Cuban artist transforms tobacco leaves into unique artworks

Cuban artist transforms tobacco leaves into unique artworks
Fecha de publicación: 
1 March 2024
Imagen principal: 

Cuban painter Milton Bernal works with a smoking stogie perched in the corner of his mouth, a hint at the distinctly Cuban twist he adds to his unusual art.

The bearded artist, 63, lays wet tobacco leaves atop his sketches of famous Cuba-related personalities - from revolutionary icon Che Guevara to 20th-century American novelist Ernest Hemingway, who lived outside the capital of Havana for two decades.

The resulting art takes on the earthy amber hues of a dry tobacco leaf and highlights the raised texture of its veins, a look that Bernal says makes his work unique.

"(Tobacco) is a symbol of our national identity," he said of one of Cuba's largest and best-known exports. "I convert it to an art form that isn't consumed, that doesn't cause any harm, so everyone can enjoy it."

Bernal travels there regularly to handpick material from the large leaves discarded from the cigar production process. He parses them by color to fit his art which is sold and displayed in homes, restaurants, cigar shops and hotels throughout Havana and globally.

In a process Bernal said he created more than 20 years ago, he uses a proprietary chemical formula to maintain the elasticity, colour and form of the tobacco leaf, which he rolls onto a canvas of artisanal paper and allows to dry.

"It does not suffer any type of deterioration (over time), regardless of the environmental conditions that there may be, relative humidity in the country where it is taken," he said.

"The work is simply preserved in a way that is very natural."

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