The hidden answer of a magic sculptor
Some hands can speak, like these that sculpted the memorable Cuban Knight of Paris, the Ernest Hemingway sitting on the bar of El Floridita restaurant of Old Havana, the memorable John Lennon resting on the bench in a park at El Vedado, or the Benny Moré standing at Prado de Cienfuegos. The sculptor José Ramón Villa-Soberón is dedicated to reviving people. He freezes them in time, traps their emotions and returns them made statues, but leaves open their pores to overwhelm us by passing close to them.
It was not a very short conversation, but the hours vanished in seconds while Villa-Soberon was trying to sum up the essence of his life and work. It was one of those interviews with zero notes on the side of the paper. Each answer gave rise to a new question. I stopped listening to him, and started walking among infinite anecdotes.
He was born in Santiago de Cuba, and despite not coming from a family of intellectuals he felt a strong connection with the visual arts. A professor proposed him to apply for studies at the National School of Arts (ENA, in Spanish) and he was accepted, having the privilege of being one of the first to study there. ENA impressed him from the first moment. There he perfected his conception of art and understood its importance.
Sculpting did not reach Villa-Soberon by chance. From the very moment of his entrance to ENA, he knew that this manifestation of the visual arts was going to seduced him. “I got impressed by transforming a material, I found that very attractive from the beginning”. He also was gifted by receiving big defining influences, from architects like Mario Coyula to artists like Antonia Eiriz. “They gave me a vision that the sculptors did not receive in the academy about careful and appreciate the environment in which the sculptures were going to be placed. The site changes the expression. Placing a sculpture is an act of reflection, and thanks to that influences I received I gave importance to that moment.”
He did not really expect such remarkable results from his work after graduated. However, he is very grateful of the sense of belonging that people had established with his works. This is perhaps due to the optimism that characterizes his creative process. He confessed that sometimes he goes away from the initial process, but the sculptural piece transforms into many other more expressive things. “I try that the sculpture does not completely reproduce the character. I create an image for an environment, trying to make the sculpture provocative as well as giving information about that character.” That is why Villa-Soberon does not believe in “bad” pieces of sculpture. “When the sculpture is good and serious, there is something strange that communicates. When the sculpture is good, it almost screams.”
This is just one part of the great set of lessons that Villa-Soberon has tried to convey to his students throughout the work he also develops as a teacher. But one of the most sensitive concepts in his pedagogical intention is to connect his students with a unique sense of nationality. “We the Cubans are an attractive, unusual mix about our vision of reality. There is certain mimicry of foreign influence in a repetitive way, although young Cuban artists always have an inner vision of what happens with Cubans, their society and their culture”.
*My interviewee could not answer my last question.
There are very nice myths associated with some of the sculptures made by him. Many people go in front the statues of John Lennon or the Knight of Paris, as if they were saints. They even talk to the statues, confessing to them sorrows and/or desires. Is it a kind of secret magic hidden behind the hand of the sculptor? Are these sculptures a kind of intermediaries between idols and followers? Villa-Soberon supposed he would avoid my question in an act of modesty. However, this question had its answer even before I asked:
“When the sculpture is good, it almost screams.”