Puerto Rican painter who painted still life, landscapes and abstract works. He was mainly known for his portraits. His works display influences of realism and expressionism. He focused on psychological aspects of human life. He was known for his large format portraits of top figures in the arts, culture and politics, such as Luis Muñoz Marín, the first governor elected by the Puerto Rican people, and writers Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo and Rubén Darío.
Francisco Rodón Elizalde was born on June 6, 1935 in the municipality of San Sebastián, the son of Víctor Rodón Cabrero and Inés Elizalde Arocena. He attended primary school in his hometown and secondary school in San Juan, where his family moved to in 1949. In 1952, after winning a scholarship in a cultural exchange program, he traveled to various Latin American countries, including Mexico, where he became interested in the works by muralist painters.
He continued his education as an artist at the Julien Academy in Paris (1953) and the San Fernando Academy in Madrid (1954). Rodón preferred not to follow academic methods of teaching, however, and dedicated much of his time to studying the master painters through direct observation of their works that he found in museums.
He returned to Puerto Rico in 1955, where, thanks to the influence of First Lady Inés Mendoza de Muñoz Marín, he obtained a scholarship to continue his studies at La Esmeralda Academy of the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico. After the death of his mother, he returned to the island. Two years later, he continued his education at the Art Students League in New York. There, he took classes in composition and drawing from Howard Trafton. In 1959, he again returned to the island, where he studied at the Graphic Arts Workshop of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, under the direction of Rafael Tufiño.
In 1960, Rodón became known in the art world by participating in the Puerto Rican Athenaeum’s Christmas Contest, in which he won first prize for his oil painting, Pastoral Núm. 2, and honorable mention for his engraving, Teresa. The following year, he had his first individual exhibition at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, which included landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. He also won second prize in the Athenaeum’s Christmas Contest with his oil painting, Naturaleza muerta en azul (1961), and first prize in the IBEC Contest for his landscape, Nocturno en Las Croabas (1961). This early work by Rodón was characterized by the use of light in the still lifes and the use of black lines in the objects that emphasized the overall composition, rather than individual objects.
Beginning in the 1970s, Rodón experimented with the human figure. Through the use of large format, color, and figures, he presented expressive portraits that reflected the mood and psychological state of mind of both the subject and the painter. His work is not identified with any particular artistic movement. However, it can be considered part of the realistic portraiture tradition with subjectively added expressionist characteristics. It was at this time that his work began to become known beyond the island, in part because of the writings of Mexican art critic Marta Traba.
In 1972, he participated in the Third Biennial Art Exhibition in Medellín, Colombia, the first time his work was presented in a foreign exhibit. His triptych, Rubén Darío, was favorably received by the international press and critics. In 1973, he traveled to Buenos Aires to begin a series of works on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The first consisted of a 2.10-meter canvas in which he captured the image of the famed author posed in the National Library. After Borges resigned his post, they continued the sessions in the writer’s house. Rodón continued developing the series of paintings in Puerto Rico, including the works Borges o el Aleph (1975) and Sólo Borges (c. 1977).
Francisco Rodón painted portraits of many iconic figures of the era, both Puerto Ricans and other nationalities. Some of these were collected in a series of paintings later exhibited under the title Personajes. Among the portraits were Luis Muñoz Marín (1974) — which presented the former governor in his residence in Trujillo Alto, late in life, with a contemplative and tired expression; Rómulo Betancourt (1977-1979) — in which he presented the Venezuelan politician with his face disfigured by an explosives attack — and Juan Rulfo o Pedro Páramo — a portrait in black, white and tones of gray that was unveiled at the Bar Association in 1985, after the writer’s death. He also painted the portraits of ballet dancers Alicia Alonso and Vaslav Nijinsky, Puerto Rican educator and literati Nilita Vientós Alonso and Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, among others.
Among the collective exhibitions in which his work has been presented are Dos Siglos de Pintura Puertorriqueña (1965), the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; Grandes Creadores del Continente (1974), the Estudio Actual Gallery in Caracas, Venezuela; Tercera Muestra Nacional de Pintura y Escultura, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; Sexta Bienal Internacional de Arte in Valparaíso, Chile and Los Premios Cervantes de la Pintura at the University of Alcalá in Henares, Spain.
Among his individual and collective exhibits are Personajes de Rodón, presented at the University of Puerto Rico Museum (1983); Campeche/Oller/Rodón: III siglos de pintura puertorriqueña at the Universal Exposition in Seville and at Sotheby’s in New York (1992); and Las visiones secretas (1994) at the José Luis Cuevas Museum in México. His work has also been displayed at the Ponce Museum of Art, the Carpenter Center for the Arts at Harvard University (1987) and the Praxis Foundation in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987).
Francisco Rodón has won various awards and honors, such as being designated painter in residence at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras (1968); the only prize at the UNESCO Hall of Paintings (1975); the Francisco Oller Medal at the Institute of Puerto Rico’s VI Biennial of Latin American Engravings (1983).
His works are part of numerous collections, including those of the University of Puerto Rico, the Ponce Museum of Art, the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, the 20th Century Art Collection in Medellín, Colombia, the Fine Arts Museum in Caracas, Venezuela, the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Gaglianone Collection and the Borges Collection in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
By the PROE Editorial Group
Personajes de Rodón (1971-1983): Museo de la Universidad de Puerto Rico: 2 de diciembre de 1983 – 31 de enero de 1984. Río Piedras, P. R.: Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras, 1983.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 03, 2014.
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