D'IBERVILLE -- A mission trip to Cuba this summer brought the ultimate souvenir back to South Mississippi Friday when Dana Israel's art classes at D'Iberville Middle School met Cuban artist Inti Alvarez and marveled at his paintings.
Israel taught some of the techniques of Coast artist Walter Anderson to young Cuban students on her mission trip and met Alvarez at his art gallery in Havana.
"I invited him back here for the Peter Anderson Festival," she said.
He arrived late Thursday and already experienced a buffet at Golden Nugget Casino before meeting Israel's art classes. Later Friday they took a tour of the new baseball stadium in Biloxi.
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"I wanted to introduce him to the Biloxi Shuckers," Israel said. Tim Bennett, part-owner of the team, and Bobby Carter with Golden Nugget are working to bring a Cuban team to play an American team at MGM Park.
Saturday and Sunday Alvarez will join thousands of others from South Mississippi in downtown Ocean Springs. He's come not to sell his art but to experience the color of the festival. Israel said she also plans to take him to the Walter Anderson Museum in town.
His introduction to American students was as receptive as Israel's had been when she visited Cuba. His father, Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, is a renowned surgeon and statesman and was a physician to Sadaam Hussein. Israel said he invited all 25-30 people on the mission trip to dinner.
His son was equally gracious, posing for photos with the D'Iberville students and autographing a print of his work.
Some of his words were lost in the translation but the kids expressed their appreciation for his paintings, the color and technique with oohs and aahs understood in any language.
He carefully unfolded the canvases and revealed rich greens, deep magentas and exotic women whose eyes conveyed the emotion of his subject.
"It's not about the beauty of the women he's painting. It's the expression in their eyes," Israel told the students as his words were translated.
He doesn't use paint as it comes out of a tube, she said, but mixes and creates his own colors.
"His paintings are 100 percent original," she said.
Alvarez said he isn't so concerned about the beauty of a woman's face but her emotions, which he captures with expressive eyes and lips. He paints not from a photograph or with a model, he explained through interpreter Myrna Rodriguez, but completely from his imagination. He prefers to paint late at night because he said it's more romantic.
His mother is French, his father Cuban and he's influenced by both cultures. His series of 25 blue women he painted for a museum showing is French inspired and other paintings capture the color and beauty of Cuban faces.
Israel has taught her D'Iberville students the same block or grid style she demonstrated to students in Cuba and they spent two weeks recreating one of his blue women paintings.
"My art students actually did this painting for you," she told Alvarez, and he'll take it with him back to Cuba. He in turn showed them the paintings that inspired their work.
Seventh grader Haley Fletcher was especially inspired with the artist and his paintings.
"I always wanted to meet an artist," she said. "I admire all the colors. I admire the shapes and the textures," and how he expresses emotion through their faces. She aspires to be like him -- "Travel the world and draw for fun and make people happy."