Joe Ferro: «I’m an Artist Because First I Learned to Be a Blacksmith»

Joe Ferro: «I’m an Artist Because First I Learned to Be a Blacksmith»
Fecha de publicación: 
13 March 2022
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José Carlos Mesa would still be a physical training professor, or perhaps a carpenter; however, under the stage name Joe Ferro, he is today known as a blacksmith-artist, a trade and a passion he defends with claws and nail.

He follows the motto that if you don't believe in what you like and defend it, nobody will do it for you, and thus, he overcame his family's wishes for him to go to college. He dropped out from college and began studying blacksmithing at the Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos Workshop School, of the Havana City Historian Office (HCHO).

Walking a path that has taken him more than 10 years, he arrives at this date with achievements on his back. With his lamps, he won the Product Category Award at the 2019 edition of the International Craft Fair (Fiart), and is also in charge of designing the National Prize for Cultural Journalism, which is awarded by the Ministry of Culture (Mincult).

In his work we find luminaires and sculptures, and Ferro's firm position in defending metal as the basis for giving life to the pieces and his most daring creative ideas is evident in them.

At the interview with Cuban News Agency, about his career, he tells that as a child he was already interested in handicrafts and, when doing the entering examinations at the Workshop School, it was carpentry that caught his attention the most.

Fated moved its hand and granted him blacksmithing, and there, he says, he began to see how with heat and ancient techniques metal can be transformed, not only to make bars, but also other things, even within the bars.

Those were not the ones I used to seeing where I live, but more artistic, with symbols, elements and marked styles, with classic colonial Cuban ironwork and what we have inherited from Europe, he says.

When he was a sophomore as a Worker, non-agricultural cooperatives had a boom.

We approached the oldest professor on the matter, because we’d heard one of the conversations of historian Eusebio Leal in which he spoke of giving recent graduates a new way of managing themselves, which was not just working for restoration companies, recalls the artist.

He says that later they learned that the venture was being created, but there weren’t so many who dared to do so. We had nothing to lose and we jumped in, he says.

Next we had a stint in the Artistic Foundry workshop, which is attached to the workshop school, and there he began to see bronze work, and sculpting from another point of view, "not just as a hobby."

Together with Metales Calflat venture, he worked for six years and, at the same time, kept ties to community groups. In 2015 he participated in the XII Biennial of Havana, in the collective exhibition "Plan Jaba".

I always tried to insert myself in collective exhibitions, until 2018 when I had my personal exhibition prior presenting my file to the Metals Association of the Cuban Association of Artisans and Artists (ACAA) in the previous calendar, in the following one the The Goldsmith Museum gave me the chance, he explained.

By 2019 he started working on lamps.

I had already thought of the fire extinguisher as a base, I had visualized the reference, but I didn't want them to look like the ones you see on Pinterest. I tried to take them to the Cuban context, and always defending vintage, which I really like, he says.

This is how those award-winning lamps at FIART 2019 were born.

In 2020, Joe Ferro started his solo career. He left the venture behind, not the trade, and tried to find his way as an independent artist. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to reinvent himself on social media.

Last year brought the blacksmith-artist three exhibition opportunities. He participated in the "State of Spirit" exhibition, inaugurated on December 3rd at Cuba Pavilion within the program of the XIV Biennial of Havana, in addition to being part of the celebration for the 35th anniversary of the Hermanos Saíz Association.

On December 8th, the ACAA's Manos Gallery hosted the inauguration of "It's not Utopia", where Ferro offered the public an installation “that combined the Biennial’s motive, which was future and contemporaneity". That is his way of seeing the city we want, more ecological and futuristic, where technology is wanted, but also recycled.

Finally, with the exhibition "Experiences of a Blacksmith-artist", he accompanied the Cuban Association for the United Nations (ACNU) to become, for the first time, a sister venue of the Biennial.

This year I’d like to be able to find that space that works as a workshop-gallery, I have friends who’d like to join and everything would work as a community project, a meeting point to promote metal sculpture, he said.

Regarding sculpture, he confesses that he would like to use other materials, incorporate marble or wood into metal, or try stone; mix them, fuse the trade more with the basics, work in the forge and elements of colonial blacksmithing.

For the lamps I always have new ideas, which sometimes appear faster than I can execute them due to logistical issues and difficulties in acquiring the materials, because —for example—hardware stores are don’t sell in Cuban pesos.

One last question about blacksmithing and Joe Ferro answers it very confidently: As a trade I will always defend it on all fronts. I am an artist because first I learned to be a blacksmith.

Translated by Amilkal Labañino / CubaSí Translation Staff

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