“I do what I want and say what I think,” declares Lisandra Isabel García (Havana, 1989). This same honesty is apparent in her artworks, in which personal environment, introspection, and escape play an important role. Not shy about depicting what may seem weak or banal, García asserts her views in photographs, drawings, and paintings. A recent graduate of the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA), she has already exhibited her work in Cuba, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, and Spain. In an interview with Karina Durant, Lisandra muses on her concerns and motivations.
What are your poetics based on?
For me, the aesthetic hook is important. I opt for the fantastic, the illusory—always departing from my surroundings.
Does that mean you’re dissatisfied with your reality?
Yes. It’s a dissatisfaction emerging from my desire to escape from the most immediate difficult situations, or from physical or family problems. People get suffocated when they face chaos. That other reality, where everything is peaceful, and where people can find at times the tranquility they need, is very pleasant. However, in that quiet and peaceful atmosphere I represent a paradox: the conflict of having no conflicts.
In June and July you had the opportunity to present your solo show, Cristal Blando, at the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC)’s Villa Manuela Gallery. What were the formal and aesthetic concepts you were working with?
Cristal Blando (Soft Glass) was my 2013 graduation thesis at ISA. It’s an escape to an imagined universe, based on a near and everyday reality. It´s linked to one of Lewis Carroll’s books, in which Alice begins to reflect on what she sees in the mirror and imagines what may exist beyond. The mirror is a symbol. Cristal Blando is a door. Sometimes I’m more real, or more fantastic. Other times I find myself in the middle, and I reflect it.
The exhibition was an escape into the personal: my experiences, objects, self-portrait, details of the body or face. There are other approaches, from a self-referential perspective, that don’t always involve my own image. These recur in my work. I use glass, which to me is synonymous with both transparency and honesty, as well as fragility and vulnerability. It’s a delicate material, yet solid and strong. Playing with that contrast has been interesting for me, as well as playing with scale: the oversized environment and my own figure, tiny or huge.
Your career is just beginning, but self-referential artworks have been one of the characteristics. Has your way of working with self-reflexivity changed?
When I was studying at the San Alejandro Academy, I began to reflect my teen years more intuitively. I´ve looked for other alternatives to access my surroundings more consciously—not in the more traditional self-portrait, but in the symbols I use.
Cristal Blando includes roughly ten works that convey your interest in the formal, but also have a very functional sense.
The idea was to create an intimate atmosphere with an aesthetic that would provide the possibility of the “beautiful,” so that viewers could take refuge in art as I do.
The famous Marilyn Monroe portrait by Andy Warhol appears in one of the pieces. What is its significance, and how does it contribute to the show?
You mean one of the pieces of the series, El cuarto del espejo (The Mirror Room). It consists of a desk, on which there are paints, brushes, and art books. Marilyn Monroe’s image is the cover of an Andy Warhol book. I did not want to specify a title, but I did want to suggest my visual references. On the table are several texts, the Warhol among others such as Art of Today and How to Read Modern Painting? The latter highlights an Edward Hopper painting. I display my interests, just as I can highlight a color I like.
An attractive color…
Sometimes I’m more monochromatic, sometimes I use a lot of color, with contrasts between complementary colors. I like the green-red combination, and I use it a lot. I also paint a lot in black and white, and use iridescent colors—gold, silver.
Besides Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper, what are your influences?
I’m influenced by the Impressionists, female artists, and 20th-century artists. Among them I can mention Lucian Freud, Pierre Bonnard, and the Nabis movement. From Cuban art, Cirenaica Moreira, Tonel, Sandra Ramos…so many.
The French artist Louise Bourgeois captivates for her subtlety, the visuality of her works, by the way she creates a certain atmosphere in a small space. Her sculptures and installations for me are quite elusive. She deals with topics such as family, sex, domestic problems, and her womanhood. I was also interested in the work of photographer Loretta Lux. She speaks of childhood as a lost paradise, something that we always yearn for but as adults cannot have.
I appreciate Gregor Schneider´s works with his house. He moves objects, builds walls against walls, shoots scenes in his rooms, and then take those ideas to the gallery. Franz Ackerman addresses the issue of escape in a very particular way. He does what he calls “mental maps:” he paints the walls of the gallery, and includes pictures of travels, or from newspapers, and mirrors.
I have other references too, such as Edgar Degas. I like his paintings of women bathing. Van Gogh was extremely evasive, unhappy with his surroundings, with what was happening in art, with the spiritual crisis of the century in which he lived.
Do you identify with a feminist position?
It’s not exactly a feminist stance—feminine, yes, but not with the intention of getting into a gender discourse.
And from the artists in your family, what advice do you take?
My dad, Eduardo Rubén, is very thorough and careful with his work, and that is something I´ve taken from him. Although my work has nothing to do with his, and that’s good. I´ve talked a lot with my grandmother, Thelvia Marín, who is a sculptor and writer. My mom is a philosopher and goldsmith. My uncle Gory is a photographer and painter. And on the other side they are musicians. I’ve always been linked to art since childhood. I attended shows with my parents and got accustomed to that.
Are you interested in expressing your insights in other disciplines?
I express my ideas best through the visual arts. I won’t quit painting but I want to experiment with other media and materials, and take drawing to other dimensions—not let it always be flat on cardboard or canvas.
How do you think personal elements become art?
From an artistic perspective, when personal elements are transmuted, represented, they take on another value, another connotation. The objects I show may be abstract for others, but they have an intimate charge. People can recognize them or not. In both reality and art, I accumulate objects, collect them. It´s a kind of obsession I have with my things: I classify them, draw them, prepare my improvised sets, and transform them into art.
Has that passion for the symbolic made you a lover of poetry?
Poetry, children’s stories, literature, books, music, movies… Everything I like is the raw material of my work.
Are you afraid that people will consider you banal?
I run that risk. I’m used to taking refuge in the banal, in things that are seemingly unimportant. But for me they have a meaning, or contain a memory. I use them to disconnect, to entertain, to not think about the problems bothering me.
Are you a dreamer?
Yes, but I’m also practical.
Have you thought that at some point you could lose your naiveté?
I try to be honest with my work, and with myself. Ingenuousness is spontaneous.
Is art fun?
I enjoy it, but I also suffer a lot creating works. Sometimes I don’t know if what I did was good or bad, I always ask others what they think. An artist can create the world she wants.