Something bright and tropical is blooming in downtown SLO—a new mural currently being painted on four outside walls of the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art at the corner of Broad and Monterey streets. Designed by internationally recognized artist Juan Alberto Negroni and titled Pacificaribbean, the mural should be complete by Sunday, Jan. 10. The public is welcome to come by and see the mural as it progresses, and a time-lapse video will be posted on SLOMA's website once the project is complete.
"I am from Puerto Rico, and I have been trying to translate into a visual language what it means to come from Puerto Rico," Negroni explained outside the SLOMA on Sunday, Jan. 3, during a break from painting the mural.
- Photo By Jayson Mellom
- HARD AT WORK Puerto Rican artist Juan Alberto Negroni (foreground left) and guest curator Emma Saperstein (center right) oversee the work of Cuesta College art students on the installation of Negroni's Pacificaribbean on the SLO Museum of Art, to be officially unveiled on Jan. 10.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in printmaking from the Puerto Rico School of Fine Arts and then a Master of Arts in Education in art history and museum studies, he left Puerto Rico to move to Texas, where he received his Master of Fine Arts in studio arts from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He's had five solo shows.
He's frequently asked where he's from, why he moved to Dallas, and how Puerto Rico compares to Texas, and though he's happy to speak to Puerto Rico's political, religious, and cultural history, he notes that sometimes words fail where visual arts can succeed in communicating the complex and nuanced ideas.
"I'm the guest curator for the project, and the idea is to every year have a new guest curator for a new mural," explained Emma Saperstein, who was also on hand Jan. 3. She noted that Negroni was being aided by a group of Cuesta College art students. "It's a work experience class credit and comes with a small stipend."
How does Negroni feel about the temporary nature of this mural?
"Everything is temporary," Negroni asserted, "whether it lasts 20 years or one year, it doesn't matter. As an artist, you learn to deal with loss. Sometimes you sell a painting and it's gone. I often paint over paintings if I become dissatisfied. I just wish while it's here that the community enjoys it, that they have a conversation about it, that it connects with the community."
"It will live on in one way," Saperstein noted. "There will be a catalog with commissioned essays from four curators about the diaspora of Caribbean art and culture, which will serve as a long-term documentation of the project and Caribbean art in general, commenting on the connection between San Luis Obispo and Puerto Rico."
According to press materials, the mural's concept "is inspired by Juan's upbringing in the city of Bayamón near San Juan. His father worked at the Caribe-Hilton Hotel, a beautiful resort hotel that emulates the complex relationship between Puerto Rico's people and the economic and social influence of Western tourism. As a child, Juan and his siblings would sneak into some of the amenities of the hotel they were prevented from accessing, such as the private beach, the pool, and most memorable for Juan, the private gardens.
"In Juan's work, representations of the luscious local ecology of Puerto Rico capture a resilience of nature that beckons us to bravely encounter and embrace the unknown. For Juan, this work both hearkens to a nuanced nostalgia of the past and a longing to preserve the memories and experiences of our youth. For those of us who reside on the Central Coast of California, Pacificaribbean asks us to consider the safety, challenge, and longing of this moment and the memories of youth that connect us to each other and to our home."
- Photo By Jayson Mellom
- DETAIL Student artist Celeste Dowlan fills in shapes in Juan Alberto Negroni's mural, which tries "to translate into a visual language what it means to come from Puerto Rico," he said. The mural will remain in place for one year, after which it will be replaced by another artist's mural