Artist Carlos Mateu, who left his native Cuba in 1997, calls his style “pop geometric.”  

Mateu combines aspects of cubism and realism in his paintings, and he draws upon mysticism and the surreal to reflect the Afro Cuban experience in his work.  

He joined Zydalis Bauer to share more about his career as both a visual artist and dancer.  

This segment originally aired on Sept. 17, 2021.

Read the full transcription:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Artist Carlos Mateu, who left his native Cuba in 1997, calls his style pop geometric. He combines aspects of cubism and realism in his paintings, and he draws upon mysticism and the surreal in order to reflect the Afro-Cuban experience in his work.

Mateu joined me to discuss his career as both a visual artist and dancer.

Carlos Mateu, Visual Artist & Dancer: My first paintings they were practically representing, like, the views of 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 the gallery of San Juan for the first couple, three years. Since my work was very, very tropical, reflecting all 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.

And 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. I 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, which is straight lines, and I said, “I have 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 have 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, and that was the beginning of what I defined my — 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 saw that I’m going to be on a stage dancing. That was not my goal.

The thing is, you — you see, then I see that I have a talent and I say, “I’m a painter.” And I stop saying that I’m a painter, I’m saying that I’m an artist and an artist cover the whole spectrum. Cover theater, cover writing, cover many different things, and all these 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 personal — personality, and then dancing, you cannot be introverted. 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 — 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% and take everything inside out. And — and people have to see that.

You cannot stay halfway. You have to show all your feelings and expose everything.

Zydalis Bauer: 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 — is what…let you know who you are and where you come from and where — where to go. I mean, if 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 then, I’m Caribbean, and then I’m Latino, and then I’m Afro Cuban. And if I have to define some way, I will define myself as Afro Cuban. I will — I don’t like to be defined. And I define 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.