Rey D’Alfonso is a Cuban artist whose mixed media paintings are energetic expressions of contemporary culture.
Born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1974 alongside the pre-1959 American cars and the luminous colors and textures of colonial and baroque architecture, the young Alfonso apprenticed in his uncle’s metal shop from the age of 12. There he learned the value of hard work, persistence and creativity—and he started to dream of becoming an artist. However, coming of age in Cuba meant military service for all, and at 16, Alfonso found himself an unwilling soldier in the national army. Realizing that his life and dreams lay elsewhere, Alfonso planned a daring escape from the island.
In July, 1992, one month and a day after his seventeenth birthday, Alfonso gathered a few provisions and braced himself for the treacherous voyage ahead. He and two cousins set off in their makeshift vessel constructed of a car frame, welded scrap metal and repurposed light poles. To make their craft waterproof, they covered it with the only material they could find—bright red paint, a relic of the Soviet presence on the island. For nearly five days, the Cuban refugees sailed their unlikely and rather conspicuous craft across the Florida Straits – 90 miles towards Miami.
Alfonso landed safely in Miami but soon settled in San Francisco. Over the next decade he worked with sculptors and other fine craftsmen to hone his skills and develop his own methods—which included using a blowtorch to fire pigments onto substrates such as aluminum, steel and wood. This was arduous work and a period during which he figuratively—and literally—forged his artistic identity. Several of his public works and sculptural signs of this era are still visible in cities throughout the West Coast.
Today Alfonso’s pieces can be found in public and private collections in more than 40 countries. He has created works for individuals and organizations ranging from the San Francisco Opera House to the Mayo Clinic. In 2010, he was commissioned by Hilton Worldwide to create over 150 works for the private collections of the company’s owners and investors.
Since moving back to Miami in 2012, Alfonso’s work has grown more personal in nature. Once again surrounded by family, he is immersed in the tastes, the sounds and the language of the city’s vibrant Cuban culture. Every new experience is tinged with memories. His latest works—brilliantly painted, buried and burned—are both echoes and visions. Artifacts such as old wooden oars, sea-worn wood and rope are fashioned into reflections of his life’s journey, one that began in a makeshift boat painted bright red.