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Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic

November 3, 2017 Whats On No Comments Email Email

The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, the Smithsonian Affiliate in Miami, announces the opening of Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic (Nov. 4 – Jan. 28), the unprecedented retrospective of the Cuban Master Rafael Soriano featuring more than ninety of his paintings and drawings. This national tour culminates in the artist’s hometown of Miami, where he created some of his most acclaimed works after seeking exile in the U.S. (featuring never-before-seen ephemera from the late artist’s studio that is still lovingly preserved in Miami after his recent passing in 2015).

Beyond the Blue, 1978, oil on canvas, Rafael Soriano (Zelaya Rodríguez Collection)

“Soriano’s life and art fully blossomed here in Miami, the city where the artist and his family sought refuge in 1962. The cathedral-like spaces of our Grand Galleries emphasize the luminosity of his metaphysical works, allowing our visitors from all over the world to reflect on Soriano’s philosophy: where the intimate and the cosmic converge,” said Jordana Pomeroy, the Director of the Frost Art Museum FIU.

Firefly, 1955, oil on canvas, Rafael Soriano (Soriano Family Collection)

Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic headlines our Art Basel season this year, celebrating the work of a global Master,” adds Jordana Pomeroy. “Since his death in 2015, Soriano’s family has lovingly kept intact his home studio in Miami, inspiring us to display the artist’s paintbrushes, easel, palette and chair in the Miami culmination of this traveling exhibition – a true homecoming. His story of fleeing from oppression and succeeding at the highest levels in the art world represent the transformative perspectives that align with the mission of our museum and Florida International University,” said Dr. Jordana Pomeroy, the Director of the Frost Art Museum FIU.”

An Unprecedented Retrospective

November 4 – January 28

The Artist as Mystic focuses on the multiple influences that nurtured and inspired him, or as Soriano once rhapsodized, energies where “the intimate and the cosmic converge.”

Curated by Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta, this exhibition was originally organized by the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, in conjunction with the Rafael Soriano Foundation.

Summer’s Candor, 1990, oil on canvas, Rafael Soriano

The exhibition also traveled to the Long Beach Museum of Art prior to the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU. The artist’s full trajectory is explored, spanning three distinct periods: his early Cuban geometric abstract style, his transitional period in the 1960’s and 1970’s reminiscent of surrealist biomorphism, and closing with the luminous and mystical imagery of his mature period. His work resonated with his contemporaries Wifredo Lam, Roberto Matta and Rufino Tamayo.

Soriano was born in the province of Matanzas, Cuba in 1920. He fled the Cuban revolution in 1962, emigrating to the U.S. where his work dramatically evolved and received even wider international acclaim. His earlier works (from the 1940s and 1950s) in this retrospective were painted in Cuba, and are internationally renowned as some of the world’s most prominent examples of Cuban geometric abstraction, with bold colors and striking geometric planes.

The paintings from Soriano’s transitional period (1960s and 1970s) that are also featured in this retrospective show the emotional hardships of fleeing his native country. When Soriano exiled to Miami with his family in the early 1960s, he originally intended to be able to return to Cuba. The stark realization that he could never return was too much for Soriano, and this emotional strain stopped him from painting for two years. Finally, in 1964, Soriano was able to create again after what he referred to as a spiritual re-awakening which led to his next phase, known for his elements of surrealist biomorphism.

The works in Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mysticare from: the Rafael Soriano Family Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Art Museum of the Americas, Organization of American States, Long Beach Museum of Art, Lowe Art Museum, Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, Zelaya Rodriguez Collection, Dominic and Cristian Velasco Collection, Brillembourg Capriles Collection, and various private collections.

“I do not pretend to transmit a message of reality: I am moved by the longing to travel through my paintings in a dimension of spirit where the intimate and the cosmic converge.” — Rafael Soriano

The final section of the exhibition, his mature period, reveals the full evolution of the artist’s journey (1980s and 1990s). In these paintings, organic biomorphic images dominate with their luminosity and permutations of color portraying Soriano’s spirituality and his mystical visions of the universe and other realms.

Rafael Soriano in his studio, 2010 (photo by Carlos Cardenes)

“Since his death in 2015, Soriano’s family has lovingly kept intact the artist’s original home studio in Miami, inspiring us to display the artist’s easel, paintbrushes, palette and chair in the Miami culmination of this traveling exhibition – a true homecoming,” said the Director of the Frost Art Museum FIU, Jordana Pomeroy.

Rafael Soriano, 2010 (photo by Pedro Portal)

At an early age, Soriano manifested an inclination for painting. After completing seven years of study at Havana’s prestigious Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, he graduated in 1943 as Professor of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture. He then returned to Matanzas where he taught visual arts for nearly two decades. He was one of the founders, and later Director, of the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Matanzas, the most important art school in Cuba outside of Havana. During this time, he participated with Los Diez Pintores Concretos known for bringing the geometric abstraction movement from Europe and the Americas to Cuba.

Soriano avoided vernacular themes which dominated Cuban art from its emergence with the first Vanguard in the mid-twenties. His work proceeded along the paths of geometric abstraction in the course of 1950’s, but by the late 1960’s, Soriano’s work took a radical turn. His brush began to create amazing shapes; abstract expressions related to emotions, feelings, meditations and mystical introspections.

In 1962 Soriano went into exile, settling in Miami with his wife Milagros and his daughter Hortensia. He worked as a graphic designer and occasionally taught, first at the Catholic Welfare Bureau, and later at the Cuban Cultural Program of the University of Miami. He continued to paint tirelessly in the evenings.

A novel treatment of light and color, transparencies and forms placed Soriano in a new aesthetic dimension and freed him from his earlier attachments to schools and tendencies. Through a highly refined technique, he became a master of luminosity, of the pictorial metaphor and of the metaphysical language of forms. In his amazing and highly complex images, light acts as both form and content. It is this unity of purpose and means of representation that constitutes Soriano’s transcendental contribution to contemporary visual discourse and elevates his artistic creation to universal rank noted by many scholars.

Since his first exhibition in 1947 in Havana’s Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club, Rafael Soriano’s work has been represented in numerous individual exhibitions and over 200 collective shows. His paintings have traveled through the United States, Latin America & Europe.

Soriano’s work is included in numerous private and public collections: Blanton Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum, Lowe Art Museum, Miami, FL, Museo de Arte Zea, Medellin, Colombia, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Cuba, Museum of Modern Art of Latin America (OAS) Washington, DC, Museum of Art, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Galería de Arte Moderno, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, PAMM, Miami, FL, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, Long Beach Museum of Art, McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College and other important institutions and corporations.

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