NEW YORK – For Miguel Loredo, OFM, painting and praying are one and the same.
“I can pray or I can paint,” said the painter, who describes his style of artwork as lyric abstractionist. “It’s two wings of one bird — painting and praying. The more I paint, the more I talk to God,” said the 69-year-old friar.
“God is beauty,” he added. “The one who has painted all realities. When I paint, I’m also praying.”
HNP Today caught up recently with Miguel at his home at the St. Francis Friary in Manhattan, after returning from St. Bonaventure University (SBU), where 32 of his art pieces, poetry and photos were displayed at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts from Feb. 25 through April 10.
Spanning his work over the last five years, the show included watercolors and oil drawings, as well as poems in English and his native Spanish to accompany 10 pieces of art. The poems express life and death, joy and sorrow, mystery and reality.
“These poems are presenting one thing and showing an endless fear,” he said. “They show feelings not easily described and realities of the spirit.”
Some of his works on display convey the emotion he felt when treated for prostate cancer last year, as well as his feelings after 9/11 in New York City. “I talked to God often,” he said. “I didn’t know if the cancer would kill me or not. I experienced many feelings, many hopes, many fears, and much trust in God.”
Conveying Emotions Through Art
In both full color and black and white, Miguel said it’s hard to explain his abstract designs. The watercolor, oil and mixed media paintings depict a variety of feelings and emotions. “They’re not easy to explain. It’s better to see them,” he smiled. This show even includes several photos he took of the debris after 9/11. But photos are an exception to his craft, he said.
In trying to explain his unique style, which he said “wasn’t anything in particular,” he humbly added, “My reality isn’t conceptual. My artwork doesn’t tell a story, and doesn’t represent anything. It’s inspired from virtual reality. From things I see, I create a new reality. My work has it’s own value; it’s own reality.”
People, he said, see different things in his paintings. Through the relationships between forms, colors etc., he said he creates a new reality.
Self-taught, Miguel says he has been painting since childhood. “I started when I was 3 or 4 years old. Before I was a priest or a friar, I was called a kid who painted.”
Always a student of painting in his native Cuba, Miguel said was mentored by famed Cuban artist Rolando Lopez-Dirube. More recently, he is guided by U.S. painter Joseph Marioni, who he said is one of the best monochromatic painters today.
Exhibiting artwork is nothing new to Miguel. During his lifetime, he has shown in Rome, Spain and Switzerland, in addition to the United States. He has also been written up in many publications, including the cover story several years ago in HNPeople.
Approaching Artwork Like Prayer
Painting mostly at the Manhattan friary, Miguel said he approaches his art the same way he would prayer. “I don’t permit anyone to see me painting. I need the same conditions for painting as for praying. I never paint with music. I have to concentrate.”
He also has painted many pieces in Cuba. Ordained in 1964 in Spain, he returned to Cuba that same year to assume pastoral work at the Iglesia de San Francisco in Havana, where he gave courses in sacred scripture to young people. Shortly after his return to Cuba, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison as a political prisoner. He served 10 years of that sentence.
“Having been sentenced to that length of time really didn’t bother me because I felt that since I was a Franciscan, I was really now one of the poor. Although I was innocent, there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to go forward and serve my time, so I put my faith in God.”
While in prison, he painted on scraps of paper and on the back of the few letters he was allowed to receive. He used coffee, iodine and dirt or ashes mixed with egg whites as a varnish.
“Painting is my life,” he said.
Forced to leave Cuba after his imprisonment, Miguel went to Rome and produced an essay on the connections between experience and language.
In 1987, he began to work with the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. He moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he continued his work as a Franciscan, painted and wrote poetry.
A Ministry in the Church
He sees his ministry, however, not through painting, but as every priest sees it: “To say Mass, hear confessions, and do the work of the Church,” he said.
How many paintings does he create a year? “Never less than 20 and never more than 40 a year.” During radiation therapy, for example, he did 45 pieces, one for each treatment session.
He has given away more than half the paintings. “They can be purchased, but most I’ve given away.”
Many of his paintings, thanks to the insistence of Frederick Dilger, OFM, are displayed at St. Francis of Assisi Church and friary, and the offices of the Holy Name Province. Fred owned an interior design business before joining the friars.
“When you’re having dinner in friary, they’re there. In the rec room, too.”
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and occasional contributor to HNP Today.