BY RENATO PEREZ | Miami Herald
Jose María Mijares left Cuba but Cuba never left Mijares.
‘‘In my subconscious there is an inner landscape that is Cuba,’’ the painter said in an interview in 2001. “Since I was exiled at an older age, that landscape cannot be erased.’‘
Indeed, images of his native country blossomed frequently on his canvases.
Mijares, world renowned for his mastery of oil painting, his pioneer exploration of geometric abstraction in Cuban art of the 1950s and his neobaroque compositions of the exile period, died Tuesday of lung and heart problems at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables. He was 82.
‘‘Mijares was an exceptional human being and a tireless worker with the permanent state of mind of a youth,’’ said his wife of eight years, María Antonia Cabrera. “At the hospital, he asked for watercolors so he could go on painting.’’
Mijares was born June 23, 1921, in the Havana neighborhood of Santos Suárez. He took up drawing as an adolescent and, at the age of 16, he entered the San Alejandro School of Fine Arts in Havana on a scholarship.
‘‘It amounted to 19 pesos and 70 cents a month, which seemed like a fortune at the time,’’ he recalled later. “I was lucky to befriend [modernist painter] Fidelio Ponce, because he taught me how to restore old photographs, and with the money I earned I supplemented the scholarship.
“Ponce was my first influence. He, Carlos Enríquez, Rene Portocarrero, Cundo Bermúdez and others from the generation that preceded mine became known as the Havana School.’‘
His first major showing was in 1944, at a national exhibition in Havana’s Capitol building. There, he won second prize with a painting titled La Alameda, The Boulevard. His style at the time was figurative but in the 1950s changed to what he described as “concrete forms.’‘
The arts scene in Havana in the 1950s was grim, he recalled in an interview. ‘‘There were no galleries,’’ he said. “They all went broke. The only places where one could exhibit were the Fine Arts Circle and the Lyceum Lawn Tennis Club.’‘
He went back to San Alejandro, this time as a teacher, and taught there for two years. He resigned when Fidel Castro came to power.
He left Cuba in 1968 and came to Miami. His geometric style changed with the change in surroundings.
‘‘I went back to figurative painting: people and landscapes,’’ he said.
Mijares was a prolific painter even in his waning years, working about six hours a day, beginning at sunrise.
Florida International University gave Mijares an honorary doctorate in fine arts in December 2001.
Two years ago, he opened the Mijares Gallery in Coral Gables, where his latest works went on display.
Visitation begins at 4 p.m. today at Rivero Funeral Home, 3344 SW Eighth St. Burial will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at Woodlawn Park Cemeteries, following Mass.
Mijares is survived by his wife.
El Nuevo Herald reporter Wilfredo Cancio Isla contributed to this obituary.