Orestes Hernández 
Visual artist

The leafy palm branch on display in Galería 23 y 12 looks a lot like palm branches you see on any Havana street or beach after a storm. What's different about this particular palm branch is that it has been accessorized with a live turtle by Orestes Hernández Palacios, who sits cross-legged on the gallery's floor looking as out-of-place here as his palm and turtle. Wearing jeans, bright white shirt and matching baseball cap, he looks more like a reggaetonero than like one of Cuba's most promising young artists. As the turtle wanders away from the branch, Orestes (as he prefers to be called) puts the creature back in place, saying, "this is a rumination on sedentary people, on time, on space."

The title for this exhibition, Salga el sol por donde salga, is a typically Cuban expression that translates roughly as "Let the sun shine where it may," and that pretty much sums up Orestes' approach to his work and life. "I don't think too much about the future," he says. Que salga el sol por donde salga. I take things as they happen."

Which is just as well, because things have happened quickly for Orestes Hernández Palacios. He was born in Holguín province in 1981 and came to Havana to study at the prestigious Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), finishing his studies in 2006. The following year he was the subject of a major — and provocative — solo show at Havana's Instituto Cubano de la Música. His installation consisted of a "typically Cuban" room whose main features were a couple of appliances (refrigerator, air-conditioning units) and leaf-print wallpaper. The title: Se acabó la salsa (a play on words that might translate, in English, as The Party's Over). In 2008 he participated in the Bla Bla Bla show, a showcase for Cuba's most interesting young artists organized by curator and art critic Piter Ortega Núñez. Orestes contributed a large, child-like painting of strawberries, which he called "Que Manera de Quererte" ("What a Way to Love You").

His conceptual work owes a lot to Duchamp, and Orestes says he's a big fan of American artist Matthew Barney, but he doesn't dwell on the work of either contemporaries or forebears, primarily because he has been unable to come into direct contact with their work. "Aside from Cuban painters I haven't seen anything," he says, "so for me, art is something that has to be invented, like a lie. I have to invent myself, build myself out of what's available to me."

Orestes has been living and working in Havana's Marianao district, in a flat he shares and rents from an older couple, Andres and Irene. The walls and even the ceiling of his bedroom are covered with his drawings and watercolours, which erupt with references to American porn and pop culture —Playboy, Marilyn Monroe, things he says he chances upon in old magazines and comic books. Up another flight of stairs is his studio, filled with more drawings and paintings in various stages of completion. "They're never finished," he says, although this doesn't seem to be a source of displeasure to him. "I sometimes work a lot on a painting because I'm not convinced by it. Then I'll come back and work on it again, turn it into a collage or something else."

Orestes has an evident gift for painting and drawing but seems sincere when he says, "I don't think I'm very interested in the act of painting. I don't really care about the sentimental aspect, or the gestural aspect, or the colour. It's just a frame, a canvas to put paint on. But that's what I like."