René “Renato” Martinez Peña


Renato translates to reborn in French and Italian. Legally born René, it’s unclear where the nickname Renato originated. However, it suited the painter well as he was a great lover of the Italian language and culture. While he is no longer with us today, he is reborn through his wonderful paintings. In 1980, Renato left Cuba as part of the Mariel boat lift and moved to San Francisco, where he met his life-partner, Barry, in 1981. Renato was a natural painter. He began painting as a small child and studied art formally in Havana for six years. His paintings have been shown in numerous exhibits throughout the Bay Area and abroad, including the San Francisco Mission Cultural Center. His painting, “Mujer en el Balcón,” was featured on the poster to showcase the center’s 1992 exhibit. Working primarily in acrylic, his style was called “naïve,” meaning childlike, and while this is true, there is a sophisticated blend of color, movement, and humor in all of his paintings. Renato took his inspiration from many sources, the foremost being Mina, an internationally renowned Italian popular singer. Inspired by Mina, Renato enjoyed listening to all kinds of international popular music, not only from Italy but also Cuba, Brazil, France, Mexico, and Spain. In 2015, Renato published a book on the Cuban singer Celeste Mendoza, known as La Reina del Guaguanco. Renato’s paintings heavily reflect his native Cuba, with beach scenes, palm trees waving in the tropical breeze, and bright colors. A lover of cats, Renato incorporated his own cats in his paintings – in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.

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