What's happening in art: Pedro Pablo Oliva's visions of Cuba at UT and Heike Muller's painted photo albums

Leslie Curran Gallery Heike Mueller’s  “Beach no.1” is included in the exhibition, Passionate,  on display at the Leslie Curran Gallery.
Leslie Curran Gallery Heike Mueller’s “Beach no.1” is included in the exhibition, Passionate, on display at the Leslie Curran Gallery.
Published Nov. 20, 2018


A must-see exhibition of the work of a prolific contemporary Cuban artist is on display at the University of Tampa's Scarfone/Hartley Gallery. "Pedro Pablo Oliva's Cuba: Histories" features paintings, sculptures and works on paper by this visionary artist from the 1970s through today. Oliva's works are at once beautiful and eerie, with vibrant color palettes and a strong command of line. His subject matter often relates to childhood, as he lost his father when he was just a boy and had five children of his own, keeping him in a perpetual state of youth. He plays with proportions when it comes to depicting human anatomy; heads are too big and women are often much larger than men. And many of his works refer to sexuality, with genitalia running rampant over some scenes, but often misplaced, such as breasts where arms should be. But at the heart of Oliva's work is his connection to Cuba, where he continues to live, and the people who make Cuba what it is. He has many depictions of Fidel Castro, whom he refers to as the Great Grandfather, and often paints him as Saturn devouring his children, drawing from the Greek myth. He also plays on themes of escape, exemplified in La Nina del Pasaporte (The Girl With the Kite), pictured, in which a child is entangled in her kite. It could be a metaphor for Cubans who want to leave, or for anyone who wants to fly free but gets tripped up somehow.

Oliva is also a skilled sculptor. The exhibit includes four of his sublime bronze sculptures. Oliva has Parkinson's disease, and continually trembles until he begins to create. A short documentary about Oliva is included in the exhibit, made by curator Francesca Bacci and student Monique Aparicio when they visited his studio. It's a great addition to an exceptional show.

The exhibit remains on display through Dec. 9. The gallery will be closed Thursday, but will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and 1-4 p.m. Saturday. 310 N Boulevard, Tampa. (813) 253-6217.

Scenes from a Beach: Passionate

Saturday is your last chance to catch "Heike Muller: Passionate," a terrific exhibition at the Leslie Curran Gallery. Muller uses vintage photographs and postcards of people vacationing as inspiration. She recreates them as paintings and Cyanotypes, a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Many of the works seem plucked from a vintage photo album, with people wearing retro bathing suits and hairstyles, like Beach No. 1, pictured. Muller, who lives in Switzerland, incorporates wonderful touches of color into her works, especially shades of orange. But she also depicts modern life, as in her Beach Boys series, painted from live models. The men are young, slender and fit, standing against a dreamy beach backdrop in varying shades of blue, their pants casually rolled up and slung low on their waists. They're wonderful.

The gallery will be closed Thursday and Friday, but will reopen at 10 a.m. Saturday. 1445 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.