Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban Home

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Dear Artist,

In 1954 when Ernest Hemingway learned that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he remarked, “This prize belongs to Cuba, since my works were conceived and created here, with the inhabitants of Cojimar, of which I am a citizen.” Attracted at first by marlin and swordfish, Hemingway fell in love with Cuba and moved here in 1939.

For Hemingway, Cuba meant new scenery, new people and a clean start. From his experiences as an ambulance driver in the First World War, as well as in Spain, Chicago, Toronto, Michigan and Key West, he knew the value of a sense of place. In Cuba, the clatter of yet another language left his mind to form its own.

Here in the grounds of Finca La Vigia we step over a cemetery for his many cats and lay our hands on his trusted boat “Pilar.” In his home of 8000 books, hunting and fishing trophies look down from the walls. Here is the table with the typewriter on which he wrote, The Old Man and the Sea. It’s a story about a Cuban fisherman who hooks into a giant marlin. Over four exhausting days he tries to get the fish alongside his tiny boat. Finally the marlin is attacked, devoured, and reduced to nothing by sharks. The irony is not wasted on creative people. Hemingway saw that life everywhere was fighting for its life. Life was struggle. He saw it here. Right here he finally and truly realized that the main thing, the most important thing, was courage.

As our year rolls around and comes to an end, there seems an opportunity for a new beginning. The first day of the New Year becomes a time for resolution and renewal. We reassess the year just past. We cast an eye to those we might admire. Hemingway inhaled life, adventure, love, laughter and challenge. He was a man of action. “Never mistake motion for action,” he said. Hemingway was to stay on here for twenty productive years. “His aim was to convey vividly and exactly moments of exquisite importance and poignancy.” (Charles Scribner, Jr.)

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Courage is grace under pressure.” (Ernest Hemingway)

Esoterica: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, became the spokesman of the disillusioned “lost generation.” He was the inventor of a hard and terse writing style and no stranger to the creative struggle. “When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea.”

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.

 

Hemingway’s despair
Judith Rael

I’ve always wondered how a man who displayed such courage and joy in life could have come to the despair of suicide. Clinical depression, I suppose, self-medicated with alcohol and before today’s treatments/medications. They say that many creative people, (10% of the general population and higher with creative people) artists/writers, struggle with bi-polar disorder and resist their medications because it is in the sway of their manic flights that they feel most alive and creative; they can’t bear to live without this joy, and yet they pay the heavy price of the other side of the equation, depression.

 

Sadness in suicide
Jim Gola

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Drawing by Jim Gola

It is sad (to me, perhaps not others) that Hemingway could not have fought his final battle to the end instead of pre-empting the final curtain before it fell. Churchill, another great writer, and more importantly, a man, would have done otherwise.

(RG note) A creativity — self worth co-dependency was taking place. When a creative person feels he or she is no longer able to be efficient or produce work that is as good as earlier work the sense of purpose and personal value can be threatened. This type of crisis may also include the loss of health, wealth, wisdom, as well as mate-loss, sex-capability and life-failure issues.

 

School of ideas
Linda Hankin, Welland, Ontario, Canada

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Painting by Linda Hankin

I am a fan of Hemingway, particularly of his bravado. I run a school and gallery called School of Ideas and this is the type of story I tell my students to do research on to use as a metaphor in their work, but through their own experiences. My school is unique because I deal with ideas, that is, what is going on in the mind, especially the right side, the unconscious dream state. I ask my students what are they are obsessed with. What do they keep thinking or looking at. I also ask my students to begin drawing automatically with a white candle or a wax crayon, it could be to music or in silence, it doesn’t matter because the right brain does its own thing. Then I ask the student to paint over the wax with watercolour and then look at the images. “What do you see?” I ask. Then we continue with those images and ideas. I have several lessons whereby I provoke the right brain to be honest. This is why we feel so relaxed after a drawing or painting session, because it gives our left brain a rest.

 

How to be a writer
Sylvia Taylor

There are no membership cards or initiation rites to the writing profession. Anybody with a sheet of paper can do it. You become a writer on the day you say: “I’m a writer.” It doesn’t matter where your income comes from. The work you take joy from is writing. Nobody can tell you how to write, but there are certain things you can do to get to a PLACE where you can write. There are three of them: Write every day. Write every day. Write every day.

 

Joy of painting in Cuba
Carol Lopez

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Painting by Carol Lopez

I went to Cuba with a plan to do lots of painting, and get to know a little about the artists working there. I had no idea how easy and enjoyable it would be to meet the artists, and be invited to share what I do with them. It helped that I spent 3 weeks in one location – Trinidad, a beautiful colonial town. I have never taken any Spanish lessons. I had conversations with many artists, painted with one “naïve” painter, traded materials and ideas, and got lots of ideas for what I would take there when I return. Whenever I set out for a day of painting, I carried my art folder. This identified me as a “pintora” and I would be invited into galleries, workshops, people’s homes, just because they were curious about my work. Sometimes, I would be escorted a block or so away, so I could meet a local artist. Cubans are so friendly and generous, I felt like a star in that little town, and wanted so much to make a difference for them as well.

 

You can do it
Jan Heck

I truly enjoyed your letter about Hemingway. It is so true we can mistake motion for action in our lives and that courage is grace under pressure. I am a procrastinator and it takes a lot for me to pick up my pencil or brush and do something on paper or canvas. I am a beginner at 60 but have always loved the creative side of me but not much into believing I can do it. I look forward to your letters as they are filled with “you can do it” and that it takes practice, practice and some more practice. I came from a home where all I heard was “you can’t do it” and this worked with an iron fist on me. This was not passed onto my children (4) and they use the minds that God gave them but I still feel the iron fist of my father and maybe someday I will by the grace of God do a completed picture that comes from the depths of my heart and being not from a picture or suggested by someone around me.

