could rescue only one thing, what would it be?

“I would be selfish and rescue the most loved one at that moment. At Armageddon it makes no sense to save brushes or paintings.

-If you could start from scratch, what would you change?

“The furniture of my house”.


-How is Cuban identity manifested in the work of Nelson Domínguez?

“That Cuban identity is a cliché, just like folklore. To the extent that one reflects the environment ─in black or white, lines or stripes ─ the Cubanness is present. From the moment I am Cuban and I paint in Cuba. It is not the subject that says that, but the final results. I never look for those things. If it appears or is seen by the critics who are the ones who pay attention to those details, then fine.

“I paint for myself and transmit with the brush or my hands what I have inside. Of course, I do many topics related to culture, religious syncretism or others with a load of magic that are a vox populi of society”.

-What are the main paradigms of him within the plastic arts?

“I have admiration for the Cuban school of painting. That work with very strong popular and social roots: Carlos Enríquez, Eduardo Abela, Jorge Arche, Amelia Peláez, Mariano Rodríguez, Martínez Pedro, Mirta Serra, Wilfredo Lam.

“In my works there is always something of them because I have studied them and I don’t believe in the supposed originality. The origin of art is art itself. You always have to know who came before you to see what you’re going to do.”

-And your favorite aesthetic trend?

“I’m not interested in currents. You have to be careful not to fall into isms. They are limits for a painter and there are many who are slaves to the fame they have achieved and do not leave a single method. So, you fall in love with your work and that is another serious mistake for an artist”.

-If you make a panorama of his life, are you satisfied?

“Nope. Satisfaction is something that man never gets to know because the trajectory of a person is so short that he does not have much time to analyze what he has done. Someone said that the trees prevent seeing the forest and that happens a lot to human beings”.

-What advice would you give to the version of him from 20 years ago?

“That I paint more, although deep down I feel satisfied with what I have achieved. Each person has their own limits, but I think there are still more surprises to come in my career as an artist.”

-What are his principles and sacred values?

“Loyalty, and not so much that of a couple but towards another human being. Friendship. Sometimes I have two cigars and I take one to an old man who lives up there because I know he will never have the chance to smoke a cigar of that quality. When you share what he has, he feels happier”.

What is it that you would die for?

“I would do it defending my country and that is not a slogan, but a reality. Saving another person. I think I might as well die of laughter.”

The renowned artist does not believe that there is a before and after in his career: “A before is now that I am alive and an after when I am not. I keep going. What I do do sometimes is go back so as not to leave without doing things that interest me. There was a time when my painting went a lot towards the figurative, so I revised and took things up again. Now I am in a period in which I reconcile with the procedures, techniques and ways of doing things that I have used before. Basically what I intend to do is a painting without much complexity. Sometimes the simple is the most difficult because it requires conclusions. The elementary is made of complex things.”

For Nelson Domínguez, learning to paint is the greatest success he has ever had in his life. “Work with joy. Know all the techniques. Perhaps success is going down the street and people recognize you and greet you, but that is social success”.

Along these same lines, he says that the awards depend on a jury. “They are not symbols of stability for anyone. It is a vision of a group of people about your work”.

When he paints, engraves, draws or molds a piece, he feels that he has no way to go. “You start a work and you don’t know how it can end. It is also a pleasure to see a finished painting that you like. But also, you see problems that you cannot solve.”

Nelson Domínguez firmly believes that art is his way of breathing, of living, of thinking, of loving. A communication media. “Sometimes I’m a little selfish and I put my work above everything else, because I think that’s the only way to get where you want to go. I also haggle a lot, for example, I want to learn computers and I don’t do it because I think about the time I won’t dedicate to painting. Is incredible”.

This job has removed the bad habit of wasting time and has given him the pleasure of doing what he wants and loving what he wants through his work or that of other artists.

Have you ever thought about taking a gap year?

“Nope. I can’t stand a day off. I am very attached to my work. It’s a beautiful disease.”

-If you could choose one way to die or one you don’t want to, what would they be?

“Drowning is horrible. I would very much like that necessary death to come when I am making love.”

-How would you like to be remembered when you are gone?

“Like a happy person. A deluded man who thought that he was going to live longer than he was given”.

-A word that defines your life…


-What do you think is his greatest legacy to Cuban culture?

“First you have to be aware of whether you have achieved a legacy or not. I work to leave things for others. For Cuba. That is my satisfaction.”

(By: Thalia Fuentes Puebla/Cubadebate)

Make a comment

Your email address will not be published. The mandatory fields are marked. *