An Almost Lost Milagro

Eduardo Michaelsen paints in obscurity far from his Cuban roots

Michaelsen first stayed with a brother in Miami but bolted when his sister-in-law "tried to starve him out of the house," the gravelly voiced character informs. "I didn't die of hunger, because every night at 6:00 a neighbor named Teresita brought me a plate of food like I was a stray cat."

Soon Catholic Charities staked the painter a ten-spot and a one-way plane ticket to San Fran. He says that after bunking with a sponsor there for nine months, he decided to head out on his own.

While still in Cuba, Michaelsen had gotten his first taste of the California city through a columnist who called it Baghdad by the bay. "Joe Collins, the son of a California politician, was fixated with la revoluciůn," the once-hamstrung painter crows. "He brought over a bunch of his clueless leftist friends from San Francisco to visit me at my studio in Havana, but I had to shoot straight and tell them que ese sistema era una mierda [that the system is shit]," cackles Michaelsen.

Michaelsen’s Santa Barbara/Changó
Michaelsen’s Santa Barbara/Changó


"Tribute to the Art of Eduardo Michaelsen: Cuba's Hidden Master": By appointment weekdays through June 29. Farside Gallery, 1305 SW 87th Ave, Miami, 305-264-3355.

After arriving on the West Coast, he eventually tracked down one of the young men. "When I went to his place, there was a huge red flag with a picture of Lenin on it. Que coŮo es esto? [What kind of jerk is this guy?], I thought, hurrying off."

The artist says he doesn't like to discuss politics or reference it in his work because "it easily offends people," explaining that he has learned the hard way to keep his nose in his paints. "I've lived very humbly since coming here," Michaelsen goes on. "I speak very little English and have been in the same modest home the past 25 years."

He says he partitioned off one of his rooms with wood he found on the streets and painted every day in a makeshift studio until arthritis incapacitated him in early 2003. Most of the works exhibited at Farside date from 1990 to that time. They echo the work of Enriquez, Pelaez, and Lam like an unseen Greek chorus in his florid dreamscapes.

The artist expresses no regrets even though his work has rarely been shown in the States. He is supported mostly by the Cuban exile community, but not as avidly as he once had hoped.

A notable exception, he mentions, struggling to recall an important show, is "Outside Cuba/Fuera de Cuba," a traveling survey of Cuban art in exile that opened in 1987 at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University.

Michaelsen says he is grateful: "The U.S. government provides me with a roof, and I can honestly say that I've never gone hungry here."

The fading artist confesses that even though he was unable to earn a living as a painter in Cuba or the States, he feels fortunate for this last chance to shine.

"All that's left for me now es un cohete al cielo [is a rocket to Heaven]," he sighs before ringing off.

"Simply Baroque," a poetry reading by Ricardo Pau-Llosa, will take place at the Farside Gallery at 7:00 p.m. Friday, June 29, followed by a closing reception to drop the curtain on Michaelsen's show.

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