by D. Dominick Lombardi
There are some of us, who can move from one art form to another and always find footing. Those individuals have a natural ability to respond to the challenges, find those inner voices they trust, and overcome every bump and detour in their journey. One of those genuine, passionate and dedicated individuals is Yul Vazquez, who credits much of his success to his mother, and a childhood filled with spiritual, social, and supportive experiences. Vazquez recalls with fondness those “ mystics and spiritualists” who were his mother’s friends, and he sees Cuba as a most significant part of his being.
At the age of three, Vazquez traveled with his mother, sister and grandmother to America from Cuba, which at the time, would have been an incredibly dangerous journey (this was 1969, after the Cuban Missile Crisis in ‘63, and the Bay of Pigs in ‘61). By the time his family fled Cuba, the Cold War was raging, travel to and from Cuba was forbidden, and the US placed an embargo of all goods flowing back and forth, virtually isolating the island. Growing up, Vazquez was exposed to a rich history of Afro-Caribbean Religions and Deities, an exposure to the occult that would follow him throughout his life, and one that would eventually appear as cryptic signs, mysterious symbols and bold sentences in his visual art.
His creative journey began when his mother noticed his interest in music, especially the drums. Since it was the four of them living in a small efficiency apartment in Miami Beach, it was not the easiest commitment to make, but the drum set was there, in the corner of their all-purpose room by the time Vazquez was eight years old. His musical tipping point came when he was twelve, when he heard Whole Lotta Love for the first time. By then he had switched to guitar, and when he heard Led Zeppelin’s iconic song it shook him to his core, “I was stunned, stopped in my tracks thinking ‘What is This?’”. Instantly, the die was cast for Vazquez and soon, with a lot of hard work and ingenuity, the self taught musician was earning upwards of $90 per gig!
Even though music will always play a key role in Vazquez’s life, his fate would change when he got his first acting role as Flaco in The Mambo Kings. Since then, he has appeared in countless movies and television series that most recently includes Severance, Promised Land and the soon to be released The White House Plumbers.
Most recently, Vazquez has added a career in the visual arts, creating striking images that shifts between arresting black & white photography, fantastical mixed media paintings and stream of consciousness drawings. Opening July 16th at Red Fox Contemporary Art in Pound Ridge, NY, Vazquez will offer a variety of his works in a solo exhibition titled Bruce, which promises to add quite a substantial amount of heat to mid-summer. Among his wizardry of works will be Fingers Freddy, a work prompted by an x-ray of a six-fingered hand he spotted on the internet. Blown up and placed in a field of black, the image becomes haunting and mystical as Vazquez adds a frenzy of words, symbols and small sympathetic characters. His keen eye, especially when observing social behavior, helps Vazquez to elucidate both his observations and his emotions, which can stem from anywhere in his personal history to his current experiences.
If anyone has ever spent time on a movie set, it would be crystal clear how grueling the lives of actors and filmmakers are, where the 12-16 hour days waffle between endless waiting and pressure packed performing. Knowing this little detail would give you a better picture of what a wonderful, cleansing and fulfilling time Vazquez has in the solitude of his studio. In a recent conversation, he mentioned the alarm on his phone set for 3pm, which reminds him to take a “moment of gratitude” for his good life and the great people he has to share it with. I believe that gratification, his acknowledgement of his circumstance clearly comes through in his art.
Vazquez often references his mother in his art, focusing on her light, love and strength. One example is Mother, where Vazquez uses a B-movie photograph of an obscure actress in a playful pose, with lightning bolts coming out of her fingers and costume. This combination of power and poise captured his attention, just like it did with the six-fingered x-ray, only this time, a weirdly iconic image of a female space alien became the center of his attention. Tags of “Where r u mother when I am so lost?” and “Your heart was always so full” crosses the upper portion of the picture plane, while on the bottom left appears a kid with a guitar who is clearly loving and cherishing her presence.
The exhibition, which is titled Bruce, refers to an omnipresent ‘being’ that symbolizes all, the entire universe, including the most important human traits in the artist’s mind: “kindness, never malevolence, and always having a heart of gold.” Bruce appears in a painting of the same name, as a buoyant bunny who sports a huge grin and hopeful eyes. The figure eight seen here, which surfaces from time to time in Vazquez’s work, signifies infinity, or no end to Bruce’s positive and all encompassing positive energy.
The multimedia work Joker began as a collage of bits and pieces of playing cards that happened to have the compelling distinction of a skull and crossbones on the back. Vazquez tags the blown up version of that collage with animated hearts, stars, squiggles and sprays, which are partnered with various phrasings like “Memento Mori,” “Love is the Law,” “Traveler” and “Mi Reina” (My Queen). Taken in all at once, a voodoo vibe breaks through the layers of iconic images, passionate declarations and whirlwinds of emotion that leave us with a potent and mesmerizing visual.
The formidable photography of Vazquez, which is the basis of many of his multimedia paintings, can be overtly cinematic at times, especially when his night scenes shift unmistakably toward the Noir. Conversely, his more ‘candid’ images taken in Miami and New York, where pretty much anything goes, capture everything from bold decadence and pure self indulgence to desolation and despair. That feeling of hopelessness, which at times can reach surreal heights, can best be seen and felt in his photographs taken in Cuba, where time has virtually stood still, as only the strength and ingenuity of the Cuban people can offer light and life.
Vazquez, the visual artist, is like a diarist, except his tale is told through impactful phrases and images, brilliant color and iconic symbols. Fueled by an innate ability to see through the haze of the mundane, Vazquez continually takes us to a place where life can truly be enlightening.
Bruce, a solo exhibition of the works of Yul Vazquez, opens July 16 at Red Fox gallery, 55 Westchester Avenue, Pound Ridge NY 10576. For more information, please refer to https://www.redfoxartgallery.com/