“My goal is that whoever collects my work, is conscious that these neighborhoods are being erased. Whether it hangs in a doctor’s office or living room, the painting is there to tell a story.”Eddie Aroyo
My name is Carolina Machin and I am currently a junior at Florida International University studying communications and political science on the pre-law track through the Honors College. I work as a legal assistant as well as serve as a senator for the FIU Student Government and a Peer Mentor on campus. I one day hope to become an attorney advocating for the voice of those that are not heard in my community. As a child I grew up in a Cuban-American family and the hardships I faced are what inspired my career aspirations. I enjoy giving back to my community and traveling whenever I can. I have been able to see some beautiful pieces of work not only around the world but also in my own community within Miami. Through Professor Bailly’s course I have completed service and traveled within my own city. In this specific task I was able to interview a creator whose art is inspired by some of his own experiences with the Cuban culture in Miami. I will continue to use the skills I have gained from this course in any area of study I move on to.
Growing up, Eddie Arroyo was surrounded by the Cuban exile community as he lived in Little Havana. He was witness to the change that his neighborhood saw with the arrival of these refuges. Arroyo noted that many moved out and left to other regions of the state because they felt overpowered by the Cuban community. This time in the 1980s was a time with much political tension and much uncertainty regarding what the city would look like moving forward. Coming from Peruvian and Colombian parents, Arroyo was not from Cuban decent and tried very hard not to be confused with someone that was in order to avoid getting picked on. Learning English quickly and even adopting some derogative terms such as “reffy” to playfully name call were just some of his attempts to assimilate. These memories are especially crucial in his childhood and continue to be in adult life. Continuing his education, Arroyo studied at FIU to receive his bachelors degree. During his time at the university he created bonds with professors who would ultimately help him with his career even a decade later. John Bailly was in specific, was especially influential to Arroyo. He provided his students Yale practices at FIU. A very intense professor with a curriculum that challenged Arroyo to take his skills to the next level. In 2001 he received his bachelor’s degree from FIU and began to pursue an art career full time. It was at his first art exhibition at a small gallery, that Arroyo realized the lack of connections he had within the art community. This is when his passion for art journalism began, with writings, criticism, and visiting openings.
Growing up, as discussed in the previous section, Arroyo was conflicted with how he would be perceived as a Spanish speaker. He wanted to make it known that he was not Cuban although he did speak Spanish. Because of this he did what he could to assimilate to American culture in Miami. During this time the Mariel boatlift was going on and this impacted his childhood due to the dynamic in his community, Little Havana. He grew up in this neighborhood although many chose to leave, and to this day his work is heavily influenced by that. Arroyo is conscious of this fact. Although not completely conscious of the things that influence him because he recognizes that there are many strings that pull on us and we don’t even notice, but he tries his best to be aware of the things that have affected his personal identity.
Living in Little Haiti, he interacts with his community and doesn’t simply use his home as an incubation space because of the affordable cost of living. Interacting with his community continues to influence him in making new work and his neighborhood is commonly seen in his most popular pieces. Arroyos personal identity has been influenced by his community from his early childhood memories until today. Living in the same city has helped him view the changes and reactions that the city has in the face of adversity. Through an economic recession and now perhaps another one, Arroyo will continue to document how all of these things impact the area that surrounds him.
Arroyos personal identity is very much a part of what makes his personal identity. Whether it be growing up in little Havana, coming from south American parents, or trying to assimilate into the American culture, all of these cultural aspects shaped who he is and what he creates. Identifying with many artistic movements, influence is a big part of his identity as an artist. One specific historical influence being Edward Hopper. When Arroyo was tasked with creating his exhibit at the Whitney in New York, he began to apply the great question of “What is American art?” in his own work but this time being “What is Miami art?” This technique helped him approach what art is today and more specifically what is American about Miami. Through his work Arroyo hopes that he is able to answer these big questions. This is one of the reasons why he chooses to document gentrification, it not only shows what’s happening in Miami but also what’s happening in America.
“What is Miami art? What does Miami have to offer the world? I used Edward Hoppers technique and approach into really answering what is America today? and what is American about Miami? Through my work I hope people get the answers to that.”Eddie Arroyo
Subject of Artwork
Through Arroyos paintings he depicts gentrification and the toll that it takes on communities, especially in Miami. Many of the his most successful paintings are actually of buildings that no longer exist. Through this he hopes to bring gentrification into the conversations of those viewing his work. Growing up in Little Havana and now living in Little Haiti, these are two of the most affected communities by gentrification. Many people choose to live in these areas because of the affordable housing yet with gentrification the cost of living continues to rise in these areas specifically. Arroyo has been successful in doing this in my opinion. It especially seems evident by the praise he has received and coverage he has gotten on multiple platforms from all around the country. The more successful he becomes as an artist, the more he will help inform people on the realities of gentrification. Although his inspiration for covering this topic is his own community here in Miami, gentrification is a real issue all around America. This ultimately leads back to his answer on what Miami art offers to the rest of the world. In Arroyos work alone, Miami is offering the world perspective on gentrification in a city mostly comprised of minorities.
Formal Elements of Artwork
Arroyo makes use of formal elements of artwork through lighting and color. He uses formal elements in the most reductive way possible. In a way, this is why he believes that his paintings will likely find their home in a doctor’s office or above couches in someone’s living rooms. The paintings are not necessarily meant to challenge people on the surface. When Arroyo started painting things like landscape and portraits weren’t something people wanted to do. His work is high concept but the way that he presents it is not. Once he became aware that one way or another his paintings would end up being displayed in places like doctor’s office, he wanted there to be a meaning behind them. The lighting is about depicting a mood of a subversive thing happening through the work. If he paints a building that doesn’t exist for economic reasons, whoever collects the work, Arroyo want them to be conscious that the exact building in the painting is in the transition of being erased. You may go into an office one day and he hopes that the owner shares that the building no longer exists. Since the beginning of time painting has been there to present a narrative.
Exhibition and Project History
Arroyo has exhibited his work in several galleries and museums but the most recent being the Whitney Museum in New York. Other than the Whitney he also has seen his work in the Girls’ Club Collection, Bridge Red Studios, Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Florida Atlantic University, Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, and the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. Through these exhibitions as well as his many lectures that he has given around the country, he continues to spread his message on gentrification. Arroyo is painting history in Miami that applies to a problem being faced in many other places. Presenting historical paintings that don’t highlight larger than life leaders, but rather the common man protesting something in his own city. One of my favorite pieces by Arroyo depict citizens protesting in front of a sign that reads “Be Unpredictable, Be Real, Be Interesting, Tell A Good Story!” I think it’s almost magical how well this quote that was already on that building wall fits with the painting. The citizens are being real, interesting and this painting tells an amazing story. This draws me to find out more about what the story behind the painting is and what is happening. If every person has this same reaction when they see one of Arroyos pieces, I think he has achieved his goal as an artist.
Through my interview with Eddie Arroyo, I gained a new perspective on art and its creation. Art doesn’t need to be a very upscale or exclusive thing. It can simply be a painting that you create and see it going in a doctor’s office. If someone learns something when they see it at their doctor’s office, then you have informed one more person on an issue that is important to you. Eddie himself was extremely approachable, even meeting with me virtually on a weekend due to the pandemic currently happening. Not only that, I was the second student he allowed to interview him for this project. Arroyo not only provided me with a perspective on his childhood in Little Havana but also on the Cuban-American community that I had never thought about. As a Cuban-American myself, I always worried what Cubans felt when coming to a new country and the struggles they faced. I never thought about how non-Cubans were being affected by the amount of people that were immigrating into Little Havana specifically. My mother lived in Little Havana when she first came to American and it was around the same time that Arroyo describes. In just one interview I learned so much about art, gentrification, exiles and the life of those around them. In the future, Arroyo hopes to continue working on his advocacy work through his art in order to continue to make a difference in his own community.
**All images not taken by Carolina Machin have been hyperlinked accordingly
**All direct quotes were made by Eddie Arroyo on the date of his interview with Carolina Machin on March 28th, 2020