Raúl Villarreal in Union City on December 4!

Rafael Román Martel


One of the most talented artists of my generation will be exhibiting his work in Union City, New Jersey from December 4, 2009 to January 22, 2010.

The internationally-recognized Raul Villarreal is an exceptional painter, a poet breaking the rhythm of the written word to create his visual universe, which explodes in color and passion.

Thanks to the initiative of Union City’s Mayor Brian Stack and the commendable work of Commissioner Lucio Fernandez, Union City residents will have the opportunity to appreciate the work of renowned painters like Raul Villarreal.

Stack has not only garnered the title of New Jersey’s Mayor for his outstanding improvements in Union City, he is also a patron of the arts, bringing it to this diverse community in a way never seen before.

Raul Villarreal creates his metaphors with a brush and a river of talent. A keen student of the classics and neoclassics, in his creation of color he has also been able to add a touch of neo-surrealism to his creations.

He has found and perfected the most difficult skill of a poet: to find his own voice– in his case his own image– and feeling in its full expression.

In 1990 Raul, the great photographer José Hernández, and myself founded STET Magazine.

The literary and artistic magazine traveled throughout the world as far a Japan, from where we once were happily surprised to received a postcard from a Cuban artist who was living in Tokyo at the time, praising our effort.

We came up with the idea in one of those magic nights when a new literary and artistic movement was brewing out of the “Musa Traviesa” tertulias, which were founded by Dr. Onilda Jimenez, who taught a group of would-be intellectuals, back in the mid 80s and later became a local force in avant garde literature coming out of what was then Jersey City State College (New Jersey City University).

Little did our readers know that STET magazine was conceptualized in a small apartment on 13th Street in North Bergen during hard economic times. Part of the project was financed by local art patrons and part out of own pocket. Nevertheless, STET grew to 75 pages and was as innovative as it was popular in intellectual circles for about two years, when we decided to let it go.

As I edited STET’s text and Raúl and José edited the illustrations and the graphics, my respect for their talent grew. I haven’t met true artists as committed to their work as they are.

It was a time when the internet did not exist, nor did cell phones. To do research for an article, you had to spend long hours at NJCU or New York City Library to find the accurate data to back the essays.

It was the time of the typewriters. Computers were a privilege of the rich and empty.

We also belonged to a kind of lost generation, between the Cubans who arrived in the United States in the 60s and the Mariel Generation of 1980, who had made their names under the umbrella of the Cuban Revolution and on their rebelious attitude in 1980 built their status as the early “dissidents.”

We were also resentful of the 70s generation and the retractor Heberto Padilla, with the exception of poets like Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñeira, who suffered their internal exile, persecution and death under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

We were in the midst of the bitter and unstructured son of the revolution Cabrera Infante, and Reinaldo Arena’s generation of intellectuals, imitators, and hangers-on.

We were the forgotten ones, but we decided not to be brushed off by the repentant servants of a dictator, the retractors of his poetry or the new wave of intellectuals who shielded themselves under the immense talent and human dignity of Arenas.

We refused to be part of a “clique.” We were Jacobins without the guillotine who were resolute in making our voices heard.

And we did.

We were the exiles “catapulted into history.” Our struggle for identity and a place in Cuban literature suffered from a conscious or unconscious effort to dismiss, from a corrosive Miamian tradition that gravitated its essence not only to the Northeastern United States but to generational cliques inseperable from Cuban tradition. It was marked by classism which continues to this day, when an oligarch-bourgeois family rules the destiny of the enslaved island.

Meanwhile, there was a growing movement in New York City with poets like Maya Islas, Ana Galiano, Noel Jardines, Felix Rizzo, et al. For the most part, they became incorporated into or took into account our poetry and art. Their poetry and art bled their isolation and their need to be recognized. With the longing for their suffering to be recorded in the annals of exile literature as authentic, they were forced to create openings for their voice to transcend the intellectual bureaucracy, with all of its corruption carried from an intellectually empty exile community to the opportunists and materialists the Cuban Revolution had incubated for two decades.

Part of that need was the catalyst for STET.

We were moved by ulterior as well as interior motives, but art was always at the forefront.

Even though we never discussed the details, we were fighting for our own identity, for our own voice which we found in STET.

Almost twenty years after its creation, STET Magazine is today in the archives of many universities like Princeton and Harvard. It is a testament to the poignant necessity of free expression. It is a reaffirmation of the universality of art in its most authentic form.

After STET, we grew apart. I was the poet, José was the photographer and Raul was the painter.

Today Raul is a college professor, I am a high school teacher, and José a well-known photographer and graphic artist. But our essence and our love for the art of writing, painting and photography hasn’t dwindled. Even though I haven’t seen them in years, I know we share the same passion: Art.

After almost two decades, I am looking forward to seeing my friends again on December 4, 2009 in Raúl’s exhibit with the satisfaction that we prevailed the snow and the hunger of Exile.

I encourage all art lovers to join me at the QbaVa Gallery on 508 42nd Street in Union City on December 4th to celebrate Raul Villarreal’s considerable talent.


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