Alejandro Carreño’s love of fish is immediately evident in his appealing paintings hanging at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven through the end of September. Carreño eschews strict photographic realism for intense colors and designs that evoke but don’t imitate life.
Each fish in his expressive series oozes personality; their eyes and mouths imbue them with distinct features. Carreño paints large aquatic “portraits” — the largest being 6 x 2 feet — that fill the entire length of the piece. With only one exception, they swim against a solid background of pigment, focusing our eyes on their various patterns. His paintings are snippets of life from a fantasy underwater world.
Carreño is a supreme colorist. His skillful range of blues is mesmerizing. Just as each fish is distinct, so too is his palette for every painting. Occasionally, too, Carreño adds touches of hot red or orange that increase the intensity of their visual impact.
Hailing originally from Cuba, later residing for 14 years in the Dominican Republic, and then here since 2009, Carreño says, “I was living in front of the ocean all my life. I know what fish look like. I can do their shapes easily.” He knows these creatures intimately, using a spear or Cuban “yo-yo” (a spool with a line and weight) as a child or a rod and reel from a boat or on the beach in the Vineyard. Referring to their playful interiors, though, he says, “To do the lines this way, I like to have fun.”
While the fish are light-hearted, Carreño has tremendous respect for these aquatic creatures. “They are really smart,” he laughs. “When I fish, how they get the bait sometimes fools me. You have to be very patient and smart.”
Carreño is adamant about only fishing for what he will eat rather than sport. “When I get a fish, it’s to consume. I am for their conservation; I only take what I need,” he insists. Artistic to the core, Carreño is also a chef, sharing, “I fry the fresh bass with breadcrumbs and garlic; the blue fish I fry or smoke.”
Trained as a product designer, Carreño currently fashions elegant furniture constructed with different types of wood, so it is no surprise that he also makes his own handsome, textured wooden frames, some of which he inlays with an elegant line of cowrie beads that perfectly offset the flat acrylic canvases.
The welcoming environment of Mocha Mott’s, with its smell of fresh coffee and enticing baked goods, is the perfect venue for Carreño’s art. Owner Meredith Aldrich and her business partner Tim Dobel started featuring local artists when they purchased the Oak Bluffs’ Mocha Mott’s in 2001. When they took over the Vineyard Haven space in 2004, it had a permanent exhibit there. Aldrich explains, “But we decided to also showcase local artists on a monthly rotating basis. I prefer the artists to be local — as in residing on the Island, particularly working individuals from our community who happen to have artistic talent.” For many, it has been their first opportunity to be exhibited publicly, and they have gone on to gain gallery success.
Unlike a gallery, at Mocha Motts, Aldrich says, “We do not take a commission on any artwork sold. We simply enjoy being able to have fresh art adorn our walls every month, as well as the opportunity to meet local artists, and give our customers the opportunity as well.” About Carreño, she adds, “I love the color and feel of his pieces! There is so much movement; they really capture the beauty of the fish.”
Alejandro Carreño’s artwork can be seen at Mocha Motts on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, through the end of September.