Beyond the Canvas:
Contemporary Art
from Puerto Rico

  • Duration
    April 26 – July 9, 2017
  • Works by
    Zilia Sanchez, Julio Suarez, Arnaldo Roche Rabell, Pedro Velez, Elsa Maria Melendez
  • Curated By
    Monica Ramirez-Montagut and Warren James

Spanning several generations, five Puerto Rico-based artists Zilia Sánchez (b.1926), Julio Suárez (b.1947), Arnaldo Roche Rabell (b.1955), Pédro Velez (b.1971), and Elsa María Meléndez (b.1974) have each developed a process-driven approach to painting that challenges the notion of the canvas as a flat surface.

Creating three-dimensionality through the action of pulling, rubbing, folding, slashing, ripping, or warping the canvas, these artists mine the tensions, both sensual and sublime, of this current critical moment in Puerto Rican history. Whether psychological, topographical, sociopolitical, or cultural, their provocative treatments critically reflect on the island’s “super crisis” in works that suggest rupture, tension, and escape.

Tulane Faculty advisor: Edith Wolfe, Assistant Director, Undergraduate Affairs, Stone Center for Latin American Studies

About the Artists

With a career spanning sixty-five years and inclusion in the 2017 Venice Biennale, Zilia Sánchez is primarily recognized for her shaped canvases, made by stretching canvas over hand-molded wooden armatures and painting them with acrylic. Her reduced color palettes and serial processes connect her to Minimalism, though her works’ curvilinear sensuality speaks a distinct artistic language. Sánchez graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro in 1957, continuing her studies at the Instituto Central de Conservación y Restauración in Madrid and New York’s Pratt Institute. Before her 2013 survey at Artists Space, New York, Sánchez’s work had rarely been seen outside of Puerto Rico. A solo exhibition of Sánchez’s work will be presented at the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., in 2019. Her work is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Minnesota; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Argentina, among others.

Julio Suárez navigates between the limits of drawing and painting creating works that poetically employ a language similar to geometric abstraction. His pieces are characterized by expressive brushwork and a minimal use of color and, more recently, installations that transform paintings into a physical space. He completed his undergraduate work at the Puerto Rico School of Plastic Arts in 1971 and his graduate studies at the Academia San Carlo, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico in 1974. He has had solo exhibitions at institutions such as Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan and Museum of Modern Art in Santo Domingo.

Neo-expressionist painter Arnaldo Roche Rabell creates large-scale paintings that deal with trauma. Using a rubbing technique, he places objects or persons under the canvas and works the picture layer upon layer. He completed an undergraduate degree in architecture at the University of Puerto Rico and a master’s degree in art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Roche-Rabell’s work has been exhibited in museums around the world including The Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others.

Pedro Vélez adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, incorporating painting, large-scale wall collages, web-based works, and sculpture. Much of his recent work merges his interest in art and art criticism into “visual essays” that resemble movie or pop music posters and comment on a variety of issues, including economics, aesthetics, and race in the contemporary art world. Veléz obtained his B.A. in Communications at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico and an M.F.A. at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Elsa María Meléndez is a printmaker, painter, and creator of installations. She is known for her labor-intensive works incorporating embroidery, sewing, mending, sorting, and the accumulation of objects and materials. Her unconventional representations of female bodies address issues of women’s identity, sexuality, and eroticism in an open and direct way. She studied at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, where she earned a BFA in 1997.

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