For 20 years, plastic signs, car parts and found objects have turned into angels, opera singers and ballerinas -- in Pablo Cano's hands.
Now, the gallery at Miami International Airport is presenting New York to Home Base, a show of 31 of his marionettes. More than an exhibition, the collection is an invitation into Cano's imagination, an artist who sees beauty in the dusty objects of Goodwill shops and trash bins.
''We thought it would be a fabulous show for the summer, especially with kids traveling during this time,'' said Yolanda Sanchez, director of Airport Fine Arts & Cultural Affairs.
Cano's collection reflects the spontaneity and freedom characterized by Dadaism, a European movement that emerged in the 20th century.
There's St. George and the Dragon, whose body consists of plastic pieces of different shapes and colors, and Peaches the Elephant, whose legs are made of peach cans.
As the catalog for the exhibit says, Cano goes back to the basic elements of art and forgets all about symmetry and traditional techniques to leave room for fresh, child-like compositions rich in color and texture.
The exhibition includes works from 1985 to 2004, most of which were exhibited in New York for three years before he decided to bring them back. That's where he got the title for the show.
''It's a very sentimental show for me, because I see it all together,'' the 43-year-old artist said. ''I started my work in New York very in love with someone and the pieces reflect that.''
To this day, his work is born out of love for this person whose presence he describes as a wild bird that comes and goes every once in a while.
''For me, the process of creating should be a spiritual, happy moment,'' said the artist whose creation process begins every afternoon while having lunch with his parents in Little Havana.
While waiting for his order, Cano uses the paper mats given at the Cuban restaurants he frequents to make his drawings. This helps him clarify the ideas that later take shape in the studio/shop he has behind his house, where he spends the night hours, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., giving rusty cans a new purpose.
''I always begin with the face; it dictates what they are going to look like,'' Cano explained.
In that room, the materials are organized into metal, plastic and wood. Stuffed animals are taken apart to welcome Cano's own vision. A paint roll becomes the body of a bunny; bottle caps create a tortoise's shell.
''It's almost like they are his children,'' said Carolina Salazar, administrative assistant of Airport Fine Arts & Cultural Affairs.
It was while preparing his master's thesis in New York on Russian Constructivist Alexandra Exter that he decided to go into puppet-making.
''I knew painting wasn't enough. I wanted things in my work to move, to interact.''
That's precisely that he hopes to accomplish with his next show, The Beginning, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami which has commissioned his work every year since 1997.
''His imagination always surprises me,'' said MOCA director Bonnie Clearwater, who has seen Cano's work evolve. Initially, the marionettes' actions were limited. Now, seven annual shows later, they are freer, and their movements have expanded, she said.
Cano is working with choreographers, musicians and lighting and sound designers to discuss details of the production, which this year will present 100 new marionettes. With less than half of them finished, the artist refuses to have any help.
''Looking back at the New York pieces, it was so important to see how I made them and not forget the love and caring I put into them,'' Cano said. ''I can't forget they have to be made with equal amount of love. If not, the piece doesn't work.''
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