The Art of Raphael Collazo: Rupture and Reconciliation
Nilda M. Peraza, 1994
This exposition of the work of the artist Raphael Collazo is not a typical nor traditional retrospective. It is the evolutionary path of an artist at the crucial moment of his career, it is a look back at his artistic production, at his passage through life and at the search for his own voice begun by a young painter whom we no longer find among ourselves but who has left us a great legacy for our appreciation and enjoyment.
It was six years ago that I had the privilege of writing the introduction for an exhibition of Raphael Collazo in the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art (MOCHA), an exhibition which due to tragic circumstances became a posthumous homage to this talented artist. It was there in 1989 that I met Raphael when, in one of his so many journeys through museums and galleries, he was looking for the opportunity to show his work and obtain an exhibition. That fortuitous encounter with Raphael Collazo, the Puerto Rican artist residing in New York, was fortunate for all: for Collazo, in finding the venue that would offer him his longed-for exhibition, and for us, those who collaborate with MOCHA, in finding ourselves on the threshold of a new artistic discovery.
This encounter signaled an important turning point. Overwhelmed by the quality and pictorial mastery displayed by the works in the slides that Collazo showed, I invited the curators of MOCHA to view them with me and, at the same time, to meet their author. We were all surprised, since we believed that we knew the vast majority of the Puerto Rican artists in the city, and that a painter of the quality and pictorial domination of Raphael Collazo, in particular, had remained outside our awareness, had us consternated. Even more surprising was the fact that he was an unknown or as we say in the field of art: he was "undiscovered".
The reaction of the curators was immediate and their expressions told me that at last we were face to face with a new latin talent destined for a place in the artistic culture of New York. Collazo was that artist... almost immediately he was considered for a one-person exhibition during the 1990 season.
It is, precisely, during that period that the curatorial staff of MOCHA was in search of new talent. It was interested in showing Puerto Rican artists who were not within movements nor expressions of a political nor social character but who could impact the visual arts of New York City.
This was a painter who defined and linked his vision of art, strongly rooted in tradition, with a very specific personal vision and a strong expressive power, in a process where heterogeneous resources, by means of discordant textures, brilliant colors, assemblages, rapid brush strokes and unfinished passages, sustain in equilibrium his intuition and the painting's unity. In one of his first series, Rococo, he showed us the most characteristic of his creative genius in a painting of great esthetic sensibility [Goodbye Rococo] which depends upon an environment that is static and at the same time expressive. Collazo had a unique and authentic sense of the art that he brought forth, on one hand, giving free rein to his gestural and spontaneous nature and on the other, to his predominant passion for color. From thence originated the interest of our curators at MOCHA to offer him, immediately, an exhibition.
From that moment, we commenced a dialog with Raphael and the study and investigation of his production. Each time, we became more convinced that the quality and the stylistic maturity of his work augured, beyond all doubt, a successful future. It was only necessary that it be shown to the world. Not that Raphael had arrived at MOCHA without his own accomplishments, since he was represented by an important gallery, such as dreams every artist. This achievement, after touring New York's galleries, he owed to Rosemary Cohane Erpf, owner of the Rosemary Erpf Gallery, who included him among her artists, a fact that had opened the doors to a number of important collectors who began to acquire his paintings. Nevertheless, he needed to expand his circle and his professional background, to consolidate his career and recognition. We committed ourselves, together with Rosemary Erpf, to take the first steps in that direction.
We were surprised by his sudden illness and his almost immediate death. And the one-person exhibition that would have launched his career was converted into a posthumous homage to a young but highly promising artist who, although unknown in certain measure, was a talent that everyone ought to know. It was in these circumstances, in the Spring of 1990, that the exhibition was presented that he himself, knowing his condition, titled Healing Garden.
The work featured in that exhibition, revelatory of his subjective world, is part of his most characteristic production, based on the dynamism of vital gesture accentuated by rhythmic lines interlacing the space, harmonizing the images with the expressive value of the pictorial surface, where the painting's unity shapes itself like a unity of energy transmitted, vehemently, to the canvas.
The show brought together some 15 years of work, from his first and significant works to his most recently executed paintings, which he realized during the final stage of his short life. The exhibition was converted into a demonstration of the productive capacity, of the technical dominance and of the esthetic and visionary maturity that evidences his legacy. The themes proceed from his personal experiences, from his environment: landscapes, allusions to art, religion, to the experience of the Puerto Rican in foreign surroundings, to his constant search for expression, at the highest level.
Collazo worked arduously to finish his ultimate series, the Transcendent Series, which illustrates in a profound visual manner his farewell, his passage from the earthly to the spiritual, works completely interlaced with memories, experiences, ruptures, premonitions and dreams, achieved in his pictorial language of profound lyricism and emotional depth. Here, the art of Collazo comes together and offers us a painting intuitively connected by his dramatic sense of life.
Without becoming pessimistic, his visions explore the depths of his spirit and from his silences emerge, in tranquility, a clear sense of triumph before the undoing of death.
Collazo started his artistic career at the beginning of the '70s and from that moment, until his premature departure, he had a limited but distinguished participation in various exhibitions in the United States. His experiences in New York were fundamental not only for his esthetic development but also to purify him emotionally and intellectually, because they infused in him the perception of the artistic greatness of that grand urbanism of the contemporary world.
Raphael did not join any group, nor participate in collective movements within the art world nor of his community, thinking that he did not have to associate with the social milieu of the great city. He always remained solitary in his work, sculpting his independent means of expression, expanding his constant investigation of form and space, the purity of color, the force of texture; from which central point flowered his own, so personal, style. The form, of precise contours, the use of pure and intense colors, the predominance of his refined drawing although always nervous, dense, lacing his painting with past styles but utilizing modern pictorial methods, the resonance of color, the texture of great relief and the dramatic effects of profound contrast, all were resources that took his painting to a high degree of visionary intensity accentuated by an impactful expression, intuitive and vital.
"The act of creation in itself" the European Cobra group informs us in its manifesto of 1948, "has much more importance than the object created, and this gains in meaning in the measure to which it shows the signs of the work that has engendered it..."
What previously has been the property only of family, collectors and friends now has become, thanks to this retrospective exposition of the Museum of San Juan, the common patrimony of the Puerto Rican people. And in the process, reveals to us the universality of Raphael Collazo's art.
-- Nilda M. Peraza, Art Critic, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1994
The Magic Is Back, 1986
Catalog, Raphael Collazo (1943-1990) Exposición Retrospectiva, Museo de Arte e Historia de San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 14, 1994-March 11, 1995, curated by Ernest Acker-Gherardino. Translated from Spanish by Marisol Uzal and Martin Haggland.