LIFESTYLE March 20th, 2016
Cuba trip helps drive Newbury Park artist’s love of cars and architecture
photos by JUAN CARLO/THE STAR Anette Power paints inside her studio in Newbury Park. She recently went on a painting trip with a group of artists to Cuba. The aim of the trip was to record what Cuba looks like now, before it is filled with franchise food outlets.
Posted: Yesterday 3:00 p.m.
By Nicole D’Amore, Special to The Star
Oil painter Anette Power loves color and painting classic automobiles, so she jumped at an opportunity to paint in Cuba for a week.
"I think it's just in the last year or so I became aware of Cuba as a dream destination for me as a painter," Power said, relaxing in her Newbury Park studio. "I love classical cars and I'm drawn to architecture."
But she knew it wouldn't be as simple as booking a flight since the travel restrictions have eased some but not completely.
According to Reuters, American visits to Cuba increased 77 percent in 2015, after the U.S.-Cuban agreement announced by President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014. Obama has loosened travel restrictions and some trade barriers, but only Congress can lift the U.S. embargo and its ban on tourism, which has been in place since the early 1960s.
In November Power heard about a painting trip to Cuba planned by Eric Rhoads, publisher of PleinAir magazine.
"I thought OMG, this is a dream come true," Power said. "He was taking 100 painters to Cuba. We were actually going to paint on location."
Rhoads organizes events called "Publisher's Invitational," for artists to join him on painting trips.
In an email interview, Rhoads said this was the largest group of painters to ever visit Cuba.
"When Cuba opens to American tourists it will change significantly and I wanted to take top artists to see it and preserve it in paint for historical purposes," Rhoads said. "It will end up with a Starbucks and McDonalds on every corner and right now it's very simple, very naive, very much in disrepair."
Power booked the trip, right after she got back from visiting her family in Sweden.
"I'm so grateful to my husband Jon (a marriage and family therapist) for manning the house and kids," Power said. They have two sons, ages 10 and 6.
Logistics for the trip were handled by Philip Levine, president of 1WorldArtTravel in New York City.
The artists stayed at Hotel Palco, outside Havana. There were three buses with guides that took them to different painting sites.
"We all had the same itinerary, just did it on different days," Power said.
They spent several days in Havana, saw a sugar plantation one day and the fishing village of Cojimar, the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's novel, "The Old Man and the Sea." They also visited Jaimanitas where artist Jose Rodriguez Fuster covered a whole neighborhood with mosaic, using earnings from selling his art.
Most exciting was being able to paint on location, Power said.
"I was drawn to the architecture, a fascinating mishmash of different international styles: art deco, art nouveau, influences of Spain, Italy, Roman, Greek, colonial times," she said. "It's all covered with years of soot. … As artists we are always looking for kind of the grit because it shows the hand of time, and there was plenty of that." Some parts of Havana almost looked like Roman ruins, she added.
"It is a paradise for painters because of all the colors," she said. "It's a place of contradictions because there is beauty but you are also aware of the struggle. I could sense the isolation of people living there … time has stood still."
The trip made her feel a connection to her grandparents, although they grew up in Finland.
"It was as if I was visiting the world as it might have seemed when they were young in the '50s," she said.
Although her father-in-law is founder of the marketing firm, J.D. Power and Associates, which is known for its car ratings, it was her own father who inspired her love of old cars. He restored them and often took her to car shows.
"We always paint what's close to us," she said. "The old classic cars speak of history and I feel as an artist I want to document their time here."
Most of the old cars in Cuba were taxicabs, she said.
"Some are spotless and shiny and others lovingly held together with spit and screws," she said, adding it was quite an experience to travel in them.
"You have to hold on for dear life. There are no seat belts, a door could easily open (as we experienced) and honking the horn at an intersection to get through or speeding up at the sight of a pedestrian is just par for the course. Every now and then we'd get a whiff of fresh air in between exhaust."
One day she paid a taxicab driver to keep his taxi where she could paint it.
"He and his fellow cabdrivers made sure I had an unobstructed view," she said.
The people were very friendly, she said. "They would come up and be very curious about what we were doing."
People didn't talk about Fidel and Raul Castro by name, but referred to them as "the brothers," she said. But images of Che Guevara were everywhere.
There were no fast food restaurants or familiar stores, she said. "People wait in line for food that might be there one day and not the next." Art supplies were very difficult to find and most of the artists brought some to give away.
Two artists, representatives from Rosemary and Company Artist Brushes in England, donated $5,000 worth of brushes.
An avid blogger and Instagram user, Power had planned to post everything, but found Internet access difficult at best.
"I gave in to the idea I was going to disconnect," she said. "It was eye opening and refreshing to be away from it all and get a little insight into the experiences of people who have been living very secluded."
"Even though I went there for the architecture and the cars and sights," she said, "it was really the people that have stayed with me, just for their grit, determination and friendliness despite difficult circumstances."
Exhibits of the participating artists' paintings are planned in Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Power hopes to find a local venue as well.
She will give a painting demonstration at the Westlake Village Art Guild meeting April 5. For information go to her website: http://anettepower.com
Anette Power recently went on a painting trip with a group of artists to Cuba. "It is a paradise for painters because of all the colors," she said.
Anette Power's paintings of a recent visit to Cuba are shown inside her studio in Newbury Park. She fell in love with the colors, textures and the old vintage cars (1957 Chevrolet, upper left; 1956 Buick, upper right; 1957 Chrysler, lower right).
JUAN CARLO/THE STAR Anette Power, who went on a group painting trip to Cuba, said, "the old classic cars speak of history and I feel as an artist I want to document their time here."
JUAN CARLO/THE STAR Anette Power's paintings of a recent visit to Cuba are shown inside her studio in Newbury Park. Although the architecture and cars were the initial draw for her, the gracious people she met left a lasting impression.