- Sarah Bernheart, acrylic on canvas, Sita Gomez
Sita Gomez de Kanelba is a Cuban-American visual artist born in Paris in 1932. Her father, Dr. Domingo Mauricio Gomez‐Gimeranez, was a mathematician and cardiovascular researcher who studied the effects of space on the human body. When Hitler expressed interest in her father’s work, the family fled France in 1941. Gomez grew up in New York City and Cuba, which her family was forced to leave in 1959 after Castro took power.
A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, Gomez has shown in exhibits and galleries all over the world since her first one-person show at Van Bovenkamp Gallery in New York City in 1964. Like her close friend Carmen Herrera, Gomez is gaining more recognition later in life. She has been living in Hudson for 10 years and is participating in the Open Studio Hudson tour October 9-10.
When asked what inspired her to paint a portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, Gomez replies, “I was always attracted to women because they have more interesting visual elements to work with such as hair, clothes, makeup, and jewelry. Men are not as interesting. And I like historical figures. Growing up in Paris, I loved seeing images of Bernhardt in the press and at the movies. Bernhardt was basically a high-class prostitute. But she was also an actress who played historical figures. She slept in a coffin and was an original.”
Gomez was influenced by the grand circus sideshow art she saw as a child in Paris. She paints on Masonite or plywood, and most of her work is large-scale, typically eight-by-eight feet. A fan of Alice Neel, Gomez paints portraits, and, like Toulouse-Lautrec, she is interested in characters who are typically underrepresented.
Reflecting on her long career and what she’s learned as an artist, Gomez says, “First you have to know how to work with your material. But the most important thing is your imagination—what’s in your brain and heart that you can transfer to canvas or paper.”
Gomez escaped Nazi Germany, fled the Cuban Revolution, survived the death of close family members, and continues to create. “I had a lot to tell. The more you paint the better you become,” she says. “The devil got into my life and tried to make it difficult to paint, but I did it anyway.”
Always productive, she is currently writing a book about her life and her family lineage. “There are two murders in it! History brings things to life, even if it’s not perfect,” she says.
Gomez is also the subject of a documentary film by director Susie DeFord that begins shooting this month. As to what keeps her going, Gomez laughs and says, “I’m only 89! I walk without a cane, look halfway presentable, and have a good memory. I’m very lucky. I’m probably still around because I haven’t finished what I’ve been put on this Earth to do.”
Sita Gomez's work will be on view as part of Open Studio Hudson tour October 9-10.