Pedro de Oraá – master of Cuban abstraction

Cuban artist Pedro de Oraa

The death of Cuban artist Pedro de Oraá (born 1931), on 25 August 2020, dealt another blow to Cuban culture. Winner of the prestigious National Award for Visual Arts 2015 and National Award for Book Design 2011, Pedro began as a poet, in Caibarién [an old seaside town on the north coast of Cuba]. Oraá was a humanist, his cultural work was wide ranging, from literature, design, promotion, editing and translation, to the unique and profound legacy of his abstract painting. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts San Alejandro and with his wife and fellow abstract artist Loló Soldevilla, opened Galeria Color-Luz in 1957 Havana, which became the gathering point for Los Diez (‘The Ten’) as well as the place for exhibitions. Los Diez were the pioneers for the Cuban Concrete movement or Concrete Abstraction. They defined this as simply geometrical and without “…representational or drawn-from-life references… a style without narrative or natural connections…”

Cuban media La Jiribilla reported after his death: ‘For Oraá, abstraction was always alive and enjoyed a validity that he considered extraordinary, since it is, in his own words, “the most original experience of twentieth-century art.” The significance that abstractionism acquires in Oraá’s work comes fundamentally from the concrete character that he gives to his pieces. Mixing poetry with the pictorial, he considered painting should be itself, not needing to represent something specific, or to focus on a hidden message. In Pedro’s vision, the dichotomy between figuration and non-figuration was not an irresolvable problem. He developed that vision during the 1950s, when he was part of the group Los Once and Diez concrete painters.’

Cuban artist Pedro De Oraa

After the dissolution of those groups by 1961, Oraá represented Cuba in many exhibitions both on the island and abroad and was a significant member in many cultural organizations such as the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and The National Council of Culture, and was also involved in theatre to magazine design. With a career spanning more than 70 years, Pedro de Oraá was the last living member of Los Diez.

During the1960s purely abstract painting did not always fit the Revolution’s expectations for art that created the new Cuban cultural identity reflecting the nation’s newly won independence. For some, abstraction was seen as an escape from reality and a mimicry of foreign ‘isms’. However Pedro said did not feel “banished”, continued to paint and abstract painting was welcomed officially again with the 1999 national visual art prize given to abstract painter Antonio Vidal.

The 2015 Cuban National Visual Award to De Oraa was a recognition of the importance of his contribution and in 2016 his retrospective exhibition Abstractivos II , opened at the Cuban national fine arts museum in Havana (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) which has a number of works by Pedro de Oraa in their permanent collection.

Pedro de Oraá, Havana, 1931-2020