Reimagining Renaissance Art
Through The Eyes Of A Young Cuban Millennial Painter
By Stacy Conde, Director of Conde Contemporary
The first time I met Luis Enrique Toledo del Rio was in Havana when, as promised, he collected me from the airport. Prior to that, our conversations had all taken place via email. His writing was formal, stilted and completely devoid of the witty slang and “chispa” (spark) you might expect from a Habanero, but then, Luis Enrique is from Santa Clara. In his effort to be respectful, I read him as sterile and humorless. I was wrong.
Getting to Know Luis
Standing before me at Jose Marti International Airport was a 26-year-old man-child, beautiful and shaggy haired, with downcast black eyes. He was at once humble, polite and gracious. Everything about his demeanor belied the fact that I was observing a modern master. As we became familiar with each other over the course of the next few days, the magic inherent in his work came brilliantly to light in his persona.
We walked through the streets of Havana laughing and playing games. We found faces in chipped paint on horribly dilapidated historic homes, pretending to be their owners and giggling about the apartments we would take on the Malecon while “they” put in our pool. We each drank a beer and ate popcorn while staring out at the sea and imagining Miami, impossibly, just there on the other side of the horizon.
Since then, I have come to know Luis well. He is a gentle and loyal creature from another place and time, far more comfortable in the surreal landscapes and esoteric worlds of his mind than this one. “I am not interested in reality, at all,” young Luis said. “I want to explore magical realms, dreamlike realities and the spiritual planes of the highly evolved. In my work, I wish to show a world which exists outside of this concrete and material world. I want to explore the soul.”
Meet the Family of Artists
Luis Enrique Toledo del Rio was born into a family of artists on October 31, 1989. His father, Enrique Toledo, is an accomplished painter whose work resides in the permanent collection of the Vatican, his grandmother a published poet and author, and his mother an actress in children’s theatre. Luis graduated from Leopoldo Romañach as a professor of fine art, like his father before him. He tried teaching for a short time, until ultimately deciding the path wasn’t his. Luis Enrique took up painting full time on moving to Havana with his best friend and brilliant realist painter Darian Rodriguez Mederos.
Toledo del Rio’s work, “…opens virtual doors to unseen worlds…” the worlds of his “interior” as he says. He uses objects, symbols and Renaissance iconography to depict life and space in terms and forms outside of the ordinary. His influences are clearly Renaissance with a nod toward the Gothic. He cites his father as his greatest professor.
The Young Master’s Vision
The vast majority of the artist’s paintings take place in a mythical forest. I asked him why. “The forest has always been here. It is ancient, magic and holds forgotten memories. If the forest spoke, it could tell us all that has happened since the beginning of time,” Luis said.
Rather than call his work surreal, which it certainly is, Luis borrows from literature and refers to his paintings as examples of magical realism. One wonders if in this we see the influence of his grandmother.
Apart from the fantastic and magical elements alive in his paintings, what strikes me most about Luis Enrique’s work is his unwavering patience, attention to detail and technique. This young man has the hand of an old world master. His subjects seem to exude a light from within, a living flame even, reflected in the opalescence of their skin. This achievement is clearly by design.
I recall visiting El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes with Luis. We were on the side exhibiting exclusively Cuban artists, in the portrait gallery. Luis moved from painting to painting, completely obsessed by the skin. He pointed out the talents of each of the various artists, their technique, how they achieved such light in the skin. “Someday…” he said, “…someday I hope to achieve this.” That day has come.
Since entering the global market, Luis’ work has doubled in value and resides in collections across the U.S., in Canada and Mexico.