Antonio Guerrero's solo show opening at Smokebrush Gallery includes images of cats, birds, nudes, views of Havana Harbor and Colorado mountains, and, in stark contrast, a green metal door. It's a cell door, and it's what Guerrero, a 50-year-old prisoner at the high-security United States Penitentiary in Florence, sees every day.
Guerrero isn't your average offender — few in the Florence system are. He's one of the internationally known Cuban Five, a handful of intelligence officers from Cuba who operated in Miami until their arrest in 1998.
In what many view as a biased trial in 2001, a Miami jury found all five men guilty of assorted conspiracy charges; Guerrero got life plus 10 years. (For more on the Cuban Five, read "Stinging Back".) Appeals have yet to change the ruling, but Guerrero is now in Miami for a re-sentencing hearing with two other Cuban Five members.
His Desde Mi Altura lacks the aggression one might expect from prison art. Guerrero's paintings, pastels and drawings — which also feature patriotic portraits of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro — possess an extraordinarily calm, meditative tone.
"They're not images made from boredom or desperation to pass the time," says Smokebrush director Holly Parker. "They're not emotionally charged in a negative way."
Which is all the more impressive considering the 50-year-old Guerrero is largely self-taught, and first took up art while in prison.
His poetry, also part of the Smokebrush show, hints at his incarceration more readily than his artwork, yet it also largely maintains a temperate tone. Parker has arranged for maximum-security-prisoner-turned-poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, of New Mexico, to read some of Guerrero's works at the show's opening reception.
While Guerrero cannot speak publicly, his poetry has been published in a bilingual volume also titled Desde Mi Altura, and his artwork exhibited in Washington, D.C., Berkeley and Boulder. This art show began in the Venezuelan Embassy, collected from the private homes of friends and family, to whom Guerrero sends his art as gifts.
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, formed in part by San Francisco's Gloria La Riva in 2001, worked to send the exhibition from California to Colorado. When asked by phone what Desde Mi Altura meant to her, La Riva began to cry.
Of the show, she says, "We want the community of Colorado Springs to know there's a hero near them."
Parker, however, views Guerrero's art from outside the political ring.
"It's about how the experience of making art helps people through their lives," she says. "It's really about how incredible his creative life has been."