Cuban born artist Raul Speek, has lived in Wales for twenty years, it is very clear when looking at his pieces, that it is heavily influenced by the landscapes of both countries, the subliminality in his work creates a unique experience for the onlooker and engages with the senses.
I was lucky enough to be given the chance to discuss Raul’s work with him recently at his Solva based studio. As soon as you enter the studio, it screams creativity, as opposed to the overly immaculate environment of most artists studios, Raul’s seems to be far more relaxed and natural, allowing for a far more intimate consideration of his work, while being guided by his own music, serving as his works soundtrack.
One of the first things Raul discussed with me is that he sees art as a form of universal education linking with the teaching methods of universal thinking, a form of education beyond the influences of political opinion and a focus upon aspects of life that are more universal, such as a focus upon nature and the earth. Education appears to be a subject close to Raul’s heart, it appears that this is due to his upbringing in a communist society, where by education plays a key role in the political moulding of the young. Raul discussed the importance of everyone in a communist society contributing to one persons education and the privilege and power education offers as a result, providing the example of Cuban male ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, “He is the best because of his education and because of everyone in his life that helped him to become the best”. He emphasised that our achievements are not just our own, but of our families, friends and teachers.
He proceeded to discuss the importance for self expression and sharing your own experiences and knowledge with the world, and the merits of being able to express your own views and experiences of the world, as he feels that the boundaries set up in society that separate us from one another such as race, class and gender are irrelevant to our experience of life, he feels that art serves a a medium to break down these boundaries and share our universal experiences of our humanity at a basic and natural level, beyond the restrictions of modern life that prevent us from appreciating the world at its most simplified form.
This idea takes art beyond the boundaries of language and emphasises the importance of communicating ideas visually, by evoking subliminal experiences though the titillation of the senses and emotions through textures, colours and shapes, “You have to be able to express yourself… reality is full of magic .. it is important to understand culture to understand each other as we are all the same and part of the same species – painting is part of our humanity, it is ours and can’t be commodified”. He explained that his interest in “world work” and in appreciating and understanding one another’s views stems from the irrationality he witnessed in Cuba during the cold war.
I noted that the art displayed in the studio upon my visit was far colder, more sensual and less vibrant than previous visits, Raul explained that current work he is producing is inspired by the season of Wales and its colder atmosphere to that of Cuba which had served as an inspiration for so much of his previous pieces. Raul clearly uses his surroundings as key influences in his work and that is articulated through the contrasting use of sensuality between his Cuban and Welsh inspired pieces, “We are conditioned by where we are raised, making our experiences of the world personal, for example I am fascinated with the drastic differences in seasons here in Wales, it is something I had never experienced home in Cuba”. His pieces inspired by the Welsh winter, evoke very different responses to those in his Cuban pieces, the use of different colours and very different textures suggest a whole different experience of terrain, sight and touch.
What I love most about Raul’s work is this differing in themes and ideas. He does not tie himself to one particular genre or style, and experiments with different emotions and ideas. He points out that it is important for artists not to tie themselves into one method of thinking and working and the importance of exploring your own experiences “If I have an idea I go ahead and do it”. His work explores so many different aspects of life, ranging from sexuality, to humanity or from nature to religion, Raul emphasises the importance of appreciating every facet of the world equally in the ways that they shape our thoughts and experiences “A sunflower can have more power than politics, and the human brain is more powerful than any machine”.
Finally, Raul discussed the importance of the roles of arts in modern society, much like his music, his art is about the empowering ability to articulate ideas and emotions in a form that can be appreciated and understood universally – linking back with the idea that he sees art as a means of future thinking, “It is especially empowering and liberating in modern society to be able to take an idea from your head and express it with your own hands instead of through a machine. However, art should be a coherent way of projecting what you want to say – if someone doesn’t understand the message of my work, then I have failed as an artist”.