By Paul Gonzales
n December of last year, a peculiar spot opened up in Portland. Is it an art gallery? Is it a restaurant? Is it an event center?
Turns out it is all those things rolled into one. For now.
The man behind the art is Gil Cuevas, who along with his wife, Gaye, own and operate La Cueva Art Gallery & Gathering, 605 Railroad St. in Portland. He has been an artist the majority of his life with a story to tell in and out of his paintings.
“I’m originally from San Antonio,” Gil said. “I was born and raised there on the west side in the barrio. That’s where I met Adan Hernandez (see sidebar). He’s the guy that painted all the artwork depicted in the 1993 film “Blood In, Blood Out.”
“We were all just sketching cars and drawing and that kind of stuff.”
He said that his mom always encouraged him to pursue art, even when she would find his drawings on the furniture or under coffee tables he joked.
Instead of following in the footsteps of his other artist friends and struggling to make a living, he went into graphic design and began winning an award or two along the way.
“He was literally one of the leading award-winning Hispanic advertising designers in San Antonio,” Gaye said. “He has a Clio Award (Time magazine described it as the world’s most recognizable international advertising award), all the way down to probably about 60 or 70 Addy Awards (the world’s largest advertising award).”
Gil laughed and said, “Not quite 70, but there’s a few.”
When the couple moved to Portland, Gil began doing graphic work for the city and some businesses but never stopped painting. He set up a studio known as Caveman Studios (La Cueva means cave in Spanish) before settling down at his current location, 315 5th St. in Portland, and his wife set up her law office in the space behind it. When an injury caused her to close down her practice, the space became empty, but an idea was brewing.
“We started this idea during COVID, right at the beginning of last summer,” Gil said. “But we just couldn’t find the right place in San Antonio – that’s where we wanted to have a small place.”
Gaye added, “I like San Antonio, but there’s more opportunity here in Portland for Gil and I. And plus, I love Portland.”
Gil said, “Portland’s not funky like Rockport or the Island, it’s more conservative. For the most part, Portland is more industrial and business oriented so La Cueva is kind of out of place, but I think that’s one of the reasons for its appeal.”
With paintings ranging from classic cars to musician Johnny Rodriguez and actress Salma Hayek, it definitely isn’t like any other gallery around which tend to focus more on coastal themes like fish, birds and boats.
So in order to get people excited about the space, they began serving food (with Gil serving as head chef) on the weekends and having barbecue Sundays to draw in a crowd to appreciate the art.
And it worked.
While they are still planning on hosting public events with food and live music, Gil is looking to move away from the restaurant part and focus more on the art, but plans to continue hosting special events like weddings, corporate parties and quinceañeras and is booked until May for events.
“We don’t want to be a restaurant really, that wasn’t our intention,” Gil said. “It brings in revenue, so that’s good, and allows us to keep going and keep adding things and not just be dependent on the artwork selling.
“We have sold some art and that’s a good sign.”
The vision they have for the art space is one of artist coming together to celebrate art and the artists. They’re currently looking at artwork from several artists around the area that are different and unique and plans on changing out the work about every three months.
The couple is also planning a specially-curated showcase titled Coastal Vision and Vintage Images which Gil is currently creating some art for, with other artists to be announced soon on their Facebook page.
Sitting in the space, surrounded by Gil’s artwork, a certain question arose: What does the artwork say about the artist?
“Well it says that I like all kinds of subjects,” Gil added. “I’m not really a storyteller like my friend (Hernandez) or like Frida Kahlo who puts little icons and stuff here and there and she only knows what they mean.
“I just like images. I like throwing paint on canvas. That’s why I paint all kinds of subjects. I do portraits, I do landscapes, I do still life, I do food, I do cars. I mean, I’m all over the place.
“I’m very diverse. I guess that’s what it says if nothing else. I’ll keep painting what I like ... and what Gaye tells me to paint,” he added with a laugh.