This week marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed from September 15th-October 15th. In celebration, Art for the Soul Gallery in Springfield is opening a new exhibit entitled, “Pop Geometric: The Art of Carlos Mateu.”  

The exhibit opens Saturday September 18th, and features artwork inspired by Mateu’s Afro-Cuban background and his life after moving from Cuba to the United States.  

Mateu, who left Cuba in 1997, joined Zydalis Bauer to share more about his career as both a visual artist and dancer. 

Read the full transcription:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: This week marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed from September 15 to October 15th, and in celebration, Art for the Soul Gallery in Springfield will feature a new exhibit entitled “Pop Geometric: The Art of Carlos Mateu.”

The exhibit opens Saturday, September 18th, and features artwork inspired by Mateu’s Afro-Cuban background and his life in the United States after moving here from Cuba in nineteen ninety seven.

I spoke with Mateu to learn more about his career as a visual artist and dancer.

Carlos Mateu: Many years ago, I was participating at the biennial exhibition of the University of New Groton, Connecticut, and I think that was the beginning, and the gallery started seeing my work.

Then, in the city and then after that, they they they mentioned it to me, “Carlos, we want you to come to Springfield, Massachusetts.” And I’m always open to expand my horizons and to show my work to any type of — any type of community.

And so finally, I have the pleasure to be there and I’m very excited.

Zydalis Bauer: You were born and raised in Cuba, and you moved to the United States in nineteen ninety seven. Your paintings reflect your Afro-Cuban background, as well as your experience of what it’s been like living in the United States.

How are we going to see that come across in this exhibit? And why does your heritage serve as such an inspiration for you?

Carlos Mateu: My first paintings were practically representing like abuse or Havana, like I’m feeling like I was missing my my city. And everything was very traditional, very strong, cultural-oriented in terms of my background.

So, I was working with a gallery of San Juan for the first couple — three years — since my work was very, very tropical, very reflecting all the the nature of Caribbean. And that was the beginning.

Zydalis Bauer: Throughout your life, you have had a combination of formal art studies and completed your art education at the renowned San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts in Havana.

How and when did your interest in art begin, and did you ever imagine that this could result in a profession for you?

Carlos Mateu: Well, the beginning is, I think, that you are born with it. I mean, some people, they choose to be artists, but I didn’t choose to be artist. I was born an artist.

I’m responding to questions about my style, because my style is the combination. When you look at it, it’s not like you plan it. I say, you don’t say, “I’m going to put a little bit of Picasso, a little bit of Van Gogh, and make this cocktail, and it’s going to be my style.” That doesn’t work that way. Maybe for some people, but not for me. Because I did it in a very natural and unconscious way.

And one day, I was at the National Academy, drawing a banana tree with straight lines, and I said I had to keep a relationship between drawing and painting. This is not cubism.

And then I start, because during that period of time, I was strongly influenced by silkscreen, so I ended up bringing the separation of layers of traditional silkscreen. But then I said I had to connect the painting with the drawing. So, all the separation of layers, down to responding to the drawings, and working with straight lines, and all the shapes, with paint, was also with a straight line.

And that was the beginning of what I define — my style is the combination of the experiences that you have in your life.

Zydalis Bauer: In addition to being a visual artist, you are also a professional dancer, having learned how to dance from your grandparents.

How do these two art forms intersect and influence each other for you?

Carlos Mateu: Well, I never thought that I’m going to be on a stage, dancing. That was not my goal. The thing is, you see — I see that I have a talent and it’s as a painter. And I stop saying that I’m a painter, I am saying that I’m an artist, and an artist cover the whole spectrum — covers theater, covers writing, covers many different things and all the things that work together.

And sometimes you have the same concept that I have for painting is the same concept that I have for dancing. The difference is that the body has to respond to what you have in mind and then you have to manage that.

The other thing that I have to say, I used to be very introverted as a painter and in my personality. And then dancing, you cannot be introverte, you have to be extroverted. I mean, as a painter, I just paint. Nobody has to see me. I can put my work in a show and that’s it.

But as a dancer, you have to be out there, and if you are representing your culture, you have to give your 100 percent, And everything inside out. And people have to see that. You cannot stay halfway, you have to show all your feelings and expose everything.

Zydalis Bauer: Although this exhibit is being celebrated in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and embodies your Afro-Cuban heritage, how do you think your art will speak to everybody, regardless of their cultural backgrounds?

Carlos Mateu: Unfolding my background, I mean, that’s the foundation, that’s the foundation. And that’s what let you know who you are and where you come from and where you want to go. I mean, you don’t have a strong foundation. You cannot go anywhere.

So, I have to start from that foundation that I was born in Cuba, that I’m Caribbean, and then I’m Latino, and then an Afro-Cuban. And if I have to define some way, I will define myself as Afro-Cuban. I don’t like to be defined, and I define find myself just as a visual artist.

And then I bring everything together, because I have a universe in my in my mind and you are dreaming and you are flying and you don’t have limitation inside of you.

So, inside of me is everything. I mean, I belong to every culture. I belong to the planet. So, the end of my message is like, “we are all connected.” That’s that’s the end of everything.