A Critical Biography by John Sevigny
Andres Conde is a Miami-based Cuban American painter whose work is informed by a range of influences from the sometimes nostalgic esthetics of Edward Hopper to his family's brutal experiences in Cuba.
Born in Havana in 1968, Conde moved to Miami with his family in 1980 after spending a brief period in New York City. He started drawing when he was 14. Conde attended the University of Miami. His first show was at a Miami Beach bar where he worked as a bartender. Conde was 25 at the time.
His early work was inspired by his father's seven-year-imprisonment under the government of dictator Fidel Castro. The work, made when Conde was in his late 20s, was highly critical of Castro's brand of Communism, which was always totalitarianism in a left-wing mask. In particular, it took aim at Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine guerilla and pop culture icon considered a mass murderer by Cuban exiles and historians despite his omnipresence on T-shirts across the United States and Europe.
"I used to paint pictures of Che with anti-Castro slogans on them but people who were Che fans bought them," Conde remembers. Not long afterward a fellow artist convinced Conde to move away from political work. It's a common course for artists. When you are young you want to tell the world what you believe. But once you've said it, you can't go on repeating yourself. The best artists move on to more personal, less binary work.
Conde's recent work is nostalgic, highly graphic and focuses on the joy of everyday life. Some of his paintings bring back memories of the classic film Casablanca. Others evoke an ironically sad nostalgia for a pre-1959 Cuba. There is also a dose of Miami Beach art deco typefaces to savor. Conde describes his paintings as "scenes of happy times." Those works frequently focus on his wife Stacy Conde, owner of the gallery by which Andres is represented, and his family.
What makes his work stand out is that it contains none of the tropical kitsch of the Cuban masters, artists such as Wifredo Lam or more recently, Jose Bedia, who is also based in Miami and is viewed as a local legend. Andres Conde's work is inevitably in part a reaction against the political upheaval that he has seen up close. And that's a good thing. Art needs life-loving artists such as Matisse, Hoffman, Rauschenburg, and Conde just as badly as it needs Kollwitz, German Expressionism and Dada.