Osmundo Echevarria brings a wonderful artistic sensibility to decorative furniture finishes and practices what might be termed a craft with a genuinely imaginative eye and hand. He was trained as an artist and some of his most recent work includes the stunning Art-Deco inspired silver panels that grace the Van Cleef & Arpels space in Bergdorf’s. We interviewed him at light-filled his studio/workspace in Long Island City … and he was very shy! He’s a talented, sincere, hardworking man, and recession notwithstanding, the first stop for any decorator or designer with a piece of furniture that needs his touch.
You laughed when you were showing us around and we said that a two cabinets you were working on were hideous. What do you do when something ugly comes in?
I never say … that to them! Never! I try to do my best to make it less hideous.
What do you bring that makes you a bit of a stand-out? Why do the decorators come to you?
I have a team of artists here – we studied art, so we incorporate that into this. The extra artistic look to a piece means we go that step further.
It’s really a crossover between craft and art. You have to have imagination.
Yes. And some of these designers … that’s what they look for. They want something no one else has … and detail. Standard antique white could be a million different things … you want it paler, greyer … we mix our own pigments.
How did you get into this?
I studied art at the School of Visual Arts … and I started working with a friend of mine who had this decorative painting company. I learned a lot
Did you think you were going to be a famous artist?
[Laughs] Ah … yes. Well, I don’t know about famous but that’s all I wanted to do.
So you must see this as a compromise … how do you see this in your life?
I do [see it as a compromise]. I enjoy this but it’s not what I set out to do. I’m still around art. To me I look at my work, and to me the [pieces] are art.
Well, you have to make a living. Do you paint still?
I still do. I do more drawing than painting. I like a mixture between landscape and abstract art. I don’t do it very often. It takes so long. But now I let that creative drawing come out in these decorative panels I do.
Do decorators scream at you ever?
I have a very good relationship with most of them … once I lost a sample and this particular decorator was upset …
Oh, you have to tell us the “screen story”…
Oh … okay. I’m a visual person and I get an email with an image of this screen and I’m asked for an estimate to paint this three-paneled screen. What I did was that I overlooked that it said: the image that you’re painting [over] is not the image in the photograph. [The image to be painted over] is the back of the screen. I didn’t bother reading that and the piece came … it had fabric on one side and this photographic art on the other side … and that was the side I saw in the picture – so I painted that side. And it was piece of art. Yeah. I almost died. I painted over everything. I ruined it.
Whose art was it? Was it anybody famous?
I looked him up and he’s an established artist. I painted [his image] purple.
But what did the image look like. How did you make the mistake?
It looked like a computer did all these lines. It was signed … I still haven’t heard the end of this one.
How is business in this recession?
Really hard. I was always busy up until this recession.
And you’re originally from Cuba … did you grow up in Cuba?
I was born in Cuba. I left when I was about seven.
Have you been back?
I was back in’79. I hadn’t seen my father in 15 years. He did some jail time because he was against Castro. My mother left first … she was one of those that left in a little boat. When I was seven, she sent for me. My father put me on a plane and said: “Just follow everyone.”
Were you scared?
I didn’t think about it.
When you went back, what was it like?
I was only given a week to visit family. That was when [Castro] opened the doors in ’79 and I was one of the first to go.
What are your thoughts about Cuba now?
I am not a political person but I think it’s not going to change anytime soon. There’s a lot of talent there, the art, the music. When you go from here, you’re allowed to go anywhere—they’re not.
Are you happy living here?
Oh yeah – this is where I’m from.