Painter & visual arts

The floor is concrete and the walls are high and white, hung with big, boldly figurative paintings in rich, brazen colours. Eduardo Roco ("Choco"), 63, looks 15 years younger, a powerful man with an infectious laugh. And he doesn't mind that his studio, a large space on a busy street in Habana Vieja, can get noisy. "The noise is wonderful," he insists. "In general I start working here very early in the morning when it's not so loud. And then it builds. Passers-by are saying things, some of them bad things, and they enter my studio and introduce alternative possibilities to me. From time to time they shake my concentration. I can ask somebody in to look at my work, see if I'm broadening his spirit. People are and have always been my protagonists."

Choco acquired his nickname years ago because of his resemblance to Kid Chocolate, the legendary Cuban boxer from the 1930s. "I sign Choco. Sometimes I think I'm going to forget my real name, the name of my father and my mother." His parents were ordinary agricultural workers. Choco was born in a small village near Santiago de Cuba in southeastern Cuba that he describes as "marvelous, in the mountains, with incredible people, and the best carnivals – from time to time I return to it in my mind and it makes me stand taller."

In another historical and geographical context, Choco would never have become an artist, he notes. Trained in the 1960s and '70s, he is a graduate of the Art Instructor's School and the National Art School; he pursued postgraduate studies at the University of Havana's College of Arts and Letters. "The Revolution rescued me. It picked me up, a little country boy, and taught me art. The Cuban Revolution had this marvelous project, a profound understanding of the importance of artistic expression."

He shows us his current work and introduces us to the team that assists him with his print-making and recent production of small bronze sculptures. Choco is a master of an unusual print technique known as "collagraphy". "It's a very interesting, very contemporary technique that gives a lot of texture, very pictural, and when I encountered it it was like slipping a ring on my finger– it just fit," he recalls. "It gave me an incredible range of technical and intellectual possibilities."

A collagraph plate is made a little like papier-mâché, cutting and pasting paper and other textures –rattan or cane chair seats, cardboard, old fabrics, sand, earth. The result is magically textured, inviting touch; it also suits the bold, rough themes of Choco's work. "I have always worked on village themes, agriculture, fieldwork, men cutting sugar-cane – this was my background, and also my experience because as students we would also go and work in the fields," he says.

"My themes have changed but something that has never shifted is that they arise from Cuba, from the Cuban people, from the daylight and our Afro-Cuban religion... And in my art, whether it's with color or form, I try to express in two dimensions or three dimensions something that people have hidden behind their doors for a long time, their beliefs and how they ward off evil spirits."

Since his first solo exhibition (in Santiago de Cuba in 1976), Choco has been the subject of one-man shows in Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Sweden, Japan, Paris, London and San Francisco, and he has participated in group shows and biennial exhibitions in Spain, Chile, Canada, Vietnam, Mexico, Puerto Rico, India, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy and the United States.