I say Alvaro Cardona-Hine is a Renaissance man because he is a poet, a composer and a painter. He is very accomplished in all three.
He’s written poetry the longest, since he was 18 and living in Costa Rica, poetry is very easy for him. And he comes from a literary family. His grandfather was one of the first novelists in Costa Rica. His older brother, a poet and journalist, was very well known in Latin America and widely published there. He and Diego Rivera were friends. His uncle was a writer and a poet and his father wrote a book when he was 70. So Alvaro says he grew up knowing that writing was an important thing and was in his genes somehow.
Music, which he studied in college, is the most difficult for him but also the most rewarding, ultimately. He says that being a rebel, he left his studies, and considers himself essentially self-taught. Then there is painting which is the most fun, “…all that splashing around with color” and also affords him his living.
I’ve just listened to an elegy Alvaro wrote for his oldest friend who died last year by his own hand. It was performed and recorded in March of this year. It is a deeply somber, beautiful piece and is interestingly delicate, which is one of the words Alvaro uses to describe his friend. The piece starts out with notes that spell out Hank’s name. He’s in the process of writing a symphony right now.
Seventeen or eighteen of Alvaro’s books have been published; two of them in Spanish, and there are still a lot of manuscripts yet to be recognized. It is an understatement to say he works hard. At 84 he feels there is no time to waste.
Painting came later when he was in his 40’s and realized he loved color. I know Alvaro mostly as a painter. I particularly love what I call his “black” paintings but, as he says, he shifts from dark to light, whimsical to heavy. His work is hard to categorize which is one of the reasons he is happy in his own gallery where no one will try to hold him to a particular style.
Alvaro met Barbara McCauley, painter/poet, when she joined his poetry workshop for very advanced, published poets. They married in 1970 and came to Truchas in 1986. He says that the land, the sunlight and the weather are continual inspirations to them both and that the quiet of the place has led them to more concentrated work.
He notes neither of them ever sought the world of becoming known—going to museums and getting very well connected. He says, “I just want to create. My intention has always been to produce what I have to produce and if it gets somewhere that’s fine and, if not, that’s destiny. But I don’t pursue the public world too much”. He feels that with that sort of ambition there is a possibility the art may suffer. He adds, “What I’m after is always a vision that has inner meaning to it whether you see it on the surface or not. This does not always please the public”.
Regarding the livelihoods we all piece together as artists he says, “We have to do whatever we can to make it work. It is in the hands of the higher powers or the lower powers, we don’t know which. Personally, I’m a very pessimistic person. It hurts me to be that way but I can’t just will myself to be different. The world is magical. I just don’t think I’m worthy of it so I work hard.”
From all of Alvaro’s many writings, I would like to share a quote from the catalogue for his show, Mythic Paintings, which hung in the McAllen International Museum, McAllen, Texas:
Looking is being part of the fire of the sun;
seeing is understanding how much we belong to flame.
The one is passive and involves no responsibility;
The other actively acknowledges a debt to change.
For those who see, everything is a welcome surprise.
You can see Alvaro’s paintings at cardonahinegallery.com