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Havana sights: Artist debuts portraits of Cuban relations

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They are portraits of the people.

A Gravesend artist will show off a collection of paintings inspired by his 2013 trip to Cuba for two nights this month. “The Cuba Series: Portraits of the Old Guard,” on display in St. Paul’s Church in Carroll Gardens on Sept. 16 and 23, depicts the people that artist Joseph Milazzo met during a six-week trek across the island nation, searching for artwork created by his grandfather.

“When I went on this pilgrimage I knew it was going to be an artistic takeaway but I wasn’t sure what it would be,” said Milazzo. “My whole life I heard from my family that I get my artistic talents from him, and I just knew I wanted to go find his stuff.”

He never recovered any of the artwork, but the helpful people of Esperanza — his ancestor’s hometown, where Milazzo finally landed after criss-crossing the island — fired up his creative spark.

“The inspiration for my show were the people,” he said. “I spent four days with the help of the townspeople and a town historian, tracking down where my grandpa’s work was — and we ultimately found nothing, but they were beautiful, caring, and hospitable to me.”

After returning from the trip, Milazzo spent two years working full-time on the 20 enormous portraits, each of which stands four feet high.

Some of the subjects are relatives who Milazzo met for the first time on his trip, while others are strangers who became friends. Milazzo hopes that visitors to the show will develop their own relationship with the images.

“I want them to meet these people and get a sense of what they might be like if they met in person,” he said. “It’s going to be the first time I’m seeing them all together at once, and we are going to find out together what the paintings speak when they’re all in one room.”

At 42, Milazzo says his drive for painting is just getting started. A previous project focused on bars around Brooklyn, but his next may be a continuation of his family history series, focusing on his father’s homeland of Sicily.

“I quit my job over this and it became my new job for two years, so this is my statement to the world to show my talent and passion for art,” he said. “I’m going keep painting. And after I put this Cuba series to rest, I’ll visit Sicily to get a good idea and maybe create a sister project.”

“The Cuba Series: Portraits of the Old Guard” at Parish Hall at St. Paul’s Church [199 Carroll St. between Clinton and Court streets in Carroll Gardens, (718) 913–9148, www.josephmilazzo.com]. Opening reception Sept. 16 at 7 pm. On display Sept. 16 and 23, 1–11:30 pm. $10.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Updated 5:55 pm, July 9, 2018
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