There are many ways to enter the work of Rafael Ferrer. His experiences are reflected in multiple mediums including painting, collage, drawings, mixed media, and sculpture. Abstraction, portraits, and text-based work mix and mingle to suggest the presence not only of a man, but also a spirit in search of freedom.
With music as his first muse, Ferrer’s travels between Puerto Rico, Virginia, Syracuse, Los Angeles, Paris, New York, and Philadelphia in his formative years (age 14-33) seem to have made indelible impressions about the fluidity of fact, the subjectivity of space, and the nature of true connection.
RETRO/ACTIVE: The Work of Rafael Ferrer, which opened at El Museo del Barrio in New York City on June 8, 2010, shares a dense snapshot of the breadth of work produced by this artist over a lifetime that began in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 1933.
A standout at the exhibition is a consistent output of sculptural/assemblage/3D work that spans from 1960-2005. These works, more than any of the 2D objects, are vibrant with life. The hand of the artist can still be felt through a unified sense of sophisticated form and perfectly harmonized organic rugged sculptural composition. Far from static, it is as if multiple tangents of life have formed a home (and not a house) through Ferrer’s use of tactile materials — galvanized steel, beads, pennies, wine corks, paints, calabash (Cresentia cujete and Cresentia alata fruit), and more.
El alegre corazon industrial (The Joyful Industrial Heart), 1965, perfectly titled, captures the softness, yet fullness, of the human heart in steel, while Vendeval Boricua (Puerto Rican Storm), 1979, takes a more playful yet mystical approach with a dash of Jackson Pollock’s painterly channels of David Alfaro Siqueiros.
A peaceful existence is reached in much of the sculpture despite its unique symmetries. In contrast, much of his other work – paintings, drawings, collage – reveals syncopated rhythms of life that ultimately share Ferrer’s longing to go home, beyond the vagaries of “life” – to be free. As an oeuvre, the work gently dances between melancholy and transcendence, and all the questions in between.
“ARE YOU LATiNO, HISPANIC, NEO, PROTO, PSEUDO, FAUX OR META?
DO YOU DRiNK AND BE MERRY OR
DO YOU FLY SOUTH WiTH THE GEESE UNDiSCIPLiNED?”
DO YOU WAiT BEFORE YOU’RE ASKED, DO YOU KNEEL BEFORE YOU FALL?”
—Excerpts from the text-based piece Define Yourself, 2005 ink on paper
A 2005 series called Pizzaras (Blackboards) shows that Ferrer’s mind is always observant, while late 80s early 90s large scale paintings like Conquista de la Soledad (Conquering Solitude), 1990-91, and El Rio Balata (in the mountains, there you are free), 1989, reveal a keen awareness of individuality and humanity’s relationship to nature.
Although Ferrer appears to exist beyond the art historical canon compared to the jockeying of today’s contemporary artists, his subtle references to canon mainstays like Duchamp, Giacometti, and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles, whisper an awareness of a mainstream art world that exists on the periphery of what seems to be one man’s overwhelming search for truth.
Diana McClure is a contemporary artist who has worked for over 10 years in both New York and Los Angeles in photography, experimental writing, mixed media and web based projects. In 2009 she was a member of the 2009 Curatorial Committee for PhotoMiami, the international contemporary art fair for photo-based art, video & new media, and wrote the Living Arts column for the NewYorkTimes.com/LOCAL as part of a New York Times experimental project on hyperlocal and collaborative journalism. Diana has also written for Art Asia Pacific and The Studio Museum in Harlemmagazine among others. She has received grants/fellowships from The New School for Social Research and The Mellon Foundation. Her fine art photography has appeared in The Philadelphia African American Museum, The Los Angeles Times, Judy Chicago’s Envisioning the Future project and NYMAG.com. In 2007 she founded Cultureserve.net, a global art + culture news website that was a 2008 Finalist for a Creative Capital l Warhol Foundation – Arts Writers Grant. Cultureserve positions women artists, street art and artists working in an international context in a larger dialogue that challenges assumptions about global art. Diana holds a BA from Columbia University, an MA from The New School, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Images provided by Museo del Barrio
- ARCO 2010: VIP Program in Murcia
- The Mexican Bicentennial in the work of Miguel Rodríguez Sepúlveda