Fled Cuba on a lobster boat Now amateur artist goes pro with first exhibit

West New York’s Cid Mendez, an artist of many mediums, opened his first public exhibit, which focuses on his stained-glass collection, at Gallery Twenty-One in Newark last weekend.

His journey from amateur to pro was a busy one. “I have wasted not a single second ever since I stepped into the United States,” said Mendez last week.

Mendez, along with his parents and two siblings, fled Cuba on a crowded lobster boat in 1980.

His grandmother, who was living in West New York and working as a seamstress, paid for their trip with all the money she had saved. She traveled to Florida to pick them up.

When it came time for Mendez to attend school, he tested higher than the grade levels appropriate for his age. At 12 years old, he enrolled at Memorial High School.

As an adult, he moved to New York City for a few years, but eventually returned to New Jersey for more space.

Mendez is now a self-taught artist, in addition to being a full-time operations manager for a graphic design company. He dedicates himself to learning new methods and researching new materials for his art.

“I started with oils and acrylics, then woodworking, then work with metals,” said Mendez. “I just thought I’d experiment and keep on experimenting until I find something that sort of clicks a little more.”

His latest pieces include stained-glass light fixtures and lighted mirror frames.

“The most rewarding [material] right now has been glass,” said Mendez. “Glass, in the way I have been setting it up – illuminating it – it gives reward in plain light and rewards you in the dark.”

Passion in his work He said that while he enjoys working with glass, he is considering returning to paints. “I like challenging myself,” said Mendez. “Everything you see here is basically me challenging myself not to be ordinary.”

Close family and friends said that Mendez is extraordinary because he brings so much passion and energy to his art, as well as his life.

His motto is “Life is beautiful,” and he said it has a lot to do with maintaining his health. “Life is beautiful when you are healthy, when you think healthy, feel healthy,” said Mendez. “It has to do with the journey of living.”

Mendez said his positive attitude and love of life is the result of having been given freedom in the United States after having lived in a country full of desperation.

“When you come from an oppressed world and you are given the opportunity to flourish in freedom, you appreciate every single second of that existence,” he said. “Freedom is the most powerful instrument in developing the riches of the soul.”

Practices on furniture at home “I have turned my apartment into my experiment, my university,” said Mendez last week. He said that he uses every piece of furniture he has to practice.

“Everything you see is built by me, from the floor to the kitchen cabinets, carpets, shelves, pillows, and curtains,” said Mendez. He said that he has three sewing machines that are only a small part of his collection of tools he has been gathering for 12 years.

He said that his past in Cuba has influenced his designs.

“The flowers that I use, hibiscus flowers, are from the beaches in the neighborhoods I grew up in,” said Mendez.

Butterflies also often appear in his work.

“Butterflies seem to universally provoke the type of energy I like to provoke in people,” he said. He also said that he believes the beauty of a butterfly relaxes and softens people. He said that this also ties into his “life is beautiful” theme.

“I wanted to make sure that in some way or another, the positive energy would radiate from either the colors, the composition, or the simple symbolism,” said Mendez.

He said that his gallery is just the beginning.

“I am a learning person,” he said. “I am going to announce pretty soon that I am graduating kindergarten. I am entering first grade as an artist. My pieces are going to increase in quality and every aspect of creative design and craftsmanship. I am going to become a much better person but also artist. My art will reflect my growth and progress.”

Gallery Twenty-One is located at 611 McCarter Hwy. in Newark. Mendez will host a closing party on Saturday, Oct. 4 with food and live music. For tickets to the exhibit, call (973) 424-1700. His work will be on display until Oct. 5.


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