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“Memories of Puerto Rico” is Fort Gansevoort’s first exhibition with Nick Quijano, who was born in New York and is now based in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Quijano moved to “La Isla del Encanto,” the enchanted island, in 1967 at the age of thirteen. The foundation of his artistic practice was formed at the University of Puerto Rico, where he focused on architecture and environmental design, and studied under the late painter José Antonio Torres Martinó (1916 – 2011). Crafting a creative philosophy based upon his response to the local context and identity as a citizen of the Caribbean, Quijano experimented with various mediums, from collage and printmaking, to furniture design and assemblage, before devoting himself exclusively to painting.
The energetic culture or Puerto Rico takes center stage in Quijano’s art. In providing perspective on his oeuvre, curator Bobbito Garcia observes, “the good-hearted people of our island really have this sense of respect and care for their neighbors. When I saw Nick’s work, this sensibility was immediately apparent. He is painting for the common people.” Quijano represents his subjects through a patriotic gaze, rendering the specifics with deep affection. Baila la calle (de noche, baila la calle de dia) (Dance night and day) (2014) and El Encuentro (Rendezvous) (2020) incorporate two of the artist’s central themes: music and dance. The former painting portrays a couple dancing hand in hand on a city street, with the pavement beneath their feet mirroring their lively rhythm. El Encuentro captures the allure of an environment animated by music, focusing on a couple’s tentative foray into a crowded disco. Merengue and bolero – two styles of music and dance that enjoy paramount popularity in Puerto Rico – are depicted as catalysts for unity among members of the community – vehicles through which the collective and intimate are experienced.
Influenced by both recollections from childhood and the aesthetics of Caribbean folk art, Quijano also aims to illustrate the sacred nature of quotidian life on the island. La siesta de Tía (Aunt’s siesta) (2020), captures his proclivity for conventional scenes. In this painting, a woman reclines on her sofa, enveloped in a tender atmosphere. The meticulous patterns of her surrounding interior lure the viewer to examine all the painting’s detail closely. Another signature of Quijano’s work, his use of rich color to express emotion and visual wonder, often extends beyond the surface of the painting to implement the picture frame as part of his composition. Two examples of this technique are Mancogero (Mango man) (2020) and Mercado (Market) (2020), in which the boundaries of the frame are breached in order to animate the composition, carry its energy outside of the formal experience of the work itself, and indicate that the imagery we see is an amalgam of what is observed and what is remembered – or, rather, beyond the limits of the physical.