An unprecedented retrospective on works of a highly acclaimed exiled painter is crossing the United States. Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic, is currently featured at The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College. Following its debut at The McMullen (through June 4, 2017), the exhibition will travel to the Long Beach Museum of Art (June 29–October 1, 2017) and the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami (October 28, 2017–January 28, 2018). From there, a selection of the exhibition has been approved for display at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana, Cuba, representing a real socio-political break-through.
Born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1920, Rafael Soriano fled the island shortly after Castro’s takeover. One of the preeminent Latin American artists of his generation, this traveling show is an examination of his life’s work, including how exile affected his canvas. After his emigration, his style underwent a marked transformation. Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic explores Soriano’s development by examining his early, transitional, and mature works.
“Cuban-born Rafael Soriano was a global figure in 20th-century art whose work resonated with European and Latin American surrealism,” said curator Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta, a faculty member in Boston College’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. “Soriano’s early work in the geometric abstract movement met with great acclaim in Cuba in the 1950s but it was his later, biomorphic and organic imagery that launched him on an international path. Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic seeks to reveal the complete trajectory of his œuvre, both the physical in his early geometrics as well as the metaphysical in his later search for the universal.”
The Soriano collection included in The Artist as Mystic comprises nearly 100 paintings, pastels, and drawings by the acclaimed master of geometric abstraction. The works on display are from the Rafael Soriano Family Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Long Beach Museum of Art, Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States, Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami, the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection and Tanya Capriles de Brillembourg, among others.
The section on Soriano’s early period, from the 1940s and 1950s in both Matanzas and Havana, displays two dozen works in the style of what is known as “Cuban geometric abstraction,” characterized by strong, flat colors in geometric planes.
The 25 paintings from Soriano’s transitional period, from the 1960s through the 1970s, reveal the effect of the Cuban Revolution on his work. Leaving Cuba in 1962 with the hope of an imminent return, Soriano moved to Miami. His trauma upon realizing he would not return to Cuba caused him to stop working for two years. The exhibition shows the several styles with which he experimented after he resumed painting in 1964 and how his flat, angular forms gradually transformed into curving abstracted images reminiscent of surrealist biomorphism. It reveals how the latter paintings signal an ongoing transformation that leads to his mature style.
The final section examines changes in Soriano’s mature period spanning the 1980s and the 1990s. In the 30 outstanding paintings—among the artist’s finest—organic biomorphic imagery transcends geometrics to dominate the canvas. Charged with oneiric luminosity, the permutations of colors reflect the artist as master of his craft as he depicts the spiritual dimension of the mysteries of the universe.
Exploring, and Engaging With, Soriano’s Art
The McMullen has a stream of lectures and activities to delve deeper into the master’s works. “Exiled From…” is a collection of student submissions responding to their concept of exile, taking into consideration what it meant to Soriano, and to people present-day. A digital gallery showcases some of the visual entries. https://theterracebc.com/digital-gallery/#jp-carousel-681
An English-Spanish catalogue includes contributions from American, Cuban-American, and Cuban scholars. It begins with a contextual analysis of Soriano’s relationship to the Cuban avant-garde and his position within the emerging mid-century modernists. The idea of exile and struggle is a leitmotif, framed within questions of transcendence and spirituality. Edited by curator Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta, it includes essays Goizueta and an interdisciplinary team of experts including Boston College professors Roberto S. Goizueta (Theology Department) and Claude Cernuschi (Art, Art History, and Film Studies Department). Other contributors are William Paterson University professor Alejandro Anreus and curator of the Cuban avant-garde collection at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, Roberto Cobas Amate.