A single month spent in Cuba in 1958 as a sailor enveloped in a love affair left a lasting impression on artist George Klauba. His latest exhibit at the Ann Nathan Gallery, “Cuba: Rebels, Orishas, & 26 Julio,” is built on that impression. He uses, as he puts it, a “mix of imagination and fact” to examine a world embroiled in upheaval and rebellion.
Klauba’s 20 paintings, executed in acrylic on panel, are striking to look at, both as a collection and individually. He deftly combines realistic detail with fantastical imagery, such as in Ochosis’s Purification of the Hunt, where a soldier stands at the ready, shirt opened to the navel as though sweltering in the heat. But his head has been replaced by the head of a stag, calling into question the nature of hunter and hunted in times of uprising.
In homage to his brief romance, Klauba features woman revolutionaries prominently in this collection, as well as period postage stamps in reference to their correspondence after his departure. A Letter to Santa Barbara features a beautiful smiling woman, hands wrapped around a rifle. The dichotomy is fascinating, and while Klauba fills the painting with detail, he manages to do so without commenting on the politics behind the subject.
My favorite piece in this collection is Octubre 26 1962. The date refers to the Cuban missile crisis, when it was learned that the Soviets were building nuclear missile bases in Cuba. A Cuban revolutionary stands defiant in front of a missile with a powerful bear draped around her shoulders. The sky behind them shines orange and red, harking back to a time when the Cold War threatened to turn destructively hot.
Through 12/31, Ann Nathan Gallery, 212 W. Superior, 312-664-6622, annnathangallery.com. Free.