The Street of Bitterness – painting

I managed to trace the steps I’d taken as I wandered around old Havana, these people are standing in Calle Amargura, outside the Conde del Castillo restaurant which is within the Marqués de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal hotel on the corner of Calle Amargura and Plaza San Fransisco near the port.

I was struck by their expressions, a mix of boredom, anticipation of the hard work to come during the busy midday period and their suspicion of me taking their photographs. They made such an interesting composition, the two men looking over the woman’s head, the pot-bellied chef’s whites stark against the dark background, that same darkness almost engulfing the taller man, concentrating the eye on his upward-pointing arm resting on the door frame.

Amargura translates as Bitterness.

The painting is not quite finished, a few refinements and adjustments to make yet.

Street of Bitterness

“Break-time” painting

I’m taking a break from painting the portrait to let the oil paint dry for a couple of days. Here’s what I’m painting instead, three restaurant workers taking a break before the lunchtime rush in old Havana, Cuba. I was aiming to take the photograph without them noticing me, shooting from the hip but the woman caught me, though she didn’t seem to mind too much. I have just laid in the first colours, lots more detail to fill in. Its a small painting, only  30x30cms.


BP Portrait Award 2014

Its that time of year again, I have just four weeks to paint a credible portrait, from life, that might stand out amongst the usual 2000 or so entrants’ works.

Only 55 paintings are selected in total to be exhibited, the top prize this year is £30,000. The award is made for “outstanding and innovative work ” – it is increasingly  hard to produce something that is innovative without bordering on the pretentious.

I chose to paint a friend, who is a painter herself, indeed she only paints herself, often in elaborate guises, adopting personas or attitudes, situations or allegories. I know what she really looks like as a friend but does she show me the face that she paints or someone else?

Here is my beginning – the first day of oil paint after many pencil sketches. I love the background and the shapes but I’m anxious about her dress, which is made of thick wool, dark blue with a contrasting maroon panel on the front. She was also wearing a necklace made of felt but I have decided to leave that out.  I might try to make to the wool look like silk instead.

Her hair – a  halo of marvellous auburn curls, will be back lit by a nearby standard lamp to the right. In this image, the holo of hair is much smaller than it will be when finished. She is sporting navy blue tights with white spots, I’m looking forward to painting those.

Its all looking raw and too bright just now and with no details but hopefully things will come together soon.

BP portrait 2014

Cuba – more Havana

old paint
Why bother to paint a door when it looks as interesting as this one and still does its job. Ada in flat A has great style.
Food store
There is a real divide between products for sale to Cubans and those for tourists, even separate currencies, the Cuban shops are sparse and dark with only whatever happens to be available that day for sale. These shops are not for tourists, there are dual currencies inCuba, the Cuban Peso for locals and the Convertible Pesos for tourists, (CUC) There are 25 pesos too one CUC, £1 will buy you around 1.5 CUC. 
old Havana
Havana has been immensely wealthy at various times in the past, here is sad evidence of grand colonnial architecture suffering from neglect.
street artists
Streets artists draw their surroundings for tourists and ask just a few pesos for their work.
A city of contrasts, as in any place anywhere, it is most striking between the old and the young
Women dress up in more-or-less traditional colourful costumes and parade around often with a large cigar in their mouths, hoping that tourists will offer them a few pesos to take their photos.
Revolution Square
Revolution Square, a vast empty square – plenty of space for the tourist coaches in high season. The vintage cars chase each other around the square, showing off their shiny curves in front of the iconic face of Che Guevera keeping lookout above.
restaurant workers
These  restaurant workers have come outside for a well-deserved breath of fresh air, the two men are oblivious but the woman is understandably unhappy that I am taking their photograph, though I had tried to be inconspicuous, shooting from the hip. She’s too canny for that to have passed her by.
Every house has grilles over the windows, often intricate and delicate-looking designs. The windows are rarely glazed but have internal wooden shutters.
Here the metal bars have been adapted to fit the space to be secured. Frequently there are door sections too and even space cut out for air conditioners.
Vintage cars
Vintage cars are highly prized possessions passed down through 3 generations. Emilio runs his grandfather’s car, bought new in the 50’s as a taxi/sightseeing service, he says its a nightmare to keep it on the road, its so hard to get parts but the body and upholstery he keeps in good condition. The petrol consumption is huge, hence the prices the tourists must pay, though a half hour trip is still a bargain compared to London fares.
A typical street in old Havana, regeneration is painfully slow, materials abandoned and rusting in the roadway.
vintage motorcycle
This guy polishes his vintage motorcycle which provides him with a livelihood
bicycle taxis
Bicycle taxis abound, ad- hoc constructions made from recycled metal components and topped off with jaunty awnings to protect the passengers from the midday sun.
Muh of Havana is built on the pattern of houses in a block built around a central courtyard, here filled with smoke from an open fire.
Dawn from the roof-top pool of one of the hotels in central Havana which have been re-vamped for tourists demanding international standards of amenities.There is a vast divide between the sumptuous surroundings on this roof-top and the palpable material poverty in the streets below.