Arturo is a familiar face at the Bethlehem House Gallery. He was a featured artist in our inaugural show during the early beginnings of the Gallery, and now five years and many successes later, Arturo returns for our 5th Anniversary Summer Show.
Arturo Cabrera is a Brooklyn based artist who specializes in portraiture and Humanism. His work aspires to capture the subtle nuances of what it means to be human.
Kate Hughes sat down with Arturo Cabrera to learn about the primitive years that made him who he is today.
Tell us about your background and family life.
I was born in Ambato, Ecuador on December 19th, 1993 at 8:30 am. I was raised by only women growing up. I had my mother, my big sister Sofia and a nanny/maid named Silvia. My mother and father were both very successful people back in Ecuador. My father was an architect and engineer, and my mother was a bar and restaurant owner.
They both came from very humble backgrounds. My mother was born and raised on a farm and was one of seven siblings. She learned to cook at the age of 11 for groups of 20 or more at a time. She had a hard childhood, with a lot of the focus being on keeping the farm afloat. Still, she remembers her childhood fondly and had a lot of fun growing up on the farm. She would ride sheep and eat apples and peaches the size of her head (they were big, but I’m sure she was exaggerating!). She remembers climbing lemon trees with her siblings and sucking on lemons till their lips were sour.
My father doesn’t have as many fond memories of his childhood – he was one of eight siblings. My grandmother was a stay at home mom who did all the cooking and cleaning. My grandfather was a salesman. He would drive a truck to the indigenous people in the mountains to buy wood at a low price and then drive back to the city to sell the wood for a higher price. My father started helping unload the trucks of wood at the age of 11. It was hard work, and sometimes the trucks would carry loads of 500-600 logs of wood. Fortunately, he had the help of his four older brothers, as well. Times were tough, and his parents did not have the money to support such a large family. They lived in a very small home and would have to share everything.
How did your family come to live in America?
Because times in Ecuador were so hard for my parents, they worked hard to be able to afford a more comfortable life. However, achieving such a life was only possible through practical means, and even then, there were very few opportunities for people to live well.
My parents wanted a better life with more opportunities for my sister and me, so they saved all their money and planned to move us to the United States. Anyone who could afford to move to the United States at the time did. It was the land of opportunity and prosperity. Growing up, my mother would tell my sister and me that the streets in America were paved with gold and that you could become anything you wanted there, the stars were the limit if you worked hard enough.
While I was growing up in Ecuador, my father was in the United States working to establish a home for us to move to. When everything was ready, he sent for us to come. I met my father for the first time at the age of four with my mother and sister when we landed at JFK airport in late 1998. Both my mother and father worked very hard and saved all their money so we could come to America. They spent everything they had on our immigration and for us to get our citizenships.
The first place we lived was Dunellen, NJ. We moved around a lot growing up until we finally settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania in 2007 where we would stay until I graduated from the Charter Arts High School in Bethlehem, PA.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I always wanted to be an artist from the moment I knew it was a possibility. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve, so I hid my wishes from them till the age of about 16 when I could no longer lie to them. They kept asking me if I was going to become an Architect or an Engineer, and I couldn’t keep lying to them. I had to tell them that my life’s purpose was to become an artist.
Ever since I laid pencils, pens, markers, or crayons to paper and made a mark, I knew it was going to be something I did for the rest of my life. I never knew such satisfaction than mark making freely. It was complete freedom. I could do whatever I wanted – no one was telling me what to do! I loved creating something and watching it grow and evolve.
I remember looking at a Leonardo Da Vinci drawing at the age of six or seven. It was a portrait of a young lady. I was memorized by his drawing. I could look at that drawing for hours no joke. I wanted to know how he did that. How he made something so beautiful. I was obsessed with portraiture from then on.
Growing up, I never knew what an artist was or that you could even sell a painting or drawing and make a living that way. The idea seemed so crazy to me. I first heard of what an artist was when I was about five and in Kindergarten. I was working on a coloring page with such enthusiasm that the teacher told me I should be an “artist” and asked if I knew what that was. I never heard the word before, and she proceeded to explain. “An artist is someone who makes paintings or drawings and sells them to other people.” I looked at her like she was crazy. If such a miracle job did exist that that’s what I wanted to become.
How did your upbringing turn you into the artist you are today?
There is little to no focus on art in Ecuador unless it has to do with our history or crafts like basket weaving, woodworking, or sowing to name a few – and they had little to no profit. If you were going to get ahead in life, you would become a doctor, lawyer, or an architect. The idea of art and how it’s valued made no sense to my parents; understandably, to them a career as an artist wasn’t even a possibility.
Imagine the look on my mother and father’s faces when I told them I was going to become an artist! That’s why I work so hard – because I want them to know that by following my dreams, I can reach the stars. I understand how heavy their sacrifice was for me to come to this country, so I work as hard as I can to be their American dream, and I won’t stop till they see it come true. I want to give them the world as they did me.
Arturo Cabrera’s Awards and Milestones
2012: Two Silver & Two Gold Medals, The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (National), Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
2012: Ten Gold key, The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (State), Allentown, PA
2012: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, Permanent Collection, Bethlehem, PA
2012: Outstanding Achievement in Visual Art, The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts, Bethlehem, PA (top of my class in the visual art department)
2012-2013: One Year Artist Residency, Banana Factory, Bethlehem, PA
2012: Lehigh Valley Health Network Permanent Collection, Allentown, PA
2012: Prolonged substitute teacher, Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, Bethlehem, PA
2013: Humanism, Home and Planet, Bethlehem, PA (First Solo Show)
2014 -2015: One Year Representation, Bethlehem House Contemporary Art Gallery, Bethlehem, PA
2014: Grand Opening, Bethlehem House Contemporary Art Gallery, Bethlehem, PA (First SOLD OUT show!)
2014 -2015: Color Mixer, Jeff Koons LLC, New York, NY
2015: Member Highlight: Arturo Cabrera, Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, NJ (First Museum Show)
2016: Summer Exhibition, Salmagundi Club, New York, NY (First NYC Group Show)
2017: Has Sold over 100 works of art!!!
2018: Antonio Cirino Memorial Award, The Salmagundi Club, New York, NY
2018: Humanism II, Dacia Gallery, New York, NY(First NYC Solo Show)
2018: Hunterdon Art Museum Permanent Collection, Clinton, NJ