When you look at his paintings, the first thing you notice are the bright colors and the unusual places Alberto chooses to position the incredibly detailed elements on the canvas. Originally from Cuba, he was trained as a sculptor before deciding to get into painting for a very practical reason: foreigners visiting Cuba obviously wouldn’t buy pieces of metal or wood but prefer buying canvases they could simply roll up and take with them.
Although it worked out fine, the change wasn’t easy for the artist. “When you train as a painter, you go through the whole thing, the different styles, techniques…In sculpture, you do a lot of drawing, then you do clay models… but you don’t do a lot of painting. So, I had to start not from zero, but from the basic skills I learned at art school”, explains Alberto.
Even though he claims that he still doesn’t know how to paint, it definitely doesn’t show in his amazing oil on canvas works. One might even say that not having trained as a painter has had quite a positive influence. In fact, it was his ‘lack of knowledge’ and the different perspective he has thanks to his sculpture experience that have created his unique painting style.
“I use a lot of pure bright colors, like blues, reds, and yellows, because I am not that brilliant at mixing them. When people paint landscapes, for example, they can create different ranges of greens or yellows because they have learned how to do it. Whereas me, most of the time, I just use green, a bright green. A painter would probably come and pick a lot of mistakes that I make in terms of putting one color next to another”, says the now painter slightly laughing.
Other than the use of bright colors, it is the 3D effect Alberto creates in his paintings that makes his art different from the work of other painters. But also when it comes to the actual painting process, the former sculptor stands out.
“Most of the time, painters give one layer to the whole canvas to see what the colors are like. I don’t do that. I usually do one thing at a time and bring it almost to finish in every single detail while the rest of the canvas is just blank or just with lines”, Alberto describes his way of painting.
For him, drawing is an essential part of his creation process and he spends a lot of time on it, but not during the day!
“I draw during the night time. It helps me because then I don’t have the pressure to say ‘I have two days for a painting’ and then I spend the whole day drawing. I do it at night because that time doesn’t count for me, like that I can spend two months doing the drawing”, explains the painter who likes taking his time and doesn’t care about perfectionism.
“I don’t do sketches. I just get an idea, I get a picture and then I transfer all that to the canvas. I don’t like using a projector because I am not trying to be hyper-realistic and to make everything look perfect. I like making mistakes.”
In terms of elements and influence, Alberto compares his works to paintings of famous surreal painters like Rene Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico or Salvador Dali, although his style isn’t purely surreal, but rather the product of his personal development as a painter.
“In Cuba, I did a lot of cityscapes like everybody else because they were very popular and very cheap for people to buy over there. I wanted to do something different, so I started putting in all these quirky things, like fish flying in the sky. People liked it and I just continued with the same system. But it was when I came over here that I really started thinking about the single elements and where to put them.”
With his artworks, Alberto always wants to tell a story which often is created around places he has visited himself, as is the case for his painting “Daydream” which shows the Royal Pavilion covered with random elements relating to his own Cuban identity:
“All the elements in that painting are things I brought with me. The idea was to paint something that is very Brighton, but full of Cuba stuff. Everything that is not the pavilion is from my country, I even got my passport there. I tried to put two cultures into one.”
Combining British and Cuban culture also is the theme of “The good-old-days” where he points out the nostalgia most of us feel when looking back on the past, by contrasting memories of his own childhood in Cuba elements of Britain’s past, like elephants symbolizing colonialism in India.
Elephants, flying turtles, flamingoes… What clearly stands out in his works is the presence of animals and the absence of human characters. “I love animals. Animals are like a metaphor for humans and also, I am not really good at painting people” is Alberto’s explanation.
Using animals as a metaphor for humans is an especially important theme in “We are all of this together”. Showing many different animals doing all sorts of activities and rushing around in a metro station, it is a satire of modern day Britain. Having taken the title from a former election campaign, Alberto wants to point towards the absurdity of the concept: “In real life, it is not like this at all, it doesn’t work like that. In real life, some are more privileged than others.”
None of his paintings, neither the personal nor the commissioned ones, are alike. Alberto prefers doing one-offs and taking his time. To finish of his painting, he usually takes one or two months.
Find out more about Alberto’s works on his website.
Photos credited to Alberto Martinez.