When Tobacco turns into an Artwork
MILTON BERNAL IS A SIMPLE MAN WHO, ALTHOUGH HIS ART IS EMPIRICAL, FOCUSED ON DEVOTING HIMSELF TO THE PASSION THAT MARKED HIS LIFE FOREVER. HE IS KNOWN AS “THE TOBACCO PAINTER”
It is no secret he is not known in the art universe as he is in the realm of tobacco. He loves to say, always beaming a smile, that he is one of the best painters among tobacco growers. “There is no politics, no religion or social classes in this universe; you can’t resist the temptation to talk about the best tobacco in the world. And that’s what: the perfect excuse to gather people — as its purpose is to bringing together and binding people. The more I know about it, the more fascinated and enamored I feel. The more I paint, the more I realize its greatness, richness, history, and cultural value.”
These are the words with which Milton Bernal (1960- ) describes the essence of the work that has marked his life and has given him the tools to be known as “The Tobacco Painter.” With his characteristic simplicity, he welcomed Excelencias in his studio gallery — a warm, very Cuban space — to talk about the unusual job he does: oil painting with tobacco leaves embedded in handmade paper.
He graduated from the mid-level technician degree in Industrial Design and owns a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism — specialized in Social Communication — at the University of Havana; in Marketing, and Business Management at the Superior School of Marketing Studies (ESEM), in Spain. He is member of the Center for the Development of Visual Arts, the Cuban Association of Artists and Craftsmen, the International Federation of Plastic Artists (Barcelona, Spain), and the Artlive International, in France. Although he is an experienced professional in the communication world, he boasts an empirical training in arts. He is a self-educated painter who discovered, randomly, impressive skills for painting and a natural talent that resulted in a wholesome satisfaction.
“In 2000, I was not a painter yet. I was in France and I visited a photo exhibition by Joaquin Blez (1886-1974, Cuban photographer specialized in Portrait Studio who devoted part of his work to capture the beauty of female nude from his camera) in Moulin Rouge. While watching in awe that work of art, I told myself: If I were a painter, I would love to paint those nudes. Before returning to Havana, I bought a poster with the image of Chaplin and the Chicuelo. I always wanted to have it. One day, when I hung it on the wall, I heard the call to the Wemilere Festival. Although I am not a religious man, the Afro-Cuban influence touches me personally as I was born in Guanabacoa. Thus, I decided to paint Chichuelo, but I transformed him into Eleggua. I won the Festival with this painting in 2001 and the award was a diploma made on handmade paper. It inspired me and I began painting nudes on that material,” Milton recalled, while taking us through those casual events that led him to arts, and then tobacco as the essential element of his work.
Afterwards, luck played its usual old trick again and this time, when he was do