Miami artist's work hangs at Governor's Mansion

Expressionist artist Xavier Cortada's painting <em>Conquistadores</em> hangs at the Governor's Mansion.
Expressionist artist Xavier Cortada's painting Conquistadores hangs at the Governor's Mansion.

TALLAHASSEE -- The staid and somewhat old Governor's Mansion has a little Picasso-like flavor now that two new paintings from Miami artist Xavier Cortada are hanging in the entrance hall in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Cortada, the son of exiles from Havana and a little fishing village called Nuevitas, said Friday that the two paintings named Conquistadores (Explorers) and Raíces (Roots) symbolize the struggles Hispanics have faced and overcome in coming to the state.

"The hardship those conquistadores and settlers felt is the same hardship many Hispanics experience today," Cortada said, describing his work as expressionist but influenced by Cuban Modernist brush strokes taught to him by his father and uncle.

"I want Honduran kids living in Little Havana to know that they're part of a history that's more than 500 years old."

Cortada, 43 and a Democrat, said he wasn't just honored that Republican Gov. Charlie Crist tapped him to be the featured artist for Hispanic Heritage month, he saluted the Republican governor's "tremendous leadership" for holding a global-warming summit and putting the issue in the minds of Florida's private citizens and politicians.

The issue is dear to Cortada, who has produced a series of "ice paintings" to raise awareness about the threat of climate change.

Cortada first came to Crist's attention through former Gov. Jeb Bush, who featured the artist in 2003.

Crist, who has featured the paintings of the African-American Highwaymen in the mansion as well, introduced Cortada as someone willing "to share his gift from God." One of the paintings, Conquistadores, is to be sold for an undisclosed price to Washington Mutual, which then plans to donate the painting to the state. The other, Raíces, Cortada is loaning to Florida for a decade.

Both paintings heavily feature intertwining mangroves, with Conquistadores featuring a forbidding impasse of trees and a crocodile and Raíces a family in a welcoming forest with a pelican. Cortada said it reflects his own family's experience in which his mother and father had the help of government and churches. "Without them," he said, "my family would have been with the crocodiles, not with the pelicans."

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