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ArtBeat: Transported to Cuba through ‘photo-mosaics’

  • Northampton artist Mark Guglielmo stands in front of one of his large photo mosaics at A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton. The 5- by 15-foot pieces are made from hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individual 4- by 6- inch photos. FOR THE RECORDER/Trish Crapo

  • Mark Guglielmo’s photo-mosaic, “El Pintor Lincoln Camué (The Painter Lincoln Camué), Santiago de Cuba,” consists of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individual 4- by 6-inch photos. Contributed photo/Mark Guglielmo



For The Recorder
Wednesday, June 07, 2017

If you’re walking down Main Street in Northampton and look in through the large windows of A.P.E. (Available Potential Enterprises, Ltd.) Gallery, you’ll see a huge, graphic image of Che Guevara — the Argentine Marxist revolutionary who helped Raúl and Fidel Castro overthrow the U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. It’s an iconic and heroic image: The charismatic leader, face lifted slightly, is staring off into the middle distance, wearing the beret that some school children in Cuba still wear to honor him.

But come inside the gallery, step closer and you’ll see that the entire image is made of 4x6 photographs, some of them clipped into smaller shapes, and some drawn on with Sharpie marker. The almost floor to ceiling portrait is the work of Mark Guglielmo of Northampton and is part of his show, “Cuba in Transition: Narrative and Perspective,” at A.P.E. through June 25.

An artist’s reception will be held in conjunction with Arts Night Out on Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. And two additional events are planned: “Narratives and Perspectives from the Cuban Diaspora (A Bilingual Conversation),” Saturday, June 17 at 2 p.m., and “Artist & Curator Talk” with Guglielmo and curator Waleska Santiago-Centeno on Thursday, June 22 at 6 p.m.

Guglielmo, who has also worked as a rapper and hip-hop producer, has had his work featured in Rolling Stone, Huffington Post and Spin. He likes to call the artworks displayed at A.P.E. “photo-mosaics,” which seems apt, given the way the myriad images add up to a larger whole. The roughly 5 by 15 foot panels are made from hundreds, sometimes thousands of individual photos taped from the back with archival tape.

Guglielmo walks with me through the gallery to examine the works, stopping at one entitled, “El Pintor Lincoln Camué (The Painter Lincoln Camué), Santiago de Cuba.” Picking up on the artist’s logo near the doorway, Guglielmo fashioned the landscape of cement buildings and streets to resemble a big eye, with the ironwork railings as eyelashes and a large darker area above for a brow.

Though it’s obvious that it is made of many individual still photos, the overall mosaic exudes an uncanny sense of movement. It’s as if the individual images are stop-action video clips. The shifting perspectives and varying darks and lights help to create the feel of a bustling street. Guglielmo shoots with a small digital camera or his phone, preferring not to carry large equipment. He’ll shoot a scene from seven or eight different angles, accumulating hundreds of shots, but never takes an overall reference photo.

“Everybody asks me that,” Guglielmo says, “But I don’t do reference shots and the reason I don’t is that it would ruin my ability to go off the map.”

For my husband and I, these works portrayed the feeling of being in Cuba more than anything else we’ve seen. When you’re in Cuba, especially in a packed city like Santiago de Cuba or Havana, there’s almost too much to look at. Buildings appear to be on the brink of falling down (in fact, on average three buildings a day collapse in Havana), rounded 1950s cars drive by among the square-bodied Russian Ladas, vendors peddle fruit, street food and souvenirs. People sit out on their stoops or lean from their balconies to talk to one another. Guglielmo’s mosaics capture that.

And you can wander through the gallery with one of three iPods packed with interviews and field recordings of music and other ambient sounds made on his three separate trips to Cuba that reinforce that vibrant sense of life. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, the recordings provide a compelling soundtrack for the mosaics.

Guglielmo says he met Camué by chance as he walked through the city of Santigo de Cuba. Spotting some paintings in a shop window not far from the historic square where Fidel Castro delivered his first victory speech, Guglielmo poked his head into what turned out to be Camué’s studio.

“He was very warm. He welcomed me in,” Guglielmo says. Guglielmo compared the warmth of the Cuban people to his extended Italian family.

“I’m always impressed with how gracious people are down there,” he said, “given how hard their lives are.”

At a little table inside this studio, Camué was making portraits of Afro-Cuban Santiago people from his imagination, applying paint thickly with a palette knife. Guglielmo told Camué about his project and the older man agreed to be photographed and interviewed. Guglielmo later sent me an English translation of Camué’s interview.

Asked what he thinks of the changing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Camué replies that Cuba has always had good relationships with “all the other countries in the world” except for the United States. He blames the hardening of the U.S. relationship on Eisenhower, who in 1964, “denied us all the benefits and all the things that the people of Cuba had acquired through the years.”

“People should be united,” Camué continues. “We should not be separate.”

The U.S. embargo “affected us a great deal and hurt us a great deal,” Camué says.

He ends by noting that, “They have not been the ones to make peace with us, they, who are the big ones, the imperialists.”

Guglielmo will be taking his work to Cuba in November and exhibiting in a dual show with Camué. Their show, “Cuba en Transicíon: Narrativa y Perspectiva,” will show at galleries in the cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Cuba.

A.P.E. Ltd. Gallery is at 126 Main Street, Northampton. To learn more, call 413-586-5553 or visit: www. apearts.org. The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., Friday, noon to 8 pm. and is closed Monday.

See more of Guglielmo’s work online at https://markguglielmo.com.