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Felix René Mederos Pazos was born November 20, 1933 in Sagua la Grande, Cuba. A self-taught artist, he began work in a Havana printshop in 1944 and was appointed Chief Designer for Cuba's most important television station in 1959. In 1964, at the beginning of the new wave of Cuban graphic design, Mederos began creating his first posters as head of the design team at Intercommunications.
In 1969 he was assigned by DOR (Department of Revolutionary Orientation) to travel to Vietnam to paint scenes of the war. He travelled to both North and South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh trail with the liberation forces, experiencing first-hand the brutal conditions of war and the courageous response of the Vietnamese people. The paintings were exhibited in Hanoi, and were subsequently reproduced as a screenprinted series which has been shown all over the world. Another trip in 1972 added to the body of work. Several of these images were reproduced in the United States as part of the anti-war and Cuba solidarity efforts (image #1) and in Cuba as a set of postage stamps (image #2). He also contributed to the solidarity posters produced by OSPAAAL (Organization in Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia, and Latin America) which enjoyed worldwide distribution by virtue of their inclusion in the magazine Tricontinental. (images #3,#4)
In 1973 Mederos created a series of "vallas" (12-sheet billboards) on the history of the Cuban revolution and also produced a screenprint series commemorating the 20th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada, the event signalling the beginning of the armed resistance to the Batista government. He continued to design vallas and posters for DOR and its succesor Editora Politica (EP) on a wide range of domestic and international issues. (images #5-7)
In 1991 Mederos visited the United States for the first time, where he designed and painted a mural at UCLA on U.S. solidarity with Vietnam. His last major project was a 14-panel portable mural series on Che Guevara. (images #8, #9)
As an artist, René Mederos' style, with its bright, firmly contoured surfaces, its ebullience of patterns in nature, and an unwavering sense of political direction, established a unique standard for graphic design in Cuba which influenced a whole generation of graphic artists all over the world. Despite all his honors and achievements, he was a modest man. He was generous to others and maintained faith in the goals of the Cuban revolution - a world of equality and peace.
René Mederos died of cancer in Havana September 24, 1996. He will be missed.
¡Compañero René Mederos, Presente!
Obituary by Ken Brociner, David Kunzle, and Lincoln Cushing
David Kunzle teaches
art history at UCLA