Last february, I attended a wonderful presentation of a company of female flamenco dancers and was awestruck by their physical beauty and the swirling bravura of their colorful skirts. Flamenco is a beautiful and highly developed art form of song and dance created by a people that has suffered marginalization in Europe for centuries, but has demonstrated strength and courage to survive. Believed to be of moorish origin from the south of Spain, Flamenco is regarded today as a cultural heritage for all humanity. Its popularity has spread to many countries, from Latin America to Japan, a dance originally from Spain which has crossed national and cultural boundaries. When I saw this company performing on a stage with a blank screen behind, I imagined them in an open landscape, at that moment a Spanish prairie of golden wheat with a few large trees sparsely scattered here and there. Then I realized these dancers were from my own country, and I saw no discrepancies whatsoever in picturing them in a more local setting. That is when the idea of Flamencas was born.
For some time now, I’ve been looking for the opportunity to integrate the human figure and the landscape in a single painting. This kind of figurative art has been historically done, of course, as the human figure is of paramount importance in all artistic cultures, but none of the examples I’ve seen so far inspired me to get along that path. I’m aware of many contemporary pictures of young beautiful women or girls in shimmering clothing staring at the horizon from a beach or posing among flowers in a lush garden setting. The female nude in outdoor settings has also been conceived in many different ways, from the idealized chaste women of academic artists such as Bouguereau, to the avant garde depictions of Matisse, Cezanne and Picasso. In the past, artists could make these mostly meaningless and illogical compositions seem grand by ascribing to them intellectually sounding titles such as Venus or Diana, or presenting them as an allegory of spring or poetic subjects of sorts.
Flamencas challenges me to accept and overcome the difficulties of using my artistic resources and skills to create scenes in which I can render the anatomical structure of the human body in an infinite variety of expressive poses in a natural setting. I have deliberately downplayed the ethnic aspect of the flamenco dance in favor of a more transcendental concept: the coalescence of the female figure and landscape in a unified composition in which the essence of womanhood is expressed by beauty, gesture and assertiveness, as manifested in their elegant poise and self-assurance. I may be tempted to say that Flamenco dancing is the only, but if not, one of the few forms of dancing in which the woman’s steps are not subjected or directed by her male companion. In Flamenco dancing, women dance as if they own their space. They can dance alone or in groups. The interaction between a female and male flamenco dancer is like a mating ritual in which both parts maintain an equal status. The woman has various resources at her disposal. She can tease the man with her fan, or confront him with the tapping of her shoes and castanets. The gracious motion of the hands is one of the most beautiful attributes of flamenco dancing. It is believed that the term “flamenco” derives from the striking poses these dancers assume with their arms and hands that closely resembles the shapes and movement of that bird.
The principal motiv in Sol Naciente is the juxtaposition of the fan and the rising sun. The radiating shape of the open fan enhances the way in which the sun radiates light, while the light of the sun enhances the translucent beauty of the fan.
High resolution museum quality digital prints of this work of art are available at Fine Art America.
Sometimes the composition of a work of art can be analyzed using the Golden Mean, based on the proportion 1: 1.612 known as Phi in honor of the great greek sculptor Phidias. Here are two examples, using the Golden Spiral and the Golden Rectangle.
High resolution museum quality digital prints of Las Garzas are available at Fine Art America.
This painting is based upon a smaller landscape I created during the summer. On this occasion I’ve added the concept of the morning as a natural symbol of youth. The young woman, whose name for the purpose of this picture is Alba (Spanish for Dawn) is sitting at the edge of a rural road in contemplation of another Alba as the sun rises behind the mountain range.
Up until the sixties, the only way to get from San Juan in the north to Ponce in the southern part of the island of Puerto Rico was through a long and winding road built in the nineteenth century that cut through the central mountain range. The track that was the most difficult to build and hence to travel is popularly known as La Piquiña. The old Carretera Central, its official name, has long been substituted by modern express highways.
The painting shows both, with a lone car going uphill through the mountains, a different experience from those who prefer the convenience of the modern thoroughfare.
The past and the present can and often coexist in commonplace activities such as driving.
An estuary is an area where fresh river and salt sea waters merge. The San Juan Bay Estuary is a large system comprising the Bay of San Juan and various other bodies of water such as the Condado Lagoon, the San José Lagoon and several interconnecting channels.
The San Juan Bay Estuary provides home for over 160 bird species, 19 reptile/amphibian species, 124 fish species and 300 wetland plant species.
It also contains the largest protected mangrove forest in Puerto Rico, comprising 33% of the total mangrove acreage on the island.
Population growth in the metropolitan area of San Juan negatively affected the system by overexploitation, degradation and destruction of its natural resources. The San Juan Estuary Program was created to manage and protect the integrity of the estuary. Their main goal is to improve the water quality and the sediment in order to secure the usefulness for fishing, swimming and other recreational activities. This will keep an ecosystem capable of sustaining a diversity of plant and animal species.
My landscape painting was created from a photograph taken one morning in the area along PR 22. It is done a la prima in an impressionistic, plein air style. The composition from the photo was not altered, lucky that I was to find a spot where the visual elements could fit so perfectly. As it often happens, nature provides more shades of hues and values that a snapshot.
THE PROCESS: A la prima is an Italian term meaning “on the go”. Pigments are mixed right on the palette to create tones, colors of different values and intensity. These are then applied directly on the canvas where they best fit in the color scheme of the composition. The more skilled an experienced an artist is, the faster and fresher is the final result. Some painters work on a white surface, while others prefer to lay their tones on an imprimatura. I use burnt sienna because its overall warm tone balances the mostly cool tones (greens and blues) I will apply as I create the landscape. As the painting develops, the pigments on the palette continue blending and producing subtle tonalities employed in the final details.
I received an invitation on October 2013 to showcase some of my most recent artworks at the Cuartel de Ballajá in Old San Juan. Cuartel de Ballajá is one of the largest military buildings made during the Spanish colonial times in Puerto Rico. Its spacious halls are now used as a museum and for art exhibitions. I never miss the opportunity to bring my camera and take pictures at places as beautiful as this one. This young picturesque couple drove my attention. I wonder, I guess all artists do, what people think when they see my work.
In portraiture, the color of the skin need not always be rendered “realistically” in order to obtain a convincing representation of the sitter. People expect a certain flesh tone, but the fact is that under different lighting conditions, the skin tone of a particular individual can vary drastically. When it comes to painting flesh, the correct use of values (light and shadows) is supremely more important than the “right” hue.
Art does not need to be realistic, but true.
Sometimes I establish effective value relationships in my paintings by means of color contrasts. Like the impressionists and other plein air painters afterwards, I get to achieve the illusion of natural light by relying more on color contrasts to convey lights and darks. This method can be applied to portrait painting, as the following examples prove.
The painting at the top left is that of my friend Félix Cordero, a fine photographer who passed away some five years ago. Even though is a posthumous homage, I wanted him remembered as the lively, cheerful person with a colorful character he truly was.
In this other portrait, the hues are more neutralized (grayed out) but the use of different colors to suggest light and dark is readily apparent.
The portrait of this lovely wide-eyed little girl arose from a casual snapshot I took of her at a school activity back when my son was in elementary school. Her mom loved it and a portrait commission followed.
This double portrait painting was commissioned as a Thanksgiving present to the client’s parents. I had to work from a small photo. It was challenging to grasp the actual features and convey the personalities of people I’ve never met. Usually the eyes help, but on this particular instance their eyes were not that easily visible. Somehow I was able to express the couple happiness. It was a good snapshot turned into a better painting.
Last night my eyes felt so tired that I had to go to bed earlier. It was about 10:20 and I quickly dozed off. It may not have been my very first dream of the night but soon I found myself in the streets of Old San Juan with my brother Luis looking for a gallery and frame shop where someone has taken one large painting of mine to be framed for a client. I was supposed to pick it up. My brother and I didn’t know the exact address, only that the gallery was called “Thanatos”.
As we wandered around I saw a small sign at the end of the stairs in front of a building identifying it as a gallery. I knew it wasn’t the one, but feeling curious, I stepped up and looked inside through the glass panes of the doors. There was a young couple and many small school type drawings pasted on the walls of the “gallery”. I thought how nice it would be to live in such a place with a gallery to hang and show my own paintings.
Meanwhile, my brother had strayed and as I walked down back to the cobblestoned street I heard him summoning me from the second floor of a building on the other side. I went over and into an unpaved parking lot where I had left my car and saw a small wood gate giving access to where my brother was. Soon, he loudly told me that “Thanatos” wasn’t there.
Perhaps I walked across the gate, but instead I came across another street that was very close to the Atlantic shore. I wandered around the old Spanish era buildings until I saw a big and white two door entrance on the facade of a white building. A rather large but very elegant sign read “Thanatos”. I found the place!
I opened the door and the immediate impression I got was of bewilderment. There was a large spacious hall full of beautiful Carrara marble statues and workers carving the yet unfinished ones. I noticed an astonishingly beautiful head and neck of a horse with ample mane and statues of nude athletic men and graceful women in classical poses. I believed I had suddenly stepped into an Italian sculpture workshop. “Wow! An Italian sculpture workshop in Old San Juan!”, I said to myself.
Everything was white, the sculptors appeared to be covered in marble dust, but they weren’t exhausted or overwhelmed by their task. I looked around, wondered by the beautiful artwork surrounding me. The original purpose of my being there was now in the back of my mind. At the far end of the spacious hall I found a very large door. I opened it and went into what appeared to be a showroom of huge ostentatious mausoleums and crypts. The ceiling was vaulted and there were no statues there. An obviously wealthy woman came in from another room accompanied by a man dressed in 18th century French attire complete with a wig. He was powdered all over so that he looked like a white statue too. The man was showing the woman around. By the conversation I overheard, she was shopping for a tomb for some Latin American president or any other filthy rich powerful personality.
I stepped out of the room and found myself in an interior patio. The people there were mostly models, male and female, draped in antique classical fashion. They too looked entirely white. I figured this must be so that the carvers could easily copy their features in white marble. This was all very strange but fascinating to me, yet I still have to find my framed painting.
I walked back to the spacious hall. The statues were still there, but the sculptors had all gone. I left the place and back into the street I looked around for my brother. Some hours must have passed and I worried about not finding him. Then I heard the sound of my bedroom door and woke up. First thing I did was to check the time. It was only 11:00 pm! I thought it must have been around 3:00 am. I remembered the movie Inception and how time flows at a different pace when we dream.