‘Colonial to neo-Colonial’: Puerto Rican artist’s Baroque style tells modern-day stories of climate change and identity

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Hurricane Maria hit home for Texas-based artist Patrick McGrath Muñiz, who grew up on Puerto Rico.

That year, he lost his art studio, and his mother lost her home. The 2017 storm was the catalyst for his latest exhibition, “Arcanas: Neocolonial Retablos Inspired by Tarot,” which will host its opening reception at Taller Puertorriqueño on Friday, Sept. 15.

Losing his studio and home was his “turning point.”

He recalled: “Oh, I was desperate. I couldn’t sleep. … What can I say, just so many memories there [in Puerto Rico], childhood memories just lost. Overnight.”

Just weeks prior, he had weathered Hurricane Harvey in Houston, where he resides.

When he returned to the island, he was able to salvage a few things — his journals full of sketches, and a 30-year-old tarot deck he purchased on the streets of Puerto Rico for $5 from Cesar Villanueva, a man who locals called “El Loco.”

As he grappled with loss, he began to paint. He turned inward, reflecting on his identity.

“That dual identity is reflected in the work as well,” he says. “Me being a half-Irish American, half-Puerto Rican? Well, I can relate to McDonald’s, but I can also relate to Catholic iconography, you know.”

McGrath Muñiz’s exhibition explores ideas of climate change, loss, and the embedded impact of colonialism on not only his community, but the world at large.

“The way I see it — try to channel [loss] and translate it into art, and to making new art,” McGrath Muñiz explained. “Better art than the one that I lost.”

“El Mundo,” by Patrick McGrath Muñiz. (Courtesy of the artists)

The collection of 30 paintings, on display until Oct. 21, is also a personal reflection.

He thought about the rollout of FEMA aid, media coverage, and the storm’s catastrophic, lingering impact on Puerto Rico — an island that has struggled to rebound economically from the 2008 recession.

  • September 14, 2023
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