The vibrant, colorful and very large paintings created by José Andrés Matos Alonzo, simply known as JAMA, have adorned gallery walls around the world, but these days his works largely occupy his Naples studio. His relatively new surroundings (he’s been here for about a year) bring a sense of comfort to a man who endured some challenging times.

Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1974, JAMA began painting at an early age and pursued his passion vigorously, despite the fact that Cuban society frowned upon such “impractical career choices” as art, he says. That pressure, combined with economic upheaval within the country, made matters worse.

In 2002, JAMA left Cuba for Costa Rica where he could continue painting while finding a foundation for his new life (he had to leave his wife and child temporarily behind in Cuba as he sought a stable living arrangement for the family).

They eventually wound up in Miami, where they lived with JAMA’s grandfather, and where his art and career ascended to new levels, such as establishing The Art Factory Group for performance exhibits. He had several one-man shows in the city and his work has appeared in New York, Italy and France.

Like other Cuban artists, his paintings demonstrate an ability to transform basic available materials—like a window shade, a piece of burlap or a hurricane shutter—into workable surfaces for his art, according to his nominator Joel Kessler, executive director of the von Liebig Art Center. JAMA’s work started to reflect the emotional conflict from the trauma of exile. “Inspired by Aristotle’s order of the universe, JAMA believes that the circle is the construct of life. From a circular form, he fuses other geometric shapes, connecting them within a linear web of spontaneous strokes and vivid tones,” Kessler wrote in the nomination.

JAMA will participate in the von Liebig’s “Cuba on My Mind” show in March featuring work by Cuban and Cuban-American artists.

But JAMA’s career includes more than his creations on canvas. He is developing an artistic line of clothing for children, with a portion of proceeds from the clothing sales benefiting St. Jude’s Children Hospital, and he’s also donated paintings to the John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah.

“If you believe in something, you can be successful,” JAMA says. “It doesn’t matter where you are from, or what age you are.”

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