Saturday, March 7, 2015

José Campeche, Clouds over a coastal Puerto Rican Town

José Campeche, Clouds over a coastal Puerto Rican Town, 1809

José Campeche y Jordán (1751-1809) was a Puerto Rican painter, generally considered the first known (or named) Puerto Rican visual artists and a master of Rococo.  Born in San Juan, Campeche's father was a freed slave, a painter and restorer of religious statues, and his mother was a native of the Canary Islands.  Campeche studied with an exiled Spanish painter named Luis Paret y Alcázar who instructed him in European styles and the Rococo aesthetic. Campeche took up these traditions, but did not adhere to the European conventions, particularly evident in his self-portrait.  In addition to his portraits and sedate religious paintings, Campeche had a certain flair for the dramatic, painting several highly dynamic scenes.  This painting of a Puerto Rican vista that I have chosen to feature is rather different from most of Campeche's works.  He tended to favor figure painting and did few landscapes.  This late piece is very simple, expressing the artist's love of the view depicted.  With his soft touch and muted colors, the piece is a quiet contemplation of the landscape.  We see the beauty and intricacy of the land itself, as the aerial view affords us a survey of the complex shapes the land makes.  The blue of the water and sky are somewhat understated, but their clarity and depth are effectively portrayed.  The intricate layout of the town itself mimics the patterns of the land, which, along with its complexity, speaks to the way we live alongside nature in a manner simultaneously organic and contrived. The clouds of the title, meanwhile, over the scene like wisps of breath that will be blown onward at any moment.

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