Rafael Soriano (Cuban, b. 1920)
“I do not pretend to transmit a message of reality: I am moved by the longing to travel through my paintings in a dimension of spirit where the intimate and the cosmic converge.” – Rafael Soriano
Cuban-born painter Rafael Soriano is one of the major Latin American artists of his generation. Soriano broke with regional and folkloric themes which once dominated Cuban art in the mid-twenties. Soriano first mastered geometric abstraction as a style in the 1950's, but by the late 1960's had defined his signature approach to painting. His work embodies a style best described as ‘Oneiric Luminism’ combining a purely abstract form of light, form space and shadow with an interest in poetic and metaphysical impulses.
Born in 1920 in the town of Cidra in the province of Matanzas, Rafael Soriano manifested an early inclination for painting. After completing seven years of study at Havana’s prestigious Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, he graduated in 1943 as Professor of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture. He then returned to Matanzas where he taught visual arts for close to two decades. He was one of the founders, and later Director, of the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Matanzas, the most important art school in Cuba outside of Havana.
In 1962 Soriano went into exile, settling in Miami with his wife Milagros and his daughter Hortensia. He worked as a graphic designer and occasionally taught, first at the Catholic Welfare Bureau, and later at the Cuban Cultural Program of the University of Miami.
Soriano's works are included in major public collections, among them: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes/Havana, Zimmerli Art Museum/Rutgers University, Denver Art Museum; Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin; Lowe Art Museum/ University of Miami, Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, Museum of the Americas/OAS--Washington DC, Galería Arte Moderno/Santo Domingo, Zea Museum of Art/ Medellín.
The two works, Un lugar distante (A Distant Place, 1972) and Candor de la alborada (Candor of Dawn, 1994), represent distinct phases in the artist’s creative arc. “In the 1950s, the group my father belonged to, Pintores Concretos, introduced geometric art in Cuba,” explains Hortensia V. Soriano, director of the Rafael Soriano Foundation, which donated the works to the Smithsonian. “After leaving Cuba in 1962, his paintings began losing their linearity and angles. In the 1970s, there was still a touch of the geometric in his work, but he was beginning to develop his later visual language of light, form, and space. That’s why the 1972 piece, Un lugar distante, is so important. It’s a transitional work, a hint of what’s to come.”
“We are very excited to have in the collection two classic paintings by Rafael Soriano,” says E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “They show how Soriano aesthetically responded to the conditions of exile by turning to dreamscape visions that increasingly became spatially expansive.” Although the museum’s collection includes several works by Cuban Americans educated in the US, Ramos noted in a press release that the Soriano paintings “allow us to capture the perspective of the first generation of Cuban exiles who arrived as adults with significant careers in Cuba already under their belt.”
Smithsonian curatorial assistant Florencia Bazzano-Nelson has described as Soriano’s “full-blown signature style—a symphony of glowing colors that curve through space to reveal a hidden knot of living matter.” Hortensia Soriano agrees, adding that “the shades of blue and the mastery of light in this particular piece are the unmistakable mark of his personal style.”