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July 26, 2018
Aneet R. Fontes praised in the Provincetown Banner

By Sue Harrison / Banner Correspondent

Cuban artist Aneet R. Fontes paints street scenes using photographs that her boyfriend, Sebastian Leal, takes for her as studies. Included somewhere in each canvas is a reflection of the scene, giving an added dimension to her visually dramatic work.

“I want to capture the city and the architecture, but the image can be very confusing,” Fontes says. “The reflection becomes a way to show the city in a different way. You see the good and the bad from another perspective, and it’s always better.”

A show of new paintings by Fontes, “Equilibrio,” will have an opening at Galería Cubana in Provincetown this Friday. She has lived in North Miami Beach, Fla., with Leal on a visa since 2012, but remains a Cuban citizen, and will be at the opening and will do an art demonstration on Sunday. The show will be on view through Aug. 9.

Fontes prefers the light of early morning or late afternoon in her work. Leal, she says, knows what she is looking for.

“He knows I like to capture the light a certain way and all the angles I like,” she says. “My work can be very geometrical.”

There are times when Fontes will turn a corner on a street and she’ll instantly know that what she wants to paint what is right in front of her. “When I’m in a place and I get inspired, I say to Sebastian, ‘Babe, please take all the pictures you can.’ ”

When she blends it all together — the light, the buildings, the movement — her work can become quite abstract. Especially with the reflection thrown in.

From a distance it resembles photo-realism, but when the viewer steps in close, that illusion breaks apart into something much more painterly. Her work up close is loose and fluid. It is filled with brushstrokes that seem to create light and movement out of almost nothing. Fontes says that she tries to see the image in her mind and then blurs her eyes slightly. She makes a brushstroke, sometimes only one, and then steps back to look. It is a process of push, push, push with the brush, she says, adding strokes and stepping back to see how the cumulative strokes are working.

Fontes works only in acrylics and doesn’t like oils at all. She doesn’t like the smell of oil paint or how long it takes to dry.

Under close inspection one can see that portions of her canvases have very little paint on them. She dilutes her acrylics down to a translucent, sometimes transparent, wash. Yet she still manages to capture the deep shadows found in the canyons of city streets. To make those dark areas appear opaque, she uses more pigment or applies many small brush strokes and lets the paint build up. On some paintings, she may have very strong, dramatic colors, and on others, a perfect delivery of muted but sun-drenched tones. Sometimes her canvases take a very long time to complete, and others can be done in a week. She never knows how it will go.

In “Yellow,” a painting in her show at Galería Cubana, Fontes is prominently featured looking into a window. Is it a self-portrait?

Not really, she says. In fact, she is in a number of her paintings, but more by accident than design. These are not stories about me, she says — they are about the cities.

Fontes and Leal like living in Miami, with its walkable neighborhoods and Cuba so close by. But, she says, they really love Boston — Sebastian has family there — and hope to live there someday.

In 2011, when they first arrived in the U.S., there was a serendipitous combination of laws in effect. The “wet foot-dry foot rule” was in play, meaning that as soon as they stepped off the plane and onto American soil, as Cubans, they had the right to stay here. Also, Cuba had started relaxing its laws, and Cubans not only had more freedom to leave, they had the freedom to come back and leave again. That has allowed Fontes and Leal to stay in the States and return to Cuba and visit friends and family. It involves a lot of paperwork, but it’s worth it to them, and they are getting ready for their first trip home in almost three years.

Like most Cuban artists, Fontes was trained in state art schools. Being an artist is one of only a handful of things that Cubans are allowed to do as a private enterprise. Many artists do surprisingly well compared to other professions and frequently travel to the U.S. and Europe for exhibitions.

Though her earlier work was mostly Havana street scenes, she has visually fallen in love with Boston. There is a sprinkling of New York City thrown in, and some Miami as well.

“I can’t say I’ll live here permanently, but for now, it is home,” she says of her and Leal’s decision to stay in the States. “We liked our lives in Cuba, but we can see more new things here in the real world.” Cubans often describe life in Cuba as dreamlike or ephemeral, so it’s not odd that she would refer to the United States as the real world.

“Cuba is beautiful and excellent for artists,” Fontes says, “but it has its limitations. We decided to take a risk.”

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