Cuban-American artist returns to his ‘paternal’ roots

By Stephanie Gambill 

“Miami is a very special place for Soriano, a place where Soriano has come home to the paternal embrace of the people who nurtured him and loved him and supported his art, and if Miami is the paternal love, Cuba is the maternal,” Curator Elizabeth Goizueta said, addressing a group of the Frost Art Museum members who were given early access to the new exhibit — “Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic and Continental Abstraction,” which opened on Saturday, Nov. 4.

The exhibition was organized by the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College in collaboration with the Rafael Soriano Foundation.

“Seeing him as more of a universal artist and not just an exile artist” was important to Goizueta when realizing she wanted to curate this exhibition. Soriano had become known as an exile painter due to him being exiled from Cuba in 1962 as a result of the Cuban Revolution.

After proposing her idea to Jordana Pomeroy, the director of the Frost Art Museum, they were able to put together exhibition in Boston and have it travel to the Long Beach Museum of Art.

The process behind creating an exhibition takes place over the course of three years. For this exhibit, a catalog was also created at the McMullen Museum, which  meant that a group of scholars were needed in order for the information to be collected.

“For this exhibition, we had a nice interdisciplinary balance of cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans,” she said.

Goizueta also said about her work with Roberto Cobas, a Cuban specialist that works in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.

This exhibition features a mixture of pieces from other institutions as well as private collections, beginning with his work in the Cuban geometric abstract style. Also featured at the exhibit is a glimpse into his personal workspace where his easel and paints are presented.  The mediums which he used range from paintings and pastels to ink on paper drawings.

Transitioning to the phase in which he experimented with surrealist biomorphism from the 1960s and 1970s. With the apex of his career believed to have occurred in 1955, he became known as “not just a cuban master, but as a 20th century master.”

In 1959, he joined his talents with other abstract artists, whom became known as “Ten Concrete Painters.” These painters focused on discussions in ideologies that came with utopian philosophy in France, Venezuela and Argentina.

However, in 1962, after he was exiled from Cuba and moved to Miami, he broke from abstraction.

“Trauma was so severe he couldn’t just paint geometrics,” Soriano said.

Settling in Miami, he began working with retrieving the surrealist imagery elements that were seen in his earlier paintings, keeping with Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier’s concept of “magic realism,” which is the blending of the real and the fantastic.

Having a degree in painting and drawing, and second degree in sculpture and drawing, he was able to bring these two elements together in his work, fusing surrealism and abstraction. An example of this fusion could be seen in his painting “El pez sagrado” (The Sacred Fish, 1970) and “El collar mágico” (The Magic Necklace, 1970).  His later works could be described as sublime.

“Beautiful is analogous to pleasure while sublime goes beyond pleasure and incorporates terror, fear and pain,” Goizueta said.

Described as a nocturnal painter, he incorporated a lot of blue and purples hues, which gave his work a style that was very baroque. His paintings demonstrate the metaphysical state, where luminosity is at the focus and he uses this to depict pieces of transcendence.