“Are there any more cafés?” asks my guest, his boyish face a mixture of hope and fear.
“Sí, amigo,” I reassure him. “Mucho.”
He smiles with gratitude or maybe anticipation. I return from my kitchen with the Italian moka pot and pour him a shot or two, then give him the little carafe of hot milk. We discuss art through café con leche.
It gets livelier with every cup, and I’m afraid I’ve untied a balloon that will bounce off my ceiling.
He is Luis Guillermo Fernandez Lovera, aka “lugufelo” (he prefers lowercase letters, either because he’s humble or because he wants people to ask him; he loves attention). Born, raised and escaped in Venezuela, he is a sculptor in the abstract and kinetic art schools. Nowadays he mainly works with metal, which is less of a problem than the biscuits he keeps pouring into his cup.
“Yes! These things drive me crazy! I never know how long to sink them. “
We speak a salad of English and Spanish. His English is roughly the same as my Spanish. Sometimes both languages are in the same sentence. It works for us, but when he gets really excited about art and hops on espresso, he starts speaking in tongues and then I have no idea what he’s saying. We met at the Venice Art Center, home of the Smart Set, and got on well, our failures in communication were not an obstacle.
There is no problem getting him to open up to a conversation about art. It makes him calm down … I mean calm down, that’s a challenge.
He moved from Miami to Venice with his dear wife Sunny, a name that fits their disposition, and their son Simon, a tiny tornado with feet. Luis maintains his huge studio-studio in Miami, where he makes large outdoor pieces. He has a team of assistants to help him, sometimes up to 70. He needs them; These works are intended for display in parks and public spaces and can be quite large. The next time you drive down Nokomis Avenue between Milan and Turin, notice his sculpture “Torso” in front of the Art Center: one and a half tons of aluminum.
Shipping alone must be a logistical challenge. The thought of creating them confuses the mind.
Sunny Hales from Cuba. She is a software engineer and as smart and capable as she is charming.
“We don’t have a typical Latin marriage,” she once told me.
She will be on par with her macho if he should return to traditional roles. They have their careers and they give each other the respect and distance they all need and deserve. (Also, I think she could take him two out of three cases.)
“One of my earliest influences was Cubism,” says Luis across the table. I had asked him about his art, but I thought he was referring to his wife’s homeland and thought he wanted to talk about Castro and the revolution.
“Well, President Biden will likely normalize relations,” I offer.
He pauses long enough to look at me questioningly so that his biscotti falls back into his coffee. “Madre de Dios!” he screams and burns his fingers to pick it up.
He licks it off and continues: “No. I say that the art movements of the early 20th century – cubism, futurism, constructivism – these were my teachers, they opened my eyes to art. “
He goes on to give me a refresher on “geometric abstraction” and “negative space” and “non-representational compositions”, all of which leaves me with glassy eyes. I apologize for making another pot of much-needed espresso. He yells a cheeky joke at me, something about a nun and a blind man.
And that’s him: the human-child artist as an amalgam of creative innocence and intellectual curiosity. He can deliver an impromptu treatise about Picasso’s invention of constructed sculpture, but show him a picture of a chimpanzee in a bra falling from a chair. It is the spectrum of the ages of a person which coexist at a certain point in time: fighting, searching, discovering, questioning and thereby creating and creating and creating.
“But why these huge pieces of outdoor metal,” I ask. “It has to be an enormous amount of work to build and move them.”
“Sí,” he agrees. “Much. But galleries make me – how do you say that? – closet phobia. The world is my gallery, and my art is for everyone, not just the rich, not just people who go to galleries and museums. People in cars and buses, on bicycles and on foot; everyone outdoors can see and enjoy my work. You don’t have to come to me; I’m going to them. “
He describes his process. Once he has a sculpture in mind, he uses computer software and a 3-D printer to create a scale model. This not only for aesthetic reasons, but to see whether the structure is actually under its great weight and balanced. He can then move on to a smaller metal model, usually aluminum, but sometimes stainless steel or corten steel, before starting any final work. Lasers and water jets are used to cut the parts and various types of welding are used to put them together. Meanwhile, forklifts, cranes and belts support, move and position the parts. The process is more like shipbuilding than “sculpting”.
He does not limit himself to stationary pieces, but creates “kinetic sculptures” that move.
“Do you know Gabo?” he asks, pouring himself another café.
“I do!” I exclaim, excited to talk about something I understand. “I loved her in Ninotschka with Melvyn Douglas. 1939. She laughs for the first time in the film. Great movie!”
He frowns and stares. I think I hear him mumble “American” softly. He shakes his head and walks on. “Naum GAH-bo is considered the father of kinetic sculpture. He was Russian, part of the avant-garde after the revolution. His “Standing Wave” from 1920 is considered the first kinetic sculpture. Gabo explored sculpture free of static constraints, be it in space or time. ‘Why can’t the sculpture move?’ he asked. “
His voice flows across the table in melodic waves; his eyes dance. I pretend I understand just to listen to him, but he no longer sees me, his naive but devoted listener. He sees the works he describes for me and the artists who created them, who influenced him, who made him what he is today: a gifted and generous man who gives beauty to the world, his gallery .