Two Visions of the Puerto Rican Landscape, Now at Walter Otero Contemporary Art

May 20, 2016 4:26PM

José Julio Martínez and Ricardo Morales-Hernández both draw rich artistic inspiration from the landscape of their homeland, Puerto Rico. Similarities end there, however, as each artist transforms the land through a distinct visual style—one expressionistic, the other methodical. At Walter Otero Contemporary Art in San Juan, their works are currently on view in “All Things New,” a double solo show that offers a chance to experience the wildlife of Puerto Rico from each artist’s unique perspective.

Image courtesy of Walter Otero Contemporary Art.

For Martínez, the landscape is lush and vibrant, and the dense foliage almost seems to move. He paints en plein air, and the direct encounters with his subject matter give his paintings undeniable freshness and verve.

The surfaces of his canvases are frenetic, with thick dabs of paint that seem less interested in perfectly capturing the landscape, and more interested in capturing the feelings the landscape evokes. While the painted scenes are recognizable as forests and other rural vistas, the quickness of the brushstrokes means that leaves, trees, and other details often blend together, producing a hallucinogenic effect.

Opposite Martínez’ colorful paintings are Morales-Hernández’ markedly different takes on Puerto Rican flora and fauna. Morales-Hernández works in grayscale, and though he uses oil and acrylic paints, his pieces look more like blown-up pages from a sketchbook. In SDG-016-008 (2016), for instance, what seems to be a forest scene is rendered through a chaotic build-up of blackish lines that resemble a bramble of pencil marks.

Image courtesy of Walter Otero Contemporary Art.

In contrast to SDG-016-008’s dense darkness, other paintings are so sparse that, from afar, they look erased. In SDG-016-010 (2016), a series of thin lines provide only the barest outline of a forest scene. The abundance of wildlife seems to disappear as one looks at it, retreating backwards into a field of gossamer.

—A. Wagner

All Things New” is on view at Walter Otero Contemporary Art, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Apr. 14–May 26, 2016.

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