Rafael Villamil: Paradise Has No Memory

April 5 – June 8, 2019; (extended in reduced format to August 16, 2019)

Rafael Villamil (b. 1934) speaks of his artworks as portraits, contemplations of his life, his experiences, and his thoughts. As an architect who moved to Philadelphia in 1963 to work with Louis I Kahn, he is fascinated by spatial encounters and the connections between form and structure. Nothing is inconsequential to Villamil. His paintings are spontaneous permutations from an overactive and sensitive mind as well as meditations on balance, form, color, and thought. For Villamil, each mark is intentional and therefore has a sense of being. In his first one-man exhibition since 1966, Villamil shares a significant body of work that explores his thoughts and encounters about life as he tried to make sense of tragedy and loss.

"Eva y los Cocodrilos," 1990
“Eva y los Cocodrilos,” 1990
Acrylic on masonite

Villamil is a self-taught artist who has been painting and drawing since his childhood in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He has traveled to Argentina and Mexico, finds comfort in literature and poetry, and is stirred by politics. Villamil sees the United States as complicit in the dictatorships and civil wars that engulfed South and Central America throughout most of his life. As a Puerto Rican, he is sensitive to the discordant relationship the people of his island nation have with the mainland.

In Rafael Villamil’s exhibition, Paradise Has No Memory, he presents a body of work from 1957 to 2013 that focuses on one of his many styles. The exhibition’s title comes from a phrase embedded in his painting Eva y los Cocodrilos (Eve and the Crocodiles, 1990). In the show, there are nods to other explorations represented by Go Join Othello in Venice (1965-66), his three-dimensional work of the late ’60s, and Untitled, from his 1965 black and white series. Most of the work was created in Philadelphia, but some, like his 1957 Untitled, were painted in Puerto Rico, and The Caribbean Trilogy were started in Maine.

In the painting Mapa del Encuentro (Map of Encounters, 1989) Villamil drifts back to the memory of a teacher he met who he believes was brutally murdered in Guatemala’s civil war. In the lower left-hand side of the painting, he wrote the woman’s name in dedication.

All of his paintings and constructions are dotted with statements and quotes as well as declarations and messages. In Caja de Juguetes (Toy Box, 1993), he inserted a note that only his past lover will understand. While in Leopoldo (1993) he alludes to his chance meeting with Nathan Leopold Jr., who hoped to commit the perfect crime with the help of Richard Loeb. They were caught for the murder, and Leopold was subsequently exiled to Puerto Rico, where he died.

Villamil is an artist who admires the vitality and complex composition of the social realist painters of Mexico, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco in particular, and the introspection of René Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico. Yet in his paintings, which combine colored pencil, paint, and collage, are also expressions of reason from the edge of the frame to the plexiglass that implicates the viewer in its mirrored reflections. They are not merely individual works of art existing independently of one another, but memory cells of one giant living organism. And as such, each artwork contains features of the other, with aspects that connect the artist to the work and the work to its neighbor and its audience. Paradise has no memory because it exists within an instant of our encounter.

Curated by Rafael Damast

Related Programs

OPening reception:
April 5, 2019 | 5:30 - 8:00 PM
Artist Talk & Tour

May 11 at 1:30 PM at the Woodmere

The panel featured David B. Brownlee, professor of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania and Taller’s  Exhibition Manager and the exhibition’s curator, Rafael Damast.  

Tour Villamil’s unique, multitiered house in Chestnut Hill and learn about the career and artwork of this monumental figure.