JB – In your art, what is the Dominican, insular element and how does it influence you? We want to understand what you offer, how you define yourself.
I don’t really know. The question of the Dominican element in my work is intimately linked to my human artistic identity. I have never tried to deliberately address it, from a political or nationalistic viewpoint. After all, what is "Dominican?" I feel that attempts to "define" or "re-present" Dominican culture through art have always been made from the patio or the street; in other words, from the outside to the outside. This is the main problem of costumbrismo, which is based on the subject and immediately limits the artist’s creative latitude. The images are reduced to caricatures and the I-You relationship with the public is passive, nonexistent. The genesis principle is excluded.
Our pioneering artists had to fight for assimilation of modernist techniques. And they assimilated them fairly well, but techniques are just that. They did not say much. There was no statement of principles, no hypothesis or deep study of the various aspects that constitute what we call the "Dominican element."
Now in my case, my personal circumstances as an individual who has lived on the island and now lives away from it equip me to continue exploring myself, building myself, with keener perception. My horizons are broadened. Thus, the social dramas of migrations and exile in the Caribbean also flow from my being. My series of "Panoramic Views," for example, is inspired by my fragmentary glimpses of the island’s landscape through the windows of the planes when I fly from here to there.
JB – We know that the human face captivates you. What has portraiture meant for you as an artist?
Nothing is more fascinating and ordinary than the face and the human body. At a formal level, my interest in the human form, transparency, and symbols has led me to search beyond the obvious, disregarding physical attributes to explore the idea of personal identity in the context of my cultural roots. The likeness, as a concept, has its limits in a portrait. My self-portraits are therefore symbols rather than a reflection of my individuality. They are a sort of spiritual and affective x-ray. I don’t try to make any "statement" or advance a political agenda.
I have a declaration of principles of the "Caribbean Person" with the series "Man Island" and "Dominican Self Portrait." However, I am trying to represent the human being above and beyond labels of nationality, race, or gender, and I never forget that when I say "identity" I do it from my center outward, not from the external or cultural to the internal or personal. Although here it would be appropriate to recall the Chinese proverb that what is outside is as important as what is inside. This inside-outside concept is very important, at the formal level, in art.
JB – But the most subjective landscape work, with expressive abstract treatment, or what in other cases seem to be strictly current values such as impressionism—is it exploration of another face, in search for an expression of the face of everything?
We might say so. The landscape is an inexorable part of "the outside" and I have no doubt that in one way or another it conditions "the inside." In the Caribbean context, my "landscapes" are, as you say, another face that I assume, I internalize and explore from the geographical and affective viewpoints.
JB – In your work one first sees the gradual mastery of a style that leads us to your viewpoint in which the riot of color is hidden with a mantle of severity that is completely illusory. Can the majesty of the cosmos be seen from the cosmos? Can a cosmos only exist through thought and toward thought?
First of all, color is an illusion, from the physical point of view. Chemically, color is and comes from matter. Then, the artist has to think-doing, trying to "materialize" the intangible through communion with the elements. The challenge is to make the illusion rich in meaning and transparent in truth.
Science, our modern god—especially with the recent breakthroughs in genetic research—establishes for us that everything is "almost" a single thing. We human beings share 99% of our genetic composition, without distinction of race, with other living organisms. I ask myself if that 1% that sets us apart from other living beings could be thinking, judgment, and free will. Albert Einstein, one of my heroes, said that he only wanted to know what God was thinking, and everything else was details. For both the scientist and the artist, thinking is doing, creating.
JB – Your symbolism seems focused, with exhaustive exploration of a few transcendental motifs. Can you tell us about the conceptual value of these motifs? When do you resort to your Mayoyo, when do you present the human silhouette or the graphic sense of the territory of the human animal?
Naturally, my interest in the creation myths of the taíno Indians gave rise to the presentation of Mayoyo, the mythological being who protects our fruit at night. It doesn’t harm anyone, but it is scary. Any presentation from the mythological viewpoint would be on the borderline between a generic portrait (portraits of specific beings or people, whose physical features are stereotyped) and a symbolic portrait, which would not depend necessarily on the presentation of a human image or facial characteristics. Again, at the conceptual level, I am resuming the long mythological tradition and "Dominicanizing" it. Other versions of this concept are the Ciguapa (strange wild mountain woman with magical powers) and the Vampires, which have been used by Oviedo, Guadalupe and Luis Díaz in music. Also, the Bacá, with the noteworthy treatment by Ada Balcácer.
Depiction of the human form through the silhouette has roots in representative painting’s origin myth, and lets me roam at will through the "institution" of painting. In addition, the process of fulfillment, projecting my shadow to make my silhouette, painting directly with my hands on the canvas, gives an "open" sense to the image, to the projection of my figure. This working format is a goldmine of possibilities, giving me the chance to propose a cultural lecture of the individual, freeing me from the business of similarity and at the same toying again with the idea of the image and the universality of creation.
JB – Can you explain the mythical meaning of your symbols, such as the lizard, the heart, the paper boat, the thorn, the fetus, and the flower?
In the broadest sense, my work is inspired by both animal and vegetable nature, and human nature. The cultural and mythical aspects are the packaging, or the threads that sew it all together. So I select a few threads, strong ones of nylon or something even stronger that can endure everything! The lizard, along with the bat, is one of the most representative symbols of our taína culture, as well as a basic species of our fauna. But both have other meanings through western painting tradition.
My symbols generally have a specific cultural meaning and a broader, humanistic one. The paper boat represents our peoples’ physical and emotional voyages, with the drama of illegal migration. But it also evokes childhood and the frailty of memory. All the other symbols, the thorn, the flower, the child-conscience awaiting birth, refer to the concept of sacrifice, hope, soul searching. As you know, this is all nurtured and sifted by poetry, which is a kind of spiritual basis for my work.
JB – Your painting smacks of constructivism, what some label with labor terms such as materialistic. Is this shredding of the body into its components, into its most revealing and intimate elements, a way of valuing the whole and its parts?
Well, my intent is to find out if "the inside" and "the outside" are really the same thing, or part of the same thing. From a scientific and technological standpoint, the only way to know how things function is to take them apart, delving inside them. This has been like a law for medical science and for the study of artistic anatomy. But this desire to dissect and restore has infused nearly all the artistic output of modern man, from cubism to the present. My most immediate reference is closely linked, as I said, to advances in genetic research and my interest in biology and the natural sciences. It’s the principle that everything is a single thing