In this latest “Meet a South Florida Creative” feature, get to know artist & author Carlos Aleman. His work will be displayed in the upcoming “Dark Chocolate Japan” solo exhibit which runs from August 27 through October 10 at the City of Sunrise Civic Center Art Gallery.

The term Dark Chocolate [is used] to describe the ‘darkness’ that the ancient mystics passed through in order to discover the profound hidden beneath superficialities.  Dark Chocolate is the finest of chocolates, a way of suspending our judgment of the sins of humanity and perceiving the wonder of art, culture and tradition.

Tell me about yourself, and how you became involved with the arts. Is there one project that you prefer over the others?

I’m a Cuban American, born in NYC.  I’ve always wanted to be an artist.  Of course, anything having to do with finding alternate way of making a living is highly competitive.  Because of this, I’ve tried many different things including writing.  I’ve completed five novels and a screenplay.  Two of the novels were published by a small press.  I don’t prefer one form of expression over another.  They’re all satisfying in their own way.

What inspires you and why do you feel the need to create?

Usually it’s other artists that inspire me.  As the expression goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Thanks to innovative individuals, it is now often said that anything can be art. So there’s a lot of creative freedom to explore work that is experimental and belongs to different styles or art movements.  In recent years, my trips to Asia have inspired me a great deal.

Sunrise Blue Harajuku by Carlos Aleman
Sunrise Blue Harajuku by Carlos Aleman

The kokeshi dolls, how did those come about?

When I returned from a trip to Japan in 2013, I still had a pocket full of coins left over that I couldn’t convert back to US currency.  It was enough change to have bought more souvenirs.  I had only purchased one kokeshi doll and wished I had purchased more.  Immediately upon returning to Florida, I went to a kokeshi doll exhibit at the Morikami Museum.  I fell even more in love with the art form and wanted my own collection, but the dolls were very expensive.  I decided to create my own.  Not being a woodworker, I made some out of paper mache, and others out of premade wooden parts.  My most recent ones are made of newspaper and duct tape.

American Geisha by Carlos Aleman
American Geisha by Carlos Aleman

Aside from the kokeshi dolls, I’m in love with your geisha paintings, especially the “brownies”. Why did you create a brown geisha? I can’t stress enough how amazing I think that is.

Thank you.  I would love to know exactly why you think they’re amazing.  Many Japanese artists have been preoccupied by feminine beauty.  Traditionally, geisha and maiko have worn white makeup.  I thought it would be interesting to paint beautiful women with dark skin.  Artists love color.

Your exhibit “Dark Chocolate Japan” is opening at Sunrise Civic Center. Will this be your first? Do you have others lined up?

My first solo show was in 2012, after my trip to China.  It featured Chinese inspired work, including the modern and traditional.  There could be more shows soon if I receive good news from art dealers.  Wish me luck.

Are there artists who inspire you? If so, who?

I’m inspired by most artists in the history books, so I’ll narrow it down to a few contemporary artists:  Takashi Murakami, Aya Takano, Amy Sol, Andrew Gonzalez, Michael Parkes, and Gerhard Richter.

Let’s talk food for a second. What are some of your favorite dishes and/or restaurants?

I have a lot of food allergies, but I’m lucky that my wife is an excellent cook.  She makes a great salmon dish, fried then baked.  I’m also a big fan of the Classic Bento Box at the Cornell Café at the Morikami Museum.  Included are Chinese and Japanese items (rice, chicken, salmon teriyaki, dumplings, Asian eggplant, red shrimp, sushi rolls and an egg roll) served in a lacquered bento box.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you for this opportunity to share my art.  All are welcomed at the opening night reception for my upcoming art exhibit, Dark Chocolate Japan (August 28th at 6:30pm) at the City of Sunrise Civic Center Art Gallery.  Dress casual, or wear a kimono, or come in cosplay.  Take lots of pictures, hugs and selfies with me.

So there you have it! Connect with Carlos Aleman on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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