HAVANA (Reuters) - The gigantic black and white portraits of children started appearing on walls around a suburban neighborhood of Havana two years ago, the work of Cuban artist Maisel Lopez.
The sober, finely painted portraits contrast with Cuba’s dilapidated buildings and pot-holed streets, colorful vintage cars and peeling pink, apricot and turquoise paint on eclectic architecture.
With nearly 30 murals completed, Lopez said he is only getting started on his “Colossi” series, a striking endeavor in the Communist-run country where street art is rare.
“I want to keep expanding further afield,” said Lopez, 31, who started painting the walls of homes and shops in his home district of Playa and is now completing his first mural in neighboring Marianao.
A chubby girl with wispy blond hair wistfully rests her chin on her hands, while a black boy with angular features peers at passersby with a slight air of defiance.
The murals are unusual in a country where public spaces are tightly controlled and posters and murals mainly have political themes or depict figures like Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Only one other artist in Havana, Yulier Rodriguez, has an equally recognizable assortment of street art. His figures are alien, the murals colorful. Lopez’s subjects are realistic and monochrome.
Lopez said in an interview last week that political art led him to paint murals. He helped with several celebrating the Bolivarian revolution during a cultural mission in 2009 to Cuba’s socialist ally Venezuela.
“A mural is constantly in interaction with the public,” said Lopez, whose work is inspired by Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, who said “children are the hope of the world”.
“That’s why I paint the children big, to mark their importance,” he said.
Unlike many street artists, including Rodriguez, Lopez seeks permits to paint on walls. While initially hard to get, he gained trust as he developed the series, he said.
Each colossus is several meters tall and takes Lopez four days to a week to paint. Each depicts a child living in the vicinity. He does not charge to paint them.
Instead, he earns a living teaching art classes and selling canvas portraits that can fetch up to $1500.
Locals have declared themselves fans and guardians of his work, looking after it as people stop to take photographs.
“It’s really striking and gives life to the street,” said Vivian Herrera, 47, who runs a bakery next to one of the murals. “It’s like the girl is really there, with her big, open eyes.”
Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Toni Reinhold