Puerto Rican artist Diego Hiromi Rodríguez Carrión: first Latino honored by the Woodmere Art Museum

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A report by Aja Beech for Al Día.

At 18 years old, Diego Hiromi Rodriguez Carrión moved from Luquillo, Puerto Rico to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, PAFA. In the four years since arriving in Philadelphia he has won many prestigious awards including the William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship, the Rose and Nathan Rubinson Prize, and the Woodmere Art Museum Purchase Prize. Now, at 21, Rodriguez Carrión is not only the youngest recipient of the Woodmere Art Museum Purchase Prize, he is the first native of Puerto Rico to win the distinguished award, and his piece, titled Exodus, will now be part of the permanent collection of the museum, located on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia.

Each year the director of the Woodmere Museum, Assistant Curator Rachel McCay, and the collections committee, comprised of non-staff members, attend the Annual Student Exhibition at PAFA and select a work for the Woodmere Art Museum Purchase Prize. Since 2012, the Woodmere Museum has awarded the Purchase Prize to ten artists in an effort to continue the support of artists that have studied or lived in the Philadelphia area and to grow the permanent collection with diverse new artists. In past years they have selected multiple artists for the prize, this year Rodriguez Carrión was the sole recipient of the prize.

Born in 1995, Rodriguez Carrión eventually studied painting techniques at the Atelier San Juan under the guidance of artists Luis Borrero and Amber Lia-Kloppel He learned what he calls “Old Master” techniques in drawing and painting. In 2013, Rodriguez Carrión left his homeland to study at PAFA. The notoriety of the school in the art world and his attraction to figurative painting influenced his decision to study in a new city with instructors who primarily taught in English. He achieved his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art studies at the school with a focus in painting. While his concentration was in oil painting, he also enjoys working with woodcuts. “Al saber que PAFA es conocido por este tipo de arte decidí ir allí para perfeccionar técnicas y desarrollar mi visión artística.” Rodriguez Carrión said.

Rodriguez Carrión is the first native of Puerto Rico to be awarded the Woodmere Art Museum Purchase Prize. On that honor, and the honor of having a piece as a permanent part of a museum collection at such a young age, he said “this award is a blessing and a pride, not only for me but for my family. I am excited because, at my age (21), the [Woodmere Art Museum] bought one of my works and included it in their collection.”

“We are thrilled to include this work and for it to be awarded the purchase prize this year.” McCay said of Exodus. “We focus on Philadelphia’s artists and being able to represent one of the oldest institutions in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts is important to us and to represent their growing student body.” The piece will be included in an upcoming exhibition, Cutting Edge: Recent Acquisitions in Woodcut, which will be on view from early September through October 2017. The Woodmere Museum considers the work by Rodriguez Carrión, and the other artists in the exhibition, to expand the understanding of working in wood as an artistic medium.

“We have work by a lot of prominent printmakers and artists that work with wood as a medium,” McCay said, “this piece adds significantly to that aspect of our collection. The work is an impressive monumental tryptic that we are looking forward to including in exhibitions and being part of the collection, it’s incredible and the scale and the mastery of the medium is very clear and the entire committee was unanimous in awarding the prize to Diego.”

Exodus is a triptych, meaning it consists of three art panels each depicting a specific theme on its own, while telling a larger story as an entire piece. The wood engraving stands at 6 feet tall and a total of 2 feet wide, each panel is 6 feet by 4 feet and, along with the wood, contains elements of coal, pencil and engraving ink. Art created in the style of a triptych have been popular in Christian art for hundreds of years as a way to relay religious themes and stories from the Bible, but can relay many themes and stories within its panels. For Rodriguez Carrión Exodus is about addressing political and financial issues causing immigration from the island of Puerto Rico to mainland United States, and the future of his homeland of the island itself, along with the strong cultural heritage, if it is abandoned by generations of inhabitants.

“I decided to do this project in wood-engraving since it reminds me Puerto Rico. The theme of “Exodus” is about the economic situation that Puerto Rico is going through, in which the government declared itself in bankruptcy. It is about the emigration of many Puerto Rican families to the United States because of the lack of jobs and money there. The first panel illustrates two elderly people with gestures of sadness because their generation migrates to another country looking for a better future, while they are left alone. The elderly couple represents the current Puerto Rico. The second panel depicts how nature takes control of banana plantations (bananas are part of the Puerto Rican diet) by abandoning the land. If there are no people who cultivate the land all the fruit is lost and there is no food. The last panel is an empty bed in between two curtains. The light falls on the middle of the bed representing the line between life and death. With this panel I want to say that if the future, which is the youth and this generation, is leaving Puerto Rico, the country dies with no future.”

While Rodriguez Carrión plans on visiting areas of Spain, including Madrid, Toledo, Seville, and Barcelona with his Cresson Scholarship to expand his artistic outlook and practice, he believes Philadelphia is an important place to see and discover art, both in the city and within yourself as an artist.

For him, all of his work is about his identification with his heritage, culture, family and devotion to his religious beliefs. Exodus exemplifies all of these things for Rodriguez Carrión. “Yo soy una persona muy familiar y mi familia forma gran parte de mi como persona. Para mi es de suma importancia representar a mi isla en alto. Quiero que mi familia y Puerto Rico se sientan orgullosos de mi. Cada día pienso que todo lo que hago es para honrar a Dios y es por El todo lo que hago.” He said.

He said of Philadelphia, “I am a family guy, my family is a big part of me and the person I am. It is important for me to fully represent them and Puerto Rico. I want my family and my country to be proud of me. And I also think that everything I do I do to honor God.”

More about the art of Diego Hiromi Rodriguez Carrión can be found at www.diegohiromi.com/(link is external)

Cutting Edge: Recent Acquisitions in Woodcut will be on view at the Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. September 2 through October 29, 2017.

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