Accomplished painter, sculptor, and draftsman, Julio Larraz has transcended time and place for more than 50 years to become one of the most influential figures in Latin American and American art. Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1944, Larraz is both a Cuban and an American artist.
Julio Larraz’s father was a student and political activist who was imprisoned by the Gerardo Machado regime for three years on the infamous Isle of Pines. Following his release, he became the owner and editor of a newspaper in Havana, “La Discusion.” Larraz’s mother was a law student who later became the director of the family’s newspaper. In 1959, Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, and free press was extinguished shortly thereafter. Fearing for their safety under Castro’s repressive rule, the family fled Cuba and sought asylum in the United States. Julio Larraz was 16 years old.
The experience of leaving his childhood home in Cuba and being forced into exile had a profound effect on Larraz’s life and art. Before his physical exile, however, Larraz experienced some internal upheaval as well. As a child, Larraz spent most of his classroom hours perfecting his talents as an artist rather than attending to his schoolwork. School was one long drawing class where he developed his artistic skill by creating caricatures and cartoons of teachers. Perpetually energetic and full of imaginative impulsivity, he was expelled from several schools and eventually landed in a military academy run by former military officers under deposed dictator Fulgencio Batista. The combination of a politically affiliated education with his exile from Cuba later served as the motivation behind Larraz’s caricatures. When asked about the origins of his caricatures, he said they “came naturally. [They were] natural, critical observations.”
Soon after arriving in the United States, Larraz began drawing political caricatures. With their sense of humor, ability to portray each individual personality, and the skilled quality of his work, his caricatures began to draw attention and were eventually published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Time, Ramparts, Newsweek, and The Chicago Tribune. The politics which forced Larraz out of the country he loved infused the political undertones of his work, and the subjects of his work illuminated the bitterness which sprang from the challenges faced as a growing member of American society. Through, or perhaps because of, his extraordinary journey, Larraz would emerge as one of the world’s great painters.
Larraz was first recognized professionally as a painter in 1971 with his first solo exhibition at the Pyramid Gallery in Washington, D.C. His work has since shown in galleries throughout the United States, Europe, and South America. Larraz’s work has also been represented in numerous group exhibitions and can be found in many public and private collections, including Archer M. Huntington Gallery, University of Texas, Austin, TX; Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL; American Express Bank, Paris, France; and the World Bank, Washington, D.C. He has been the recipient of several awards from the Center for the Arts and Education, New York, NY; FACE, Miami, FL; the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, NY; and the Instituto de Educación Internacional, New York, NY. His passionate dedication to his craft has resulted in an enormous body of work spanning six decades, created in different mediums, and most importantly, contributing to the integration of Latin-American art culture.
In the 1980’s, Larraz began experimenting with sculpture, a medium he took to almost effortlessly. Although he is not always remembered for his departure into the form of sculpture, he created well-known pieces which have graced public spaces, art galleries, and art fairs for years.
Since leaving Cuba, Larraz has lived and worked primarily in the United States, yet the time he has spent traveling has proven to be some of his most prolific. While living in Italy in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, he created countless watercolors that have added immense volumes to his collection. Larraz also spent time living in New Mexico and Paris. Their legendary landscapes and cultures further influenced and deepened his work and added to the images he draws upon from within his deep imagination.
The development of Larraz’s work is based on studies which he then builds into larger works. He pays attention to the appearances and expressions of people he encounters in his daily life and travels, and these faces, in turn, often come to life in his work as characters from other worlds, places, and times. Larraz refers to this collection of ideas in his imagination as “The Kingdom We Carry Inside.” He speaks of his visions as dreams and describes being forced to do fast sketches to capture them before they disappear. “They are like dreams, it’s like when you try to tell someone about a dream you had, and it becomes smoke before you finish the sentence.” Larraz’s work combines the refinement of a skilled draftsman, and the narratives of a born storyteller, with the surreal distortion of a magician.
In 2004, Larraz returned to Miami where he lives and works today.