Connecting to the homeland through art

The Long Journey, acrylic on canvas, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Jose Urbay

Deep inside Jose Urbay’s heart, there’s a land of gold where he sources his artistic inspirations. Born and raised in Havana City, Cuba, Urbay considers his homeland the backbone of his artworks.

It’s where I come from and it’s the goal of my works,” says Urbay, now a Vancouver-based visual artist and graphic designer.

Urbay will showcase his works at CRIMSON: Modern Culture through Artists’ Eyes, a two-phrase exhibition that shows the collective works of sixteen Vancouver-based artists, at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Dec. 7–28.

A way to represent migration

In Urbay’s artworks, the narwhal, an Atlantic whale, is a recurrent character. For example, in The Long Journey, a painting created in 2015, Urbay depicts the migration of the water mammal. In the painting, groups of narwhals seen swimming across the blue water show a sense of loneliness and boldness at the same time.

For the artist, the whale is a symbol of migration and it represents his own life experiences in some way.

“I’ve been curious about narwhals. They are migrants. They do not belong to the Pacific Ocean, our coast. They belong to the Atlantic. They made their way to the unknown and they just keep going. That’s captivating to me. I feel attracted to that symbolism of moving forward and then I started to represent them in my paintings,” says Urbay.

As an immigrant, Urbay has applied his inner world to his paintings.

“Every character represented in my painting has a meaning for myself. It’s meant to talk to everyone who sees this like you. For example, when you see those birds flying in a direction towards something, you feel like they are speaking to you,” says Urbay.

Birds are another piece of imagery in Urbay’s works, symbolizing faith for the artist.

“The birds keep coming and coming in my paintings. They represent the spiritual part of us –
our hopes and desires to fly and know everything outside and inside of us,” he says.

Adaptation to Vancouver

Jose Urbay, Cuban-Canadian visual artist and graphic designer. | Photo courtesy of Jose Urbay

Born into a family of professional artists, Urbay has shown great interest in visual art from an early age. In order to pursue his dream, in 1994, he enrolled at the Institute of Design in Havana, where he studied Informational Design and launched his career. His homeland has always played an important role throughout Urbay’s artistic journey.

“Cuba is the backbone and source of my artworks,” says Urbay, taking a deep sigh. He describes his home-country as the bone marrow of him and his works.

Nap in the Valley and Full Moon at Sevillano are two of the few paintings that travelled with Urbay from Cuba to Vancouver.

“Savillano is a neighborhood close to my home in Havana. I used to go there a lot. I have many friends there. A lot of my happiest memories happened there in that painting,” says Urbay. “The place shown in Nap in the Valley is where I used to go a lot. There I wrote down ideas for my works,” he adds.

Urbay immigrated to Vancouver with his wife and children in 2008. With few chances of visiting Cuba again, his artwork has become a way of connecting the two homes – Vancouver and Havana. However, it took a while for Urbay to adjust to his new surroundings.

“The context changed and when I say context, it means basically everything. For example, I did a lot of oil painting back in Cuba. But the oil behaves differently here in Vancouver. It’s more moist and cold here and it takes longer to dry and cure. I had to relearn a lot of processes,” says Urbay.

An established artist, Urbay has exhibited his artworks internationally in solo and group exhibitions in Havana, Madrid, New York, Brussels and

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