Travel to Cuba and spend time with Classic Journeys on the Malecón (pictured above), Havana’s seaside esplanade and the city’s center of social life. Amid the whiffs of cigar smoke mixed with sea mist and a mingling of animated conversations you’ll understand that Cuba’s real magic is in its enchanting citizens. Meet a local artist who embodies the Cuban spirit.

José Rodríguez Fuster
Vivacious Spirit on Display

In his whimsical Elton John–style spectacles, Fuster appears as zany as the art that surrounds him. He’s wearing only bathing trunks, with a glass of neat añejo rum in one hand and a girlfriend in the other. He plants a kiss on my cheek as I enter his home-cum-studio-gallery.

“To life…and love!” he says, raising his glass.

Ceramist. Painter. Sculptor. Cuba’s eternally joyful “Picasso of the Caribbean” profiles the quintessential Cuba in his naïve, childlike art.

Surreal ceramic figures, many full of Santería symbolism and Catholic mythology, dominate the decor. There are domino players, rum-swilling campesinos, crocodiles and cockerels. His vibrant pieces spill out past his front gate to adorn the façades of his neighborhood.

Walking the streets is a magical mystery tour of fanciful and colorful folk-art figures—testament to an ongoing, two-decade-old beautification project in Havana’s humble seaside suburb of Jaimanitas.

A people’s artist and loyal revolutionary, Fuster, now 68, was inspired by his time in 1961 as a participant in the Cuban Literacy Campaign in the Sierra Maestra.

From his rooftop, I spy a row of water tanks atop an apartment block, each adorned with a letter to spell out “Viva Cuba.”

“I’m completely crazy,” he tells me, smirking.

“No,” I think to myself. “You’re Cuban.” Vivacious and brimming with expressions of love.