Viredo Espinosa

Viredo Espinosa, member of the innovative Los Once group, dies


Viredo Espinosa (Havana, 1928), a member of the pioneering Los Once group that between 1953 and 1955 gave the opening salvos of abstract expressionism in Cuba and caught up the island’s modern arts with the era’s forward-looking proposals, died this August 26th in Costa Mesa, California, where he resided—close to the sea, as in his native Regla—since 1976.

Viredo, as he liked to be called, died from cardiovascular complications and is survived by his wife of 57 years, Alicia, his sister Noigma, his nephews Alexis and John Henry, and his niece María Elisia.

Viredo’s artistic legacy is above all an ode to Cuban-ness, interweaving the colors, rhythms, music, and popular believes of the Caribbean nation.

Viredo Espinosa was born in the iconic town of Regla, whose name derives from the Virgin of Regla that Cubans venerate as Yemanya, a major orisha in the Yoruba pantheon, identified with the ocean. A village of fishermen and workers closely identified with the port industries and a center for Afro-Cuban religions (the first Cabildos, whose repercussions were essential to the safeguarding of African beliefs and traditions, were established there), Regla influenced the vision carried since childhood by the artist, influenced by the lively folklore that dominated life in his native city. Viredo told the story of his participation, alongside his friends, in Afro-Cuban celebrations, where he transcribed the participant’s notebooks and drew the enigmatic ñañiga figures. Such direct contact with Afro-Cuban and Catholic dances, music, and religiosity shaped his imagination, as reflected in his pictorial creations.

Viredo Espinosa’s oeuvre can be summarized in three key periods. The first period, which includes his mural paintings, is described by the artist as influenced by childhood drawings; the second period, marked by the influence of geometric abstraction, includes his work as part of the Los Once group; the third period, in his years of exile, is defined by the confluence of the two previous ones, a symbiosis that resulted in the final style that characterized him, with the inescapable presence of the customs of his native Cuba and, specifically, of Regla.

Viredo Espinosa’s work broke into the Havana art scene towards the end of the 1940s. Two events helped give it notoriety: the 1948 Book fair organized by the Education Ministry at Havana’s Parque Central, where two of his paintings were on display, and later, in 1953, his commission for the murals and stained-glass windows at the Embassy Club in El Vedado.

However, the somber years of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, and his later refusal to join the Castro revolution, eclipsed for years his production; finally, in February of 1969, Viredo and his wife Alicia were able to leave Cuba in one of the Freedom Flights. They arrived first in Miami and then in Los Angeles, where a friend offered them shelter.

There, Viredo Espinosa recovered his tireless vocation as a painter and achieved recognitions such as the one given by the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Assembly. In 2000, the artist was given the prestigious “La Palma Espinada” award, given by the Cuban-American Cultural Institute.

Between 1970 and 2009, his work was presented in a dozen individual exhibitions, among them a 2003 show at Maxolly Art Gallery in Miami and a 2010 show—the last one in his career—at Old Towne Gallery in Tustin, California.

The work of Viredo Espinosa is part of prestigious collections, such as the Museo de Bellas Artes de Cuba and the Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles, California.