A prodigy was born in Havana on the cusp of the Cuban Revolution. After Castro ousted Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959, young Guillermo Mirabal Ipsan´s future changed dramatically. There were family members on both sides of the political fences and a decision was made to flee quickly and take what they could carry.
From the leafy boulevards of Havana’s upscale Mantilla neighborhood, he, his immediate family plus the grandmother left everything behind, except for her treasured Kodak camera and a few photographs. It wasn’t an easy move, as there was barely enough money for transportation to New York City. Once arrived, the Cuban exile family could only afford a run-down tenement flat in a seedy part of the City. The rooms were cramped, they were safe from the terrors of the Revolution and that was as good as it could be for the time being.
As he grew up on the mean streets of New Rochelle the photographs of what they’d left behind made a lasting impression on Bill (Guillermo was Americanized). By the tender age of eight, armed with his grandmother’s precious Brownie box camera, he began to capture the images of his new environment. Simple things such as graffiti or a pile of trash cans and urban decay became his new universe as seen through the tiny lens of the Kodak. When he won his first prize as a budding photographer at eight, the meager household budget was stretched even more so to buy film and developing solutions: the tiny bathroom shared by all became his developing laboratory, with negatives held up by clothespins.
By the time he was in the 9th grade, a photographic collage won 2nd place in a city-wide contest and it was clear that he had more than average talent. From photography he explored the world of mixed media and began using recycled materials before it was fashionable (it was cheap, if not free).
His career eventually brought him to Antigua, Guatemala, where he and his wife founded a small art gallery on a quiet street. They had met two years previously at an art show in San Diego, California, where he garnered a top prize and now his work also adorns the walls of many private collectors in Guatemala City.
Last year, in a juried competition, he won second prize in the prestigious Rozas-Botran Foundation Art Show and they’ve asked him to hang more of his art on the Foundation’s walls.
The “blue-eyed boy with a Brownie?” He has Paul Newman’s eyes, which thoroughly confounded an Israeli visitor recently: to quote her, she said “with those eyes you can do anything.” Her companion laughed and they’re arranging for his art to be seen in Tel Aviv. Who knows what’s next for “Bill” Mirabel Ipsan? Ansel Adams started his career with a Kodak Brownie, so there’s no telling where this saga of a career will end. If you find yourself in Antigua, Guatemala, their gallery is on 2nd Calle Oriente, 9A and they’re open around ten in the morning. Lizette´s art is there also, along with Bill’s collection of antique cameras, poised as if they’re reminders of his past. The future is wide open, his grandmother is still alive at age 104 and she has the Kodak on a special shelf.
Pictures. Michael Sherer