Art ID1188
Classification Painting - Oil  
Artist Paul Sierra  
Title of Work The Road Seldom Traversed 
Print Issue  
Date Made 1990  
Dimensions: (in inches) Height: 40     Width: 60     


Biographical information?

Paul Sierra, Born 1944 Havana, Cuba
The son of a lawyer, Paul Sierra was likewise expected to pursue a profession, to become a doctor. His early private schooling in Havana was rigorous, but he remembers little of his lessons and much about scoldings for filling his notebooks with drawings rather than homework. By high school, Paul was thoroughly involved with the arts, including film and painting. His father collected books on painting; Paul devoured them. And he continued to draw, even without the benefit of much encouragement or formal training.

In 1961, when he was sixteen, Sierra left Cuba with his family for the United States. After a few months in Miami, the family moved to Chicago, where Sierra's father worked as a lawyer for the Union Tank Car Corporation. In 1963, Sierra began formal training as a painter, enrolling at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He spent three years there, "chasing girls and learning more about social life than art" -- except for the important connection he established with one of his painting teachers, the Puerto Rican artist Rufino Silva. Silva, with whom he studied painting, drawing, and design, became a close personal friend and a friendly political disputant.

By 1966, Sierra felt he had exhausted the possibilities of the Art Institute. He dropped out and, with no gallery or art world contacts (beyond Silva), he entered the commercial art field as an advertising layout artist. Sierra worked in advertising for a number of years but he says now that dropping out of school was "the biggest mistake of my life--it broke momentum of my development as a painter. I've had to do a lot of making up for lost time."

Shortly after leaving the Art Institute, he met his first wife, a writer, and with her had a daughter. When that marriage ended in 1970, the artist spent the next five years dividing his creative energies between photography and film making with a little painting in between. A turning point came in 1975, when he married his second wife, then a writer, now a management consultant. A honeymoon in Puerto Rico--as close as he could safely go to his native Cuba--renewed boyhood memories of Caribbean life and spawned the tropical imagery and exotic coloring that has more or less characterized his painting ever since. In the wake of his experience, Sierra has settled into two lives, working in advertising by day and painting by night and on weekends. "I discovered that I really like to lead a middle-class existence. I've had my share of living from hand to mouth. I like being married, having a decent home in a quiet neighborhood, being allowed to support my painting through other means. And I've found there's an enormous freedom in not having to rely on sales of paintings for a livelihood-- it takes off the pressure of painting what people expect me to paint. I paint for myself."

Sierra has managed to engage himself in the artistic life of Chicago through an intensive involvement with the Halsted Gallery, an artists' cooperative. He has not traveled extensively, though he visits New York regularly; his only European travel has been two trips to Italy with his wife. Other than Puerto Rico, he has never been to Latin America, nor has he returned to Cuba. His artistic influences have been shaped therefore largely by research and the museums and artistic milieu of Chicago. The painters who have most directly inspired him are Francis Bacon, Goya, Jackson Pollock ("as much for his life as his work"), Willem de Kooning and Balthus. Only in the last two years, he says, has the process of painting become a pleasure-- "like working with pastry"--rather than an arduous discipline. "I only hope to live long enough to make a good painting."

Sierra has had solo exhibitions at the Artemisia Gallery, Chicago (1986); the Halsted Gallery, Chicago (1985); Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL (1990); Gwenda Jay Gallery, Chicago (1991-92); Grederic Snitzer Gallery, Miami (1991-95); Louis Newman Galleries, Beverly Hills, CA (1991); Valparaiso University, Valparaiso IL (1992); Gallery 72, Omaha, NE (1992, 1994); Lew Allen Gallery, Santa Fe (1992); Botello Gallery, San Juan, PR (1993); Corbino Gallery, Sarasota, FL (1993, 1995-96); Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago (1993, 1996); Robert Berman Gallery, Los Angeles (1993, 1996); Kimberly Gallery, Washington, DC (1994); University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD (1994); Buena Vista College Art Gallery, Storm Lake, IA (1994); and the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, IN (1995).

Among the group exhibitions that have included his work are American Artists of Cuban Origin, South campus Art Gallery, Miami-Dade Community College (1985); Aquí, Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (1984); New Forms of Figuration, Center for Inter-American Relations, New York (1984).

Sierra has been included in several important national traveling exhibitions, among them: Expresiones Hispanas (1988); Outside Cuba, (1987-1988); Hispanic Art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors, (1987-1989); ¡Mira!, (1988-1989); Cuba/USA: The First Generation, (1991-1992); Chicano & Latino: Paralleles and Divergences, (1991-1992); and Latino Art, (1994).

Sierra lives in Chicago, IL.

Source: Hispanic Art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1987.