Aspen Art Gallery has a rising superstar artist who is making waves internationally. Through his artwork, Cuban-born artist Michel Mirabal showcases some powerful history-making changes in the vibrant political environment between the United States and Cuba, two countries that are close geographically and artistically offer powerful side-by-side comparison.
This past summer I was privileged to meet and talk with Mirabal during his first-ever visit to Aspen as a guest artist in residence for Aspen Art Gallery, where he was hosted by gallery owner Damian Guillot. Mirabal traveled from his home in Cuba with several friends and associates and enjoyed many of the special experiences Aspen has to offer, including hikes to the top of the Aspen Mountain and a music concert at the Benedict Music Tent to see Earth, Wind & Fire.
His art is quickly becoming the face of Cuba and most recently was chosen to be on the first Mastercard useable in Cuba. Mirabal’s art has even taken to the skies, quite literally, where it can be seen flying high on the tail of a Havana Airlines aircraft. But even with all this international success, he still remains true to his Cuban roots.
“Every country has problems,” says Mirabal. “My hope is that other countries, especially the US, can be open to Cuba and embrace what my country has to offer the world.” He goes on to say that “art is subjective, and if I can make a difference with my paintings and create thought-provoking ideas and conversations, then that is even better!”
His art is a contribution to both America and Cuba in many ways. His current flag series is painted using the traditional bold red, white, and blue colors of the US flag while layering and juxtaposing the painted image with current newspaper headlines from Cuba and the United States. While in Aspen, he even incorporated headlines from The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News into some of his new works.
Mirabal also tells me that rice represents a human connection with the most basic foods we all eat to survive, barbed wire represents problems and restrictions of basic freedoms that his country is facing, and the bullet shells, keys, and other materials are also significant to fighting and both closed and open doors within each one of the powerful art pieces he creates.
The highlight of his visit was a well-attended art reception at Aspen Art Gallery where he presented many of his new works painted on US soil. Galley director Ben Tomkins tells me, “Michel’s continuing global rise can only be described as meteoric. The way the work has been received at the gallery reflects that, too. The collection is almost half sold out already.”
An impressive list of diverse private and public collectors of Mirabal’s works include Muhammad Ali, the Martin Luther King Foundation, the Rockefeller Museum in New York, Fidel Castro, former Haitian president René Préval, and the Bellas Artes museums in Cuba and Colombia, in addition to many other collectors and public spaces. The king of Morocco just commissioned eighteen new works, and if there’s one thing that former president Barack Obama and current president Donald Trump agree on, it’s Michel Mirabal—both are collectors.