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. The artists challenge the notion of the canvas as a flat surface, focusing firstly on its materiality as a site for intervention and manipulation, and secondly as a substrate for painted images.

Creating three-dimensionality through the action of pulling, rubbing, folding, slashing, ripping, or warping the canvas, these artists mine tensions, both sensual and sublime, to provide tactile metaphors for the current moment in Puerto Rican history.

Whether psychological, topographical, sociopolitical, or cultural, their provocative treatments of painting critically allude to the island’s “super crisis” in works that suggest rupture, tension, and escape.

Beyond the Canvas coincides with the 100th anniversary of Puerto Ricans receiving U.S. citizenship and the impending referendum on statehood.

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 known for shaped canvases made of material stretched over hand-made wooden frames. Her reduced color palettes and serial processes connect her to Minimalism, though her curvilinear volumetric forms alluding to corporal topographies remain distinctive. Sánchez graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, Cuba later studying at the Instituto Central de Conservación y Restauración in Madrid 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 her work will be presented at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. in 2019. Her work is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Minnesota; the Phillips Collection; and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Argentina, among others.

Julio Suárez folds and pleats the canvas toward achieving low-relief geometric forms. His latest pieces are characterized by invisible brushwork and a minimal use of color and, most recently, installations that transform paintings into a physical space. He completed his undergraduate work at the Puerto Rico Escuela de Artes Plásticas and his graduate studies at the Academia San Carlo, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. 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.

Arnaldo Roche Rabell creates large-scale works using the rubbing technique of frottage. He places persons, objects, and vegetation under the canvas and builds his images through multiple layers of paint. Roche-Rabell studied architecture at the University of Puerto Rico and holds a BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, among others.

Pedro Vélez rips and shreds the canvas to create flags and banners referencing current sociopolitical issues. Most recently, he has merged 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 holds a B.A. in Communications from Puerto Rico’s University of the Sacred Heart and an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has participated in American and international solo and group exhibitions at numerous galleries, museums, and art fairs including the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York.

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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