Fleeing havana in search of freedom was, for this Shrewsbury artist, the start of an even longer journey
by Laura D.C. Kolnoski • photos by Vincent Matulewich
Havana-born Miguel Figueras first lifted a pencil to draw at age of 1, and has never stopped expressing himself. Drawn to themes of his native Cuba, nature, religion, street life, landscapes, and his signature nudes, he has traveled the world to find artistic freedom and inspiration. Along the way, he has assisted family members who sought to escape Cuba’s communist government.
Figueras had two aces up his sleeve when he arrived in New York City in 1968—a cousin who could shelter him and a father born in Key West, Florida, who had met his mother on a trip to Cuba. The couple married and lived in the island nation’s pre-revolutionary state for 50 years.
Having an American parent helped alleviate some of the repatriation red tape that otherwise would have stymied the young man’s effort to bring his mother, sister, and niece to the United States, and the sense of urgency was palpable; his niece’s father was jailed as a political prisoner, eventually serving 15 years.
“My sister and ten-year-old niece Yvonne were coming and someone had to take care of them,” he said matter-offactly during the recent opening reception for his June exhibition at the Guild of Creative Art in Shrewsbury. “So, I worked in restaurants and took on other jobs to make money while looking for steady work, but always kept working on my art.”
While in Havana, Figueras studied at the San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy from 1954 to 1956, becoming a high school design and fine arts teacher in the city from 1959 to 1965. With Fidel Castro in power, Figueras decided to leave in 1966. In Manhattan, he became a security guard with Merrill Lynch; a job he held until his 2000 retirement. (His sister and niece also found employment at the financial firm.)
Spain was his first home upon leaving Cuba, where a friend took him in, where job opportunities awaited, and where there were new surroundings that fed his art. Next he went to Paris, rooming with another friend while taking courses in painting and drawing at Ecole des Beaux Arts.
“When you leave Cuba, you have to leave all your assets and they take your house, so I had to go where friends could help me,” Figueras said. “But I continued creating.”
His passions for travel and art education never waned. In addition to visiting South America, he frequented museums and art galleries three times during the 1980s in the Italian cities of Florence and Venice. He is an e_ usive devotee of Tintoretto, the 16th century Venetian master, adding that
Michelangelo and Raphael are close runners-up.
Figueras’s diversity of experiences are evident in works that incorporate vibrant colors and thought-provoking depictions of the human experience.
“He is a huge and mostly undiscovered talent,” assessed fellow fine artist Mike Quon who has become an ardent fan. “It’s all drawn from his mind. There is one large piece in the center of his apartment that has taken one year to paint. I am wowed.” So prolific is Figueras, in fact, that much of his modest Atlantic Highlands abode is filled with work.
Since 1957, he has had numerous shows and exhibitions, most recently at Gary Stevens Groves Fine Art and A.J. Dillon Gallery in Atlantic Highlands, and the Art Alliance of Monmouth County in Red Bank. Figueras is currently preparing for the upcoming annual Juried Art Show, Exhibition, and Sale at Rumson’s historic St. George’s-by the-River Episcopal Church. The church’s highly-anticipated and well-attended Canterbury Art Show, this year entitled “A Tapestry of the Arts,” takes place on Labor Day Weekend (September 1 through 4). An art auction there is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Guild of Creative Art / 620 Broad Street, Shrewsbury
732.741.1441 / guildofcreativeart.net