 

Someone’s out there
Diana Kerswell, UK

I am in my final year at art college in London, England. I’m approaching it as positively as possible and trying not to get swept away with anxiety about the final show and external examiners etc. In the postmodern ironic times of conceptual art, video and performance, it’s been hard to hold on to painting and it is easy to forget about creativity in a daily sense as well as on the grander scale as such topics are rare at college. I look forward to the letters and responses to cheer me up and to remind me that there are others out there painting and thinking.

 

Art and the healing process
Moiya Wright, Ottawa and Meech Lake, Ontario, Canada

This past year has been one of healing for me, after the death of my partner of 23 years, and your letters have contributed greatly to the healing process. I thought that I would lose myself in my painting when Ron died but realize that if one loses oneself — then there is nobody to paint. This, I am sure, will be a better year and your letters over the last one have built a storehouse of creativity just waiting for me to unlock the door. In the meantime I make 5 copies of your letters every week to pass on to older artists who have no computers.

 

Artists helping artists
Bud Liversidge, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Your twice-weekly letters are eagerly received and I thank you for your remarkably well-ordered thoughts and insights. I find it impossible to realize that a person who must obviously use his time judiciously in order to make a living painting can still find time to inform others about daily events, anecdotes and tips written in flawless style, content, and perfect spelling – all without charge. Here in Edmonton, Alberta, we have the offshoot of the Federation of Canadian Artists called the Society of Western Canadian Artists. As an active member since 1991, I have joined others in trying to live up to our motto ‘Artists Helping Artists.’ You are a perfect example. Your efforts, self-sacrifice, and financial outlay to keep your project online are highly appreciated.

 

New slant on giclee prints
Sharri LaPierre, Vancouver, Washington, USA

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Artwork by Sharri LaPierre

This is not a matter which will be resolved easily for one reason: greed. To expect to be paid adequately for your art is, I believe, a fantasy of the highest degree. Maybe when you are eligible for the Art History book, you can expect this – until that time arrives, we must all expect to be underpaid, and to try and make that up at the expense of the unsuspecting public is a travesty. The main problem I see with giclee reproductions is that it generally results in a client not purchasing an original. If it were pointed out to that buyer that while he may not be able to afford an original painting at this time, he can afford an original print. So what if he “likes” that original – I see myriad works I “like,” but I know full well there is no way I can expect to hang any of them on my walls — and if I can’t have the real thing, then I’m not interested! This is an acquired, or learned, aesthetic. Our educational system fails to teach our future consumers that they can’t all expect to own the same item.

As a former President of the Northwest Print Council, and an educator, I do my best to teach the difference between owning a glorified poster and an original print. However, I do believe there are some very good prints being made using the gicleé method. This is not a contradictory statement! The computer can be used as the matrix, and a print can be assembled within the machine and outputted as an orginal print. When the edition has been printed, the matrix within the computer can be deleted just as effectively as a copper plate can be scratched, or a woodblock scored. It all has to do with the mentality, or perception, of the artist. The trick is to keep it from looking too slick and commercial — not an easy feat.

For me, the most satisfactory explanation of the difference between a giclee reproduction and a giclee fine art print, or any original print, is one of the primary work being “intended to exist in multiple.” A painting is meant to exist singularly, therefore there should only be one of it. An original print is meant to exist in multiple, in a limited edition: each is an original. It is as simple as that. And if the greed factor is removed, it is not a difficult path to follow.

 

Group use route to giclee exploration
Bill H. Ritchie Jr., Seattle, WA, USA

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Artwork by Bill H. Ritchie Jr.

Regarding giclee prints, as an artist who has a passion for printmaking in all its variations, my opinion is that giclee occupies a niche all its own which may not be fully known or valued for 15 more years. Like so many of the other printing processes before, it was an average of 20 years from the time of its invention to the time it had “a voice of its own.” What’s more important, I believe, is how well the creative artist, poet, musician, choreographer, etc. learns to perform that “voice” once it is understood by a sufficiently large audience. Until that audience matures, what is the artist to do? I say practice, and do it with an open mind, but open not to the demands of the market only, but also to the inner poet or artist. As with all printmaking processes, community is important, and giclee, due to its high entry cost, invites group or cooperative ventures. Build communities around printmaking procedures, and I think you have the beginnings of a highly effective and beneficial formula. The advantage of giclee is, like hi-fidelity sound recordings, it injects a minimum of inaccuracies into the work of art, also known as “noise.”

 

Scumbled on this one
Jean Bonvini

I met you at the West Vancouver Sketch Club when you once did a demonstration there — I was the one at the end who asked you about scumbling. You said you drag the brush down over your work — but I’m still not sure what you mean! What did you mean?

(RG note) Scumbling is one of the most effective and underused ways to change the tone of an underlying colour. It’s particularly useful if the under-painting is done with a degree of impasto. The brush is dragged over the slubs and bumps and the new color is picked up on the high places. Try using high-key opposites on the color wheel, full strength, dry brush. Standing back, they meld together–up close the effect can be jumpy and yet casual.

 

Me and My Art

 

Peter Howson
Peter Howson, Glasgow, UK

Steven Berkoff

 

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