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Publications Love and Art by Ana Veciana-Suarez Love and Art by Ana Veciana-Suarez
The Miami Herald February 27, 2001



The Miami Herald
February 27, 2001
Section: Living
Edition: Final
Page: 1E


LOVE & ART
ANA VECIANA-SUAREZ, Herald Staff Writer


Consider this, first and foremost, a love story. And yes, it is also the tale of two artists' search for medium and meaning.
Demi and Arturo Rodriguez have been called ``South Florida's most distinguished artist couple'' by a former Herald art critic. They've exhibited around the world, and their work hangs in museums. But behind the canvas, under the stroke of a brush, the story is still about a man and a woman, partners in life and art.
Demi was a 25-year-old bookkeeper when she met Arturo. He was a young, up-and-coming painter. Both were tormented souls, clinging to fractured identities, victims of exile and examples of a generation that had lost both country and family.
Demi's father had been executed by a Castro firing squad when she was 6 years old. Shortly thereafter, her mother sent the youngest of the three daughters to family in Puerto Rico, thinking she'd have a more secure future. The little girl had never met any of these relatives. She would not be reunited with her mother and two sisters until she was 15, and then the process of reacquainting was rocky.
``In one fell swoop, I lost my father, my country, my mother and my sisters, everything I had known,'' she recalls.
Arturo left Cuba days shy of his 15th birthday. On his second day in Spain, he asked for the address of El Prado Museum; it would be the first time he saw an actual painting, not just one in an art book. About 18 months later, resettled in Miami, he was a terrible student and an angry young man. His only means of steady income was a Spanish-language comic strip published in Mexico called Los Tres Villalobos. His only escape and passion: painting.
When she saw his art in a gallery, she realized she had met a kindred spirit. Arturo's paintings are stark and disquieting, full of a subdued rage. They are not always pleasant to look at. Whatever the colors, whatever the human subjects, the theme of his art seems to invariably revert to alienation and displacement.
Yet, the paintings spoke to Demi, to everything she had so carefully kept hidden for so much of her youth. ``I fell in love with his paintings before I fell in love with him,'' she says.
That one gallery visit would prove to be the beginning of her unwitting journey into art. As Arturo courted Demi, he also coaxed her into his world of canvas and brush. She spent hours quietly watching how he created, and when in 1983 they moved to Madrid for a year to set up one of his art shows, he gave her an assignment: Study a painting in the Prado every day and tell me what you see.
``She was so intense about it that one day they stole her purse while she sat on a bench in front of a painting,'' he recalls, chuckling. ``I knew then she was learning.''
Learning wasn't enough, though. Back in Miami, married and working once again as a bookkeeper, Demi longed to create as her husband did, longed to interpret her world in a swirl of color and subject. She painted a small oil of their wedding portrait. ``Just to entertain myself,'' she says.
He took a good look at it and exclaimed, ``Demi, this is marvelous. You're a wonderful painter.''
So in their Little Havana house, at a bedroom-turned-studio down the hall from Arturo's, Demi began to paint. And paint. And paint. And like her husband, her view of the world on canvas brought forth the pain of separation and lost childhood. She quickly developed a following for her dark, expressionistic paintings of hairless children, some with no ears, some with closed or vacant eyes.
``Arturo opened this world up to me,'' she says. ``It's marvelous and a privilege to create and let go of what you have inside. Art has given me this sense of life and purpose I didn't have before. It has answered my whys.''
Through trial and error, they learned to co-exist as artists under the same roof. Advice is limited to form and function, not style and interpretation. If a curator comes to visit one, the other vacates the premises. Yet, they can understand each other's obsession.
When Arturo says, ``If I'm not painting, I'm miserable,'' Demi echoes the sentiment. When Demi explains, ``It becomes more difficult every year because you demand more from yourself,'' Arturo nods in agreement.
Now, Demi and Arturo have opened separate exhibits that run through the end of the month of March in Coral Gables galleries. (There's a second ``opening'' this Friday night.) Arturo's ``Tridimensional'' at Elite Fine Arts is a collection of mixed media sculptures. Demi's 11 paintings at Cernuda Arte across the street on Ponce de Leon are ``Family Portraits.''
Each exhibit marks a turning point for the artists. Demi's collection now includes adults in the portraits; her children, once bald, now have hair. There is a lightness and brightness that did not exist in her other paintings, and she admits they are representative of her own family - before her father's death, before exile, before separation.
``What you see is what you get here,'' she explains. ``There are no metaphors, no symbols, no double meanings. It's about the happiness of being together.''
Arturo's exhibit is his first public foray into three-dimensional work and his sculptures, like his paintings, are haunted by the pain of the past. He is pleased with the effort of four months but assures me that his medium is definitely canvas. ``I'm a painter,'' he says.
That they both are.

aveciana@herald.com
Copyright (c) 2001 The Miami Herald
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