Issue Date: ABN - February 07, Posted On: 2/10/2007

Roots And Rhythm
By Carol King

The ethnic art market is alive and thriving. The vibrant colors of the Caribbean, the sensual flair of Latin America and the exotic imagery of Africa are reaching out and embracing collectors of all backgrounds.

The movement of ethnic art will continue to grow as long as artists express profound emotions, says artist Humberto Benitez, whose native country is Cuba. “I grew up in this magical place that transforms a person and stamps the inner core of your heart with unforgettable memories, thoughts and feelings,” he says. “Cuba never lets you go. She is pure passion. She is within every Cuban.”

The music and romance of his native country inspire Benitez’s imagery. In addition to vibrant colors, his work often features hidden faces behind a flamboyant Cuban hat, and his textured work has a unique style that captures a sense of movement in every piece.

Born in the 1960s, Benitez came to the United States in 1971. His upbringing is key to the colors in his paintings, and he recreates the palette of his childhood by mixing his own colors and grinding pure pigments. “The colors and the music of my homeland are always vivid in my mind and my work,” Benitez explains. “The greens of my home are unlike any green in the world. It is a place where nature filled the soul, where the magical blue sky and majestic royal palms embraced the landscape. I use strong yellows—they are the stained fingers of my mother’s hands, working endlessly in the cigar plant. They are the strongest part of my paintings, these yellows and greens—pure love, the love of my mother.”

“My paintings connect the viewer’s soul with an identity and leave them to think of who they are and where they came from,” Benitez continues. “Although I consider myself a Cuban-American artist, my roots are very clear on my canvas. I like my viewer to feel and hear my native music and passion. I consider ethnic art to be art from the soul. I think in many cases  ethnic art expresses deeper emotions on a piece of work, therefore reaching out to the viewer’s inner soul.”

Benitez’s work has captured international attention. Sotheby’s of New York auctioned a painting to benefit the Bea’s Foundation; he was selected as one of Miami’s artists representing the 2005 Sister Cities International Art Exhibition; he was a principal artist for the 2005 Dr. Walter G. Bradley Lou Gehrig’s Disease Foundation; the City of West Miami awarded him the Heritage Recognition; and he was awarded first prize for visual art in San Diego.

He is actively involved in using his artwork to help multiple charities, including Genesis Artists for AIDS, The Red Cross, Uniting Artists for Tsunami Victims, The American Cancer Society, Save the Children Foundation, The March of Dimes, The Charley Foundation, and several other national and international charities.
The music and romance of his native country Cuba inspire Humberto Benitez’s imagery. For example, shown is “Un Danzón,” acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches; danzón is the official music of Cuba.
Humberto Benitez’s “Vacunao” is based on the series Guaguancó, a popular style of rumba dance. Guaguancó is a dance performed by a male-female couple and consists of a flirtatious sensual game with a distinctive body movement called the Vacunao performed by the male dancer.