Laura Adams Wilson uses a pouring technique. Her new exhibit, “Cuban Roots: Where My Story Begins,” is set to debut on March 17. (Photo courtesy Michael Johnson)

After Sold-Out London Shows, Cuban Artist Returns To Gainesville Roots

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Laura Adams Wilson has seen the world.

From India to London and so many other places, the artist has garnered a lot of life experience. Now back in her hometown of Gainesville, the 41-year-old is returning to her roots artistically, too.

Her upcoming show, “Cuban Roots: Where My Story Begins,” is an ode to her Cuban culture. She hopes that the new exhibition which is dedicated to her grandmother  is a tribute to the powerful Cuban culture she has been exposed to her entire life.

It’ll be on display at the Thornebrook Gallery on Northwest 43rd Street in Gainesville from March 17 to April 1.

Wilson spoke with WUFT News by phone Tuesday to talk about the exhibit, her art and her inspirations.

WUFT: Tell me a little bit about when you knew you loved painting and when you knew this is what you wanted to do for the rest of you life.

Laura Adams Wilson works on an art piece. (Photo courtesy Michael Johnson)

Wilson: I was an art minor in college at Stetson — this was back in ’97 — and I had a professor who told me that I didn’t have a clear enough point of view to make any money being an artist.

I graduated Stetson, and I moved to New York. And I was a makeup artist for 10 years, so I got to paint on people’s faces. I did really well in that. I was with an agency in New York, Miami, L.A., and I traveled the world.

Then I met my husband, and we moved to India. Once we moved to India, I couldn’t work anymore in the fashion world, so I started painting again.

I painted with a confidence I never had in my early 20s. People would start buying it off the walls in my house, and then we moved to London and it exploded in London.

It’s not something I thought to myself, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.” It’s just something that kind of evolved that way.

Your first exhibition at the Thornebrook Gallery did really well and nearly sold out. Did that validate you as an artist, and did it affect the expectations you have now for your next opening?

I sold out three shows in London, so I actually kind of came here with much lower expectations. It’s Gainesville. It’s my hometown. I grew up here. I knew people would come and be supportive. I didn’t necessarily know if my style would be too modern for Gainesville, but it has done amazingly well.

We had two shows: one last year, which sold out completely, and this most recent one, which only has two pieces left. It’s been very validating, and it’s been very surprising.

David [Arrighi, owner of Thornebrook Gallery] will tell you he’s never really had a huge amount of success with selling abstract art. He [represents] Margaret Tolbert, which obviously is a local celebrity, and her pieces are beautiful and she’s someone who I grew up admiring. I would say she’s definitely one of the people that got me into art in the first place.

So for me, being in the same gallery as her is also quite validating. I would say we both, David and I, have both been pleasantly surprised. It’s made me, who is a perfectionist, very hard on myself in terms of this next show because I’m experimenting with some colors I don’t normally paint with.

So I’m a little more nervous going into this show than I was the last one.

What similarities or differences will we see with this exhibition versus your last?

The last was really very soft and sophisticated. There was a lot of white, a lot of gold. There is still a lot of metallic in the new stuff, but I’m experimenting with some quite punchy colors. I felt I needed to in order to represent my Cuban heritage.

I’ve never been to Cuba, but I’ve grown up on stories of Cuba and just the way my grandmother dressed when I was younger. She always had red lipstick on, and she always was very colorful.

I’m trying to do a bit more of that in the new show, but it’s not my aesthetic to be super bright. So I’m trying to temper it with some neutrals. But yeah, the color is going to be the main difference from this show and the last show.

The show is dedicated to your grandmother. Why did you feel such a pull at this point in your life to do a show like this?

My mother and I are very close. She’s still in Gainesville, and my grandmother is still in Gainesville. I lost my father when I was very young, and so it was always just my mom and I and my brother.

Then she ended up remarrying to who she’s been married to since I was 6 — my stepfather, Steven, who is a lawyer in Gainesville. That’s what brought us to Gainesville from Miami, because I was born in Miami.

I think because my mom was always so strong, my grandmother was always so soft. She would always have cookies, and she always smelled like guava paste and coffee, and she always had red lipstick on. I mean, I just have these vivid memories of my grandmother as a child.

We would go to Miami, and it would be this swarm of cousins. And we do a Cuban reunion every five years, and it’s massive. There are over 500 of us.

Because I lived overseas with my husband for 10 years and my grandmother aged so much in that time, I wanted to do this for her because she’s getting really old. She’s 88, so I don’t really know how much longer she is going to be with us.

I just wanted her to have a bit of this pat on the back because she really sacrificed everything for the family, always, and so did my mom. My mom sacrifices so much to take care of her. She’s always there to take care of her mother. I wanted to generationally pass that on.

“Girl on the Malecon” will be shown in Wilson’s “Cuban Roots” exhibition. (Photo courtesy Michael Johnson)

Has your grandmother seen the art, or are you trying to make it a surprise?

I want to make it a surprise for her, so she hasn’t seen anything.

There is kind of a joke in the family that my grandmother was born this Cuban princess. Her grandfather owned this ranch in Cienfuegos, which was a very wealthy ranch. They had horses, and all the tourists came.

They did very well for themselves, but then Castro came into power and obviously he took all the land. There’s a running joke in the family that she lost her crown in Cienfuegos, so I’ve named one of the paintings that. I don’t know if she will find it as funny as my mom and my aunt will find it funny, but it’s still kind of a family joke.

I’ve named a lot of the paintings off of stories that I’ve grown up with from her. My mom would go back [to Cuba] in the summers when she was a kid, and she always talked about how she would wait around for the café con leche cart to come through Havana, and the smells and the colors. I’ve named a lot of the paintings to reference those stories so when she passes on, and when I pass on, hopefully those paintings will have those stories still in them.

Your show dates coincide with Bulla Cubana, a celebration of Cuban arts and culture in Gainesville. Are you happy your exhibition is during a time when Cuban culture is being so celebrated in your hometown?

That’s why we did it. I thought I was going to be moving and was not going to be in the country at the time, but because we’ve ended up staying a bit longer, both David [Arrighi] and I decided that I could crank another one out.

We did just have [a show] in November, but he’s like, “I think it’d be awesome for you to celebrate this whole Cuban thing, and you’re third generation, just do it.”

So yeah, that’s one of the reasons why we scheduled it when we did because I just think it’s absolutely amazing. You know, it’s so weird because when I was growing up in Gainesville, you didn’t want to be Cuban. You wanted to be as white as possible in Gainesville.

It’s come full circle that now it’s being so celebrated, and I definitely wanted to be a part of that.

Correction: This article originally credited the photos to Laura Adams Wilson instead of the correct photographer, Michael Johnson.

About Gaby Rodriguez

Gaby is a senior at the University of Florida, studying Journalism. She is a reporter at WUFT news and can be reached at 786-270-7423.

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