BY / Por Ola Giszczak Photos / Fotos Daniel Mendoza

Transferring those images to paper has been one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had in many years of traveling around the world

I arrived in Cuba at a difficult time for its capital, which had just been hit by a tornado, a situation that seemed to take some color away from the trip I had in mind. Within a few hours, some friends were telling me about an artist and his work, and a few days later we paid him a call. As fate would have it, he lived in one of the areas affected by the twister that had left a trail of destruction and much sadness to Havana.

When I arrived at Octavio Irving’s and his wife Beatriz’s studio-workshop, I walked into a space that had nothing whatsoever to do with the context of the tornado. Large format paintings and engravings, meticulously organized tools and the letters by Barack and Michelle Obama thanking him for the hospitality extended to their family during their visit on the Island, make up a welcoming space where right off you start feeling like an artist. 

Octavio is a passionate researcher and master of the art of engraving. As he gave us a brief exposition regarding this art form, I wondered how it was possible that in a small country like Cuba, people like him were keeping alive such ancient techniques that are gradually dying out in contemporary societies. He not only explained but showed us how during his research he discovered new methods and materials that produce the same results as lithography. Many Cuban artists do not have access to this technique  because of the lack of the traditional limestone matrix, so he intended to promote his discoveries among his colleagues on the Island.

We were all mesmerized by his teaching abilities, to the point that, without realizing it, we had begun preparing the matrices for our first prints. I had not colored a piece of paper since grammar school, and, suddenly, I was putting ink on different elements with interesting textures that we could combine and use for printing on locally manufactured paper. We engraved our faces and ended up with a series of Cuban prints, whose metal matrices had a history: decades ago, those matrices of drawings of significant places on the Island, which had been lying in an old factory, had been saved from destruction by Irving.

Transferring those images to paper has been one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had in many years of traveling around the world. I felt like I was rebuilding a city in the same place where nature had tried to wipe it away. I came home wanting to take my first steps in the art of engraving, but the most important thing, however, is the beautiful folder made by Octavio, of postcards of the Cuba I had dreamed of before taking the trip, printed by me.

Octavio Irving Hernández Jiménez (Santa Clara, 1978)

A graduate of the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts (2000) and from the Higher Institute of Arts in Havana (ISA, 2006), he was head of the Experimental Graphic Workshop of Havana and a teacher at both the San Alejandro Academy and ISA. He was awarded the La Joven Estampa Grand Prix of engraving by Casa de las Américas in May 2007. Octavio currently coordinates the Irving Studio Project: Creative Graphic, for the promotion of drawing and engraving.

His works are part of private collections in Spain, Italy, Germany, Norway, Belgium, Sweden, England, Mexico, the US, Canada, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Brazil, Basque Country and Japan, among other countries, and of Cuban and international institutional collections.




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