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Arts & Culture

Boise Artist Captures "Cuba On The Cusp" In New Paintings

Karen Bubb, artist
Credit Sadie Babits / Boise State Public Radio
Boise artist Karen Bubb's latest encaustic paintings are inspired by her trip to Cuba.

Boise artist Karen Bubb took more than 1,000 photographs while she was in Cuba last December. She returned to create more than 100 paintings inspired by those photos.

“Cuba on the Cusp” opened last Sunday at The Gallery in the Linen Building in downtown Boise.  Bubb, who is the public art manager for Boise’s Department of Arts and History, says, “I wanted to give people a feeling of what it’s like to be there [in Cuba].” 

She’s done this by melting colored waxes on a hot plate and then using the wax to paint on wood surfaces. This ancient practice is known as encaustic painting. Bubb then uses things like dentist’s tools and razor blades to create texture and depth in her work.

She was invited to go to Cuba by “a woman who is like a mother to me who lives in New York.”  In 2011, President Obama made it easier for Americans to travel legally to Cuba. Bubb, who teaches at Boise State, went with her “New York family” as part of an educational trip to Cuba.

She wanted to create a series of paintings when she returned but needed financial support for the art materials. So, Bubb turned to her friends and family and pre-sold her work.

“It’s a leap of faith for sure,” explains Bubb. “For me, it’s great because it’s an investment in me and it’s a belief that I’m going to do something that they love. It charges me with being a great observer.”

This isn’t the first time Bubb has pre-sold work to fund a trip. She did something similar in 2005 when she went to China. More than 200 people then contributed to “Send Bubb to China” as part of a delegation with the Washington State Arts Commission. The encaustic paintings inspired by her travels to China went to the people who helped support her trip.

Most every painting now hanging in the Linen Building gallery will go to someone who helped contribute to her trip to Cuba when the show ends in August.

“Cuba on the Cusp” is a collection of themes. There are paintings Bubb calls “emblematic” of her time in Cuba. You’ll see street scenes from Havana with old 1950s cars in bright reds, greens and blues.

There’s another body of work that captures Bubb’s visit to a Santeria religious museum.  And another series that represents famed Cuban artist Jose Foster. Bubb wants people to come to each section of work at the gallery and have “an experience and then move on and have another experience.”   

Bubb's exhibit is on display at The Gallery in Boise through August 30, 2013.