When I was seven years old I began visiting the barbershop of Pepe Enríquez or, more correctly, José Enríquez. The Spanish “Josés” are the Pepes in Cuba. Pepe, a barber who painted, was the cousin of Carlos Enríquez. On my first visit to the barbershop his and Carlos Enríquez’s paintings illuminated my world. Pepe’s compositions consisted of paintings of his daughter Caridad Enríquez but also other paintings.
Pepe gave me instructions about the various colour combinations. He showed me a colour which I was very fond of as a child, the colour siena. As a child I used this colour for my pictures very often. I was seven, or perhaps five years old then. I was still very young and I visited the barbershop quite frequently.
My childhood developed in this manner. I started painting when I was about four or five. I had just returned from “La Jiquima” the country estate of my uncle in Las Villas. “La Jiquima” is the name of my gallery. Thus, when I was five I left Villa Clara which is located at the border of Santa Clara and Camaguey. Santa Clara is the capital city and Villa Clara is the province in the border area near the river Rio Jaquibonito. My uncle managed a country estate there and that is where I lived until I was fifteen. I arrived in Havana and started to paint. I had a friend in the fort in which I lived, who studied at the Villate Academy. René Portocarrero also studied there for several months or a year. My friend’s name was Pablo Valdez Alonso and his sister Asunción Valdez Alonso was my second girlfriend.
The pictures which Pablito painted influenced me a great deal, or rather, the colours which he used, yellow and cadmium. These shrill colours caught my eye. I liked them very much. When I was five I started painting portraits. I painted them very calmly as I also do today. Of course, I didn’t have the technique then that I do now. My stepfather, the man who married my mother, was a man of low character, very brutal and also choleric. However, in the early years he was very good to me and said to the people who came to visit us, “Sit down so that Miguelito can paint you”. Of course, these sketches were not paintings, but then he had no idea what a painting or a final drawing was. I didn’t know it either but I painted and I drew. Thus, I have been painting portraits since I was five but I never painted like a child. By the time school began when I was five I was already able to read and write. One of my cousins had taught me that. When I started school I thought that you learned everything there. It was my world and my belief at that time. And I saw my friends, like all children, were playing war with toy aeroplanes and toy ships. I can remember quite clearly that once I was standing beside my desk as the other children were playing aerial warfare and I said I was not any use at that. I sat down again and painted a portrait of Martí and, I believe, one of Marceo. The teacher marvelled at the technique with which I was already painting at that age. I never played war with planes and ships again because from that moment on it was important to me to paint a lot. What I didn’t know at that point was that I could really do painting. We were two painters then although we were only children. One was Armando Quesada a doctor now who painted pictures and sold them cheaply at the market in order to survive, and there was me. We were two painters from Villanao. I visited Armando at home and he showed me his works of art. I remember still his copy of “The Third of May” (in Spanish “El tres de mayo”) by Francisco de Goya and I remember the colours he used. What he and I did was to make copies of famous paintings. Of course, they were reproductions and reproductions and originals are never the same. But Armando’s reproductions were better because of the colours which he used for them.
I began to work at “Cuba 74” in the same studio as José Radillo who, according to his family tree is a descendent of the family of José Marti. I began to work with José Radillo and painted my first pictures. When I began working at “Cuba 74” I was told, “You better not paint sad things, no naked women nor naked men, no martyrs of the revolution.” My first three paintings were of a funeral, a naked woman and a portrait of Ché Guevara. I searched for every artist and their addresses who made sculptures. I started at “Cuba 74” in March or April of 1972, but then on October 9, 1978, the anniversary of Che’s death by curious coincidence I suddenly became very ill again with my nerves. I started crying. I headed off with my guitar to an event in Ini Central. I had kept up with playing the guitar. Ini Central is touristy nowadays but then when I was there I registered the fear in the eyes of the people as paranoid regression. And as I went along the curb stone of the street to the Plaza de las América I said to myself, no, whatever comes out of me which is positive is good enough. I went to “Cuba 74” and met with my stepfather, started crying and told him that my mother didn’t love me. Eventually I fell into a deep crisis and lost all sense of body and mind. Everything was transformed. I was brought to clinic for addicts. I took my oils and canvas with me and painted and after three months I was given my certificate of release. The doctors were not in a position to solve even one of my problems. This severe and dogged psychotic crisis intensified more and more. Anyway, I continued my work at “Cuba 74”. In the ten months after October 9 I had the raven symptom which van Gogh also had when he painted the ravens as they flew over the fields of corn. I remember very distinctly the terrible symptoms which I had in this very house here. Due to fear that I might commit suicide my mother hid all the knives and scissors. At that time I looked up at the sky and the sky wasn’t blue but leaden grey. And in the sky I saw, I saw the outlines of the ravens, the many ravens which were flying there, and I felt one of the ravens picking at my neck which electrified my whole brain. I suffered from this three whole days but still I didn’t miss one day at work. I don’t know how I did that. Slowly it disappeared. I continued to paint. I never stopped painting. I never painted ravens, no, I never did that and thus my nerves slowly began to relax. At any rate, at “Cuba 74” I was exposed to a war being waged by some painters. I don’t know exactly who they were but I think they were from among the sculptors. At that time Juan Vaquez Martín was one of them. I don’t know whether I had made a mistake or not but, be that as it may, Desaspedido Pidolea who was then personnel manager dismissed me. He threatened to kill me if I wouldn’t leave, so I left because I was afraid. My stepfather made connections to the tourist press for me.
The team called Graphical Experimentation in Tourism was the best graphic art team in Cuba. There I became acquainted with Armando Alonso, Yoldi and a number of other painters. Among them Raimundo García Parra was the most important. As soon as I saw Raimundo García Parra pictures Pepe’s picture became irrelevant for me. I was 22 or 23 years old and I commenced to imitate the style, not the pictures but the style, which was strongly influenced by René Portocarrero, Jackson Pollock, de Kooning and Joan Miró. I began with these pictures under the direction of El Mundo. El Mundo was my first instructor in the area of painting technique and theory. At that time I had a liason with a woman, a companion or partner, however one would like to call her, in Mantilla. She was a guest in the home of Yonny (Juan Gualberto Ibáñez Gómez) the nephew of Professor Juan Gualberto Gómez. We, meaning Fabiana Valdez, my companion, Nelson Torres Guerra, the director of the conservatory in Marianao and myself with my guitar went to this circle which met on Saturday in Yonny‘s home. Virgilio Piñera and a number of other important artists, among them Jaime Vechase who died in the USA also went there. His illustrations were published in a number of newspapers, and as far as I know, also in the New York Times. One day I began to make portraits of the people who were there, and Yonny asked me, “You like painting?” Then I got the best advice which I have probably ever gotten in my life. I told him that mentally I was always in very bad health and that I liked painting, but that I would have to wait until I felt well enough in order that I would also able to perfect my painting. He responded, “No, you must not wait for the ideal moment in order to do things. You have to pull yourself together for it, regardless whether good, bad or average you just have to do it. Because if you wait for the ideal moment or you only do it a few times in life, then you will never do it.” And further he said, “I will help you”, and he began to give me lessons in theory. I only had three or four lessons but his advice was more valuable to me than four or twenty lessons. In this way I attended Yonny’s lessons who was surely already a friend of mine as was Amal Visomosa, Luis Vares Coronado, and the poets Miami Tomar Sosa de Carlos Ramos and Raúl Martin who are now living in Miami.
In 1978 I was involved in an ideological and personal confrontation with my stepfather. I was living in the psychiatric hospital in Havana. I was admitted to the hospital and then I was given the certificate of discharge. But I stayed there six days as a stowaway until I got a chance to speak with the director. The doctor who admitted me to the hospital Commander Dr. Eduardo Bernabé Ordaz Ducungé, told me that I would need treatment. Shortly before his death in 2006 Commander Dr. Ordaz explained to Victor Moreno that he had been treated earlier he would not be in his present condition. Commander Dr. Ordaz put me in a room where I told him that I wanted to paint and make music. I have composed more than twenty songs during my life. I told him that I believed some of them were good and that was not only my opinion but also the opiion of Pedro Luis Ferrer and a number of others who knew about music. And I continued to paint until 1984. Then I was discharged from the hospital. Then I became a member of the group “Los Raíces”. The leading personality and member of this group was Marcos Peña an important painter from Havana. In those days we organised many exhibitions. After that I spent another two years in hospital and continued with my painting there. I thought I was suffering from dementia. I thought that I felt well and then I thought that I felt very unwell. After the climax of the year I realised that I was unwell. At that moment I realised that the one I needed most of all in order to help myself was myself. I was told, “Come to the hospital today, or come on Tuesday and Friday as these are the best days for music. You sing and you play guitar, you accompany yourself on the guitar. When you do that you feel well. Otherwise, you only stay in your home and you paint.” In 1982 I came together with Gilda Alfonso Martin Carrera who currently works in the Louvre. One day Gilda introduced me to painter and poet René Portocarrero. I met him in his home on a Friday afternoon. I told him that I was planning an exhibition for the patients in the psychiatric hospital because I was ill and to some extent I claimed to be repesentative of the mentally ill who were being treated badly by society. I told him a belief in my own talent would help me and if I hadn’t any talent I wouldn’t waste his time. He said, “Come next Friday and bring your paintings.“
There was a doctor in the hospital that discovered that I had talent and sometimes he gave me some money. His name was Luis Mendoza Arbolio. He was Mexican and became a psychiatrist here in Cuba. One day I said to him, “Listen, I am meeting Portocarrero. We are going there on Friday at three o’clock.” We arrived exactly at three o’clock and our group comprised Portocarrero, Raul Milian, Luis Mendoza Arbolio and I. Luis Mendoza presented my pictures and appraised them critically. He said my pictures had the same sadness as van Gogh’s pictures. From there we went to the home of Lilian Llerena and Portocarrero promised to buy me some materials and to give me some lessons in theory. And Luis Mendoza explained to Lilian some things about Victor and I noted down everything in my notebook. The following week when I went to Lilian she had a giant box of paints and tempera, turpentine brushes, linseed oil, turpentine and a roll of canvas all of which she had bought for me at Windsor & Newton. Then the cost of which at UNEAC was 400 pesos which was an amount of money I had never had. She invited me to the exhibition, “We were so, we are so” at the Havana Gallery. I contributed to a portrait of Commander Ordaz and through this picture I was present in an exhibition which presented the leading personalities of the revolution from the perspective of the painter. I was paid 500 Cuban pesos. That was a lot of money then for a portrait. I then began to assist every 15 days. I went to the home of Portocarrero ten or twelve times and finally in 1984 I did put on an exhibition for the mentally ill of Guanabajóa. The gallery was directed by Irma Pujol, a nephew of Alberto Pujols. As a tribute, in the week of Cuban culture in October we exhibited approximately 30 portraits from patients of the psychiatric hospital in Havana.
The above portrayal and reminisences from Victor Moreno’s life are based on interview which Felix Busse had with him in Havana, Cuba in April 2008.