Where Did He Learn to Shake It like That?

by flaunt

Lois Lambert Gallery’s “Straight from Cuba” exhibition opens at Bergamot Station this Saturday
You can describe one of Luis Rodríguez NOA’s latest paintings the way you would the city of Havana: an eccentric mosaic of symbols, all reacting together as if in a dream. Both present an intricate landscape that juxtapose light and dark, offering everyday spontaneity and absurdity. NOA sources this city as inspiration, framing it as a personal microcosm within each of his canvases. And hailing from Havana himself, he’s well equipped to do so.

Steps from his studio, he finds the physical versions of symbols he uses in his paintings. The horizon is lined with countless balconies, iron fencing, water tanks, and makeshift construction improvised without permit; it is filled with the din of street vendors, drums, car clamor, rooftops upon which you see dogs, cats, sometimes chickens. NOA registers, recollects, and reproduces his own account of it all.

He does this by first internalizing the elements only to later have them release as a flux of poetry on canvas, mostly unplanned, from reality to vision. It is his natural way of charging familiar objects and scenes with abstract and lyric motifs.

“I like the absurd. The passion, the movement, the chaos—which is something that you could find a lot in Havana.” He is genial, and despite his Cuban accent, effortless in his explanation. “Everything is happening at the same time. Everything is authentic.”

As he shows me his work soon to be installed in the gallery we’re in, shifting unframed pieces around, NOA goes on to explain that the particular poetry and lyricism he embeds into his paintings is often derived from details some might call “not quite nice.” He describes finding these details, “when you’re walking in the street and you think that it’s ordinary, but it’s at the same time, magic. It’s an interpretation of a reality.”

“When I say chaos, I’m not talking about something that I think is wrong. I’m talking about a material from where I can get inspiration: images, symbols, themes for the paintings.”

NOA points me to a particular painting with a standout stick-figure of a man riding a bike, and the chaos is clear. Its design encompasses the essence of what he says he draws from his Cuban culture and city—both in process and final product – the unexpected, the unpredictable. The painting’s title—"La Isla en Movimiento" or "The Island on the Move"—is also the title of his Los Angeles debut.

“Bicycles are very representative, too, of Cuba. But, in this case, it’s symbolic. It’s like I’m in the bike, moving and carrying the whole country with me—the whole city. My own impressions. My own vision of the city—carrying it with me wherever I go.”

Above his stick-figure self, is a floating mass of undefined space—an elaborate collage alive with extemporaneous ink etchings: people, animals, objects, structures, words, numbers, everything. “This vision travels with me in my head.”

NOA’s traveling vision couldn’t have arrived at a more pertinent time. With the recent efforts to reconcile relations between Cuba and the U.S., both the painting itself and its subject matter serve as emblems of cross-cultural progress.

“This is a new age—a new age for Cubans, in general, and for Cuban art. And I expect that it will open a lot of possibilities for Cuban artists.”

La Isla en Movimiento opens as part of Lois Lambert Gallery’s “Straight from Cuba” exhibition, which also features two other Cuban artists making their Los Angeles debut, Alan Manuel Gonzalez and Darwin Estacio Martinez.

The exhibition runs from May 16 through July 11, with the opening reception tomorrow from 6 to 9 p.m. at Lois Lambert Gallery, Bergamot Station, Santa Monica.