Rafael Tufiño Figueroa was one of the most outstanding Puerto Rican visual artists of the 20th century. He was known as “The People’s Painter” because his paintings and engravings reflect various aspects of Puerto Rican life and culture.
He was born on October 30, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York, where he lived with his parents, Gregoria Figueroa and Agustín Tufiño, until he was ten years old. In 1932, he moved to Puerta de Tierra, the neighborhood located just outside Old San Juan, to live with his grandmother. At the age of 12, he began to work in the workshop of Antonio “Tony” Maldonado, where he painted signs and letters.
Tufiño was in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. Later, he moved to Mexico to study painting and engraving at the San Carlos Academy, where he was exposed to the populist ideas of the Popular Graphics Workshop and the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Upon returning to Puerto Rico in 1949, he joined the Graphic Arts Workshop of the Community Education Division (DIVEDCO, for its Spanish acronym), which had been created as part of a government campaign to teach the public about health and literacy.
He founded, along with Lorenzo Homar, José Torres Martinó, Carlos Marichal and other artists, the Puerto Rican Art Center. The first collective portfolio from this center, La estampa puertorriqueña, included his work Cortador de Caña (1950-51). Tufiño also collaborated with Lorenzo Homar and Tomás Blanco to create a portfolio of engravings titled Plenas, which combined the lyrics and musical notes of various Puerto Rican plenas.
In 1956, the Guggenheim Foundation awarded him a scholarship with which he produced the portfolio El Café. Tufiño won awards and recognitions from institutions such as the Puerto Rican Athenaeum, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Casa de Las Américas in Cuba.
Among his most famous works are La plena (mural, 1954), Camino de recogido (linoleum, 1954), Goyita (painting, 1957) and Danza Negra (linoleum, 1968).
Rafael Tufiño died on March 13, 2008 in San Juan.
Rodríguez, Jorge. “En sus propias palabras”, Vocero, 19 de marzo de 2008: San Juan.
Portal Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 03, 2014.
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