Elio Lopez comes from a family of inspirational movers and shakers. That inspiration is reflected in his work as an artist, and his most recent painting captures the important roles his grandfathers played in Ybor City's cigar industry.
Wilfredo Rodriguez, Lopez's
Cuban maternal grandfather, has been documented as the last surviving lector. A lector was hired by cigar workers to read aloud the news and literature to keep them current on what was happening in their industry and the world. Cigar factory management and elected officials frowned upon the reading in the workplace and attempted to abolish the practice in an effort to gain more control of the workers.
Servando Lopez was Lopez's Spanish paternal grandfather and a master cigar maker in Tampa. Servando was active in politics and is known for creating the first unionization in Ybor City's cigar factories. The successful formation of the union was also the end of lectors in cigar factories. Management agreed to the unionization as long as the lectors were dismissed.
Like a tragic story, the beginning of one good thing came at the demise of another good thing. Paying homage to his grandfathers, Lopez has painted "El Lector" to share their story and celebrate the wins that were achieved by both of their efforts in historic Ybor City's cigar industry.
"I always wanted to honor my grandfathers for what they did," says Lopez. "I don't believe they ever got the recognition they deserve for what they contributed to this city."
Aside from the history and story-telling that is encompassed in this painting, Lopez has also used a 3D painting technique and further explored a collage effect in the artwork. Lopez is known for his invention of the resist painting technique
, where the artwork begins by drawing the negative space instead of the positive space (the outline around the subject is the negative space). In El Lector, Lopez uses a unique molding compound called moulage (French for mold), which adds to the uniqueness of the painting. Moulage is an eco-friendly mold made from seaweed that is non-toxic, can be used repeatedly and is safe to put on the skin.
"The environment is very important to me. A lot of art materials can be rather bad for the environment. This is a way to get the best of both worlds," says Lopez. "I can keep myself pushing techniques forward, but at the same time I'm doing my part to keep the environment safe."
El Lector will be unveiled at the Louise & Arnold Kotler Art Gallery
in the John F. Germany Library
on Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 6:30 p.m. His painting launch also serves as a celebration of National Literacy Month, highlighting the importance of the literacy movement among Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrant who worked Ybor City's cigar factories, as well as Hispanic Heritage Month.
Writer: Nancy Vaughn
Source: Elio Lopez, artist