Cuban painter turns tobacco leaves into smoke-free art


Artist Milton Bernal works with the raw material - tobacco leaf - in his studio in Havana, Cuba. Photo: Reuters

Cuban painter Milton Bernal works with a smoking stogie perched in the corner of his mouth, a hint at the distinctly Cuban twist he adds to his unusual art.

The bearded artist, 63, lays wet tobacco leaves atop his sketches of famous Cuba-related personalities - from revolutionary icon Che Guevara to 20th century American novelist Ernest Hemingway, who lived outside the capital of Havana for two decades.

The resulting art takes on the earthy amber hues of a dry tobacco leaf and highlights the raised texture of its veins, a look that Bernal says makes his work unique.

"(Tobacco) is a symbol of our national identity," he said of one of Cuba's largest and best-known exports. "I convert it to an art form that isn't consumed, that doesn't cause any harm, so everyone can enjoy it."

Bernal works on a portrait in his studio, with the art taking on the earthy amber hues of a dry tobacco leaf. Photo: Reuters Bernal works on a portrait in his studio, with the art taking on the earthy amber hues of a dry tobacco leaf. Photo: Reuters

Tobacco thrives across much of the western half of the Caribbean island nation, and especially in Pinar del Rio province, home to the world's finest tobacco and cigars.

Bernal travels there regularly to handpick material from the large leaves discarded from the cigar production process. He parses them by colour to fit his art which is sold and displayed in homes, restaurants, cigar shops and hotels throughout Havana and globally.

In a process Bernal said he created more than 20 years ago, he uses a proprietary chemical formula to maintain the elasticity, colour and form of the tobacco leaf, which he rolls onto a canvas of artisanal paper and allows to dry.

"It does not suffer any type of deterioration (over time), regardless of the environmental conditions that there may be, relative humidity in the country where it is taken," he said.

"The work is simply preserved in a way that is very natural." - Reuters

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

Cuba , artist , tobacco , Milton Bernal , painter


Next In Culture

A Winston Churchill portrait by an artist whose work he hated is up for auction
Salman Rushdie's 'Knife' is unflinching about his brutal stabbing and uncanny in its vital spirit
Artist shuts down Israel's Venice Biennale exhibit in anti-war protest
A taste of heritage at the DFP Seni Festival 2024
Faith Ringgold, pioneering Black quilt artist and author, dies at 93
Salman Rushdie's forthcoming memoir 'Knife' will detail his stabbing incident
Restoration of 122-year old Penang gurdwara to finish in two years
Five years after fire, Notre-Dame rises from ashes
'Dungeons & Dragons', now 50 years old, is enjoying a resurgence in popularity
Melaka government allocates funds for preserving historic Villa Sentosa

Others Also Read