Abstract painter Rafael Soriano passed away in his Miami home last Thursday morning, April 9, at the age of 94.
Born in the small town of Cidra in Matanzas province in 1920, Soriano attended Havana’s San Alejandro Academy, studying under painter Leopoldo Romañach and sculptor Juan José Sicre, among others. Soon after graduating from San Alejandro, Soriano returned to Matanzas, where he joined in establishing the Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts) of Matanzas, where he was for many years a teacher as well as director of the school.
In the 1950s, Soriano worked in an angular, geometric style characterized by strong, flat colors. “The paintings from this period are wonderful,” wrote Janet Batet in a review of Soriano’s 2011 retrospective at the Lowe Museum in Miami. “Their geometric power and the interplay of dynamic color planes work toward structuring the pictorial space.” In 1958, Soriano joined in forming the Grupo Diez Pintores Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters Group), which also included Pedro Álvarez, Wilfredo Arcay, Salvador Corratgé, Sandu Darié, Alberto Menocal, José Mijares, Pedro de Oraá, Martínez Pedro, and Loló, Soldevilla.
In 1962, Soriano came to Miami, which remained his home to the end of his life. Leaving Cuba was traumatic, and after a period of not painting at all, his work underwent a profound change. Flat, angular forms were replaced by curving, biometric volumes shaped by light.
“Soriano is a master of light,” Batet wrote in her 2011 review. “By combining it with translucencies, he turns light into a shaper of ethereal elements: watery forms, indescribable glops, nightmares, fantasies, chimeras, and desires.”
In his essay for the Lowe exhibition, which was curated by Jesús Rosado, art historian Alejandro Anreus wrote: “A floating luminosity charges and unifies all of Soriano’s work from the late 1970s through the early years of our 21st century; one wherein the dark spaces contain light, but also an inner light emanates from the forms.”
In 2012, the Rafael Soriano Foundation donated two major works to the Smithsonian American Art Museum: Un lugar distante (A Distant Place), 1972, and Candor de la Alborada (Candor of Dawn), 1994. Un lugar distante was included in the 2013 exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, which debuted at the museum and went on to tour nationally.
Last fall, the Cintas Foundation honored Soriano with its Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts.
“Ignorant of fads and gimmicks,” Alejandro Anreus wrote in his 2011 exhibition essay, Soriano’s “journey as an artist is one where pictorial intelligence is guided by intuition, where the image summons us beyond looking into seeing, and seeing becomes a meditative act.”
In an email to Cuban Art News, the artist’s daughter, Hortensia V. Soriano, wrote: “I am looking forward to the McMullen Museum in Boston doing a retrospective of my father’s work in their new museum in 2017. Elizabeth Goizueta will be the curator.” Goizueta curated the acclaimed exhibition Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds, which debuted at the McMullen last year and is currently at the High Museum in Atlanta.
Goizuieta confirmed that the Soriano retrospective was scheduled to open at the McMullen in February 2017. The exhibition will demonstrate that Soriano was a global figure in 20th-century art whose imagination resonated with international artists of Latin American origin such as Roberto Matta, Rufino Tamayo and Wifredo Lam,” she wrote in an email. “The transparency of his work is startling, revealing mysteries and emotions, harbingers of worlds unknown.”
“My father was not only a wonderful father, husband and painter but most importantly he was an exceptional human being,” said Hortensia Soriano. “I take great comfort in knowing he will live on in his paintings and his art will be enjoyed for many generations to come. I will finish by saying he died peacefully and full of tranquility at home just as he lived his life.”