The eight young artists in this show appear familiar with the theories and practices of contemporary art and they all have degrees from art schools, mostly MFAs from institutions in Chicago or New York. As an academic study, the orange acrylic painted on two concrete blocks by Luis Rodriguez Rosario may well “invoke understanding of tropical architecture,” as the artist’s statement claims, but mostly it’s the strong, sweet and floral scent of Puerto Rico, where they were all born, that pervades this small exhibit.
Spirituality, so important in Haitian art, is not the issue here. Nor is history or society, so often addressed by Cuban artists. Apparently, life feels more personal, immediate and transitory in the eastern Caribbean. The paintings seem to be living in the moment—a brilliant, colorful moment that is worth living for, or dying. Flesh rots quickly, but beautifully, in the tropical sun, as Jonathan Torres demonstrates with his macabre “Fall Creatures,” made of lace, wax and rabbit hair. New life emerges just as quickly. Brilliant green foliage grows beyond the edges of a gridded panel constructed by Nora Maité Nieves, while Bobby Cruz summons a colorful bloom from smashed clumps of weathered aluminum cans. Roberto Márquez-Jorge invents a new species of whimsical, red-nosed creature in both paint and ceramic. He also offers a remarkable series of twelve “Survival Painting Tips” that is as enjoyable as a bouquet of fresh flowers, regardless of its didactic intentions.
The spontaneous gestures of traditional Abstract Expressionism fit right in here, and Sebastian Vallejo shows that he is a young master of the style. Plant and paint compete for space on the crowded surface of his canvas. Similar intensity and variety is evident in the two pieces by Omar Velázquez. He does so many things so well with paint, including the sketchy depiction of a rock guitarist and erotically swaying palm trees.
Evidently, young Puerto Rican artists have something to prove about the spirit of island life and the individual contributions each can make to it. I only wish they were given more frequent opportunities to do so in Chicago galleries. (Chris Miller)
Through November 30 at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 West Division