Michael Eastman: Havana at Michael Hoppen Gallery, London

A photograph shows a tea green room with decorated marble flooring. The back wall is half-covered with jade wood panelling, and against it sit seven wood-backed, red-cushioned seats. Beside them is a black grand piano. The ceiling is an ornate stone carving and the door to the room is surrounded by a simple lead-lined, stained glass design. The image would be an embodiment of affluence, except the fabric of the room and all the furniture in it is in a process of decay. The marble floor is marked and most of the chairs are without their backboards. The piano is missing parts of its shiny black casing. The paint at the bottom of the walls is scuffed and worn, and most of the elaborate ceiling stonework has fallen away, leaving a gaping green hole at its centre.

The photograph was taken by Michael Eastman and is titled, Music Room, Havana. The other five images in the show depict similar scenes, once splendid interiors now left to fade. In 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuban trade with the USSR and Eastern Europe plummeted. The country was left in an economic depression, and even those who had retained wealth through the Cuban revolution were left poor. 30-years on Eastman documents these spaces, once a depiction of luxury, now approaching ruin.

The photograph, Green Interior, Havana, shows a deep turquoise room. The paint on the cracked walls is mottled with age. A white furniture set sits on a faded rug; a wicker-backed rocking chair and sofa facing outwards from the photograph, their once red cushions now faded to pink. The regal furniture has degraded with time. The objects, in their current state, hold a definite beauty, but it is the opposite of their intent. The furniture, a signifier of power and wealth, was built never to degenerate, an open acknowledgement of the human fantasy of perpetuity.

Portrait, Havana, contains a painted portrait, hung on the back wall of the room. The subject is a lady. She poses with hand on hip in a white lace dress. Her backdrop is a rich, heady orange, and she is framed in delicate carved wood. The portrait sits above two blue leather upholstered chairs and a vase of dying flowers, and the paint on its surface has begun to wear thin, cracking in places so the canvas shows through. Her gaze seems to fix on a crumbling, crystal chandelier in the foreground. A defiant stare levelled at the slow decay around her.

Travis Riley

Michael Eastman: Havana, 12 February – 16 March, Michael Hoppen Gallery, 3 Jubilee Place, London, SW3 3TD. www.michaelhoppengallery.com


1. Music Room, Havana. Courtesy the Artist and Michael Hoppen Gallery
2. Blue Facade. Courtesy the Artist and Michael Hoppen Gallery
3. Hollywood Theatre. Courtesy the Artist and Michael Hoppen Gallery
4. Green Interior. Courtesy the Artist and Michael Hoppen Gallery