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Freedom to paint: From artist to rafter to artist

Posted on Thursday, 01.27.11

to paint: From artist to to artist

Almost two decades after fleeing Cuba on a raft, a Coral Gables artist
works to build a career in South Florida.
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By Ines Mato
Special to The Miami Herald

In the early 1990s, Henry Ballate hung a noose at the entrance of his
art gallery to show that Cuba's communism represented death.

The regime was not amused. The authorities had Ballate's art removed
from public galleries, and the artist was tossed in jail for six months.

When he was released, Ballate and six of his friends set out on a raft
for Miami, where their survival depended on their precarious raft and
the current.

"We didn't know the route, we just hoped that the current would take us
somewhere," Ballate said.

Not certain how long the journey would take, they rationed their meager
supplies of cheese, bread and water, Ballate said.

But on their seventh day, the current took them to Key Largo, where they
were rescued by nearby residents.

From that moment, Ballate worked hard to adjust to a new country, but
never lost his vision of pursuing his career in art.

In 2002, he attended La Academia Italiana, in Florence, where he studied
drawing and painting. The academy inspired him to study new forms of
art, and in 2004 he enrolled in Miami International of Art &
Design to get his bachelor's and master's degrees in Fine Arts.

Ballate has participated in expositions such as the Miami's Independent
Thinkers, Arte America, Solo Art Miami, San Jose's National Gallery,
National Art Gallery in Dhaka and Bangladesh for the 3{+r}{+d}
Friendship Art Exhibition.

After years of practice and hard work, Ballate, 44, presented his thesis
exhibition called "Fragments and Passion" on Thursday at the MIU's gallery.

Ballate takes classical paintings and pictures as models, transforming
them into provocative and sensual pieces of art.

He said his inspiration starts when he sees a painting that draws his
attention. Then he analyzes it and remakes it in his own style, he said.
By using his computer and oil paints, he recreates the image.

The result is a piece of art composed of separated fragments that form
an image.

Ever since Ballate left Cuba, he realized that his life wasn't about
portraying politics in his art. Instead, he chose to reproduce sexual
paintings, including some depicting genatalia.

"It's more sexy — the naked art than a naked person," he said. "The
painting is divine and eternal, and the person is mortal and ordinary."

Manny Manzano, a friend of Ballate's and owner of the Madrid
near Miami International , said that he respects Ballate for his
dedication and talent.

One of Manzano's favorite pieces is "The Kiss," which imitates the
famous kiss of Britney Spears and Madonna in the MTV Movie Music Awards.

"I like it because it shows sensuality and freedom," he said.

Macia Gomez, MIU's public relations director, said she admires Ballate's

"He left Cuba risking it all, and he became a great artist," she said.

He now lives in Coral Gables and works for MIU as a graphic designer,
while creating new pieces, hoping that someday his art will be displayed
at a famous museum.

"I live an ordinary life, but when I'm working in my art, I'm
transported to a superior level," he said.

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