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My breakthrough moment as an artist came when I discovered the idea of enlightenment. My father would discuss such topics at the dinner table when I was young, and I slowly came to realize enlightenment is accessible to everyone.

I started using metal leaf to make decorative halos around the heads of my subjects, much like the enlightened figures in Gothic altarpieces. I believe that enlightenment can impact not only an individual, but also their entire environment, and those around them. So I began abstracting the halos into the background—the metal leaf now affected the whole environment of the painting.

Cascade  | oil on wood | 22" x 26" | 2017

Cascade | oil on wood | 22" x 26" | 2017

Conversely, I learned that the environment has a direct effect on the subject. This inspired me to start using the metal leaf on my subjects themselves. I would use metal leaf wherever there was a highlight on my subject and wherever it matched the color of the subject’s flesh. I found that, by strategically placing the metallic leaf in places it wouldn’t be detected, I could surprise the viewer when they moved around the painting and the metal leaf suddenly reflected light. This made my work interactive, allowing the viewer to move around the painting and experience it from different angles and in different lighting situations.

I stopped using halos. The halo and the enlightenment it represented were now both within the environment and the subject itself.

This technique had a major impact on my career. It’s one of the main things I’m known for, and one of the ways my work stands out. It has informed the way I choose to light my subjects and the types of backgrounds I use. In the future, I plan to continue discovering fresh ways to incorporate metal leaf into my work.


Arturo Cabrera immigrated to the United States with his parents from Ecuador at the age of four. He eventually moved to Pennsylvania studying art history and studio art at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts. After graduating, he became a resident artist at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, PA, where he had his own private studio for a year. Cabrera then moved to New York City, where he worked for renowned artist Jeff Koons as a color mixer for two years. Now he works as a freelance artist out of Brooklyn, NY. 

Cabrera has exhibited in several shows including a solo exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, NJ. His work is featured in private collections throughout the East Coast and Europe. He was also mentored by Lehigh Valley artists Myron Barnstone, Sandra Corpora, and Erin Anderson.

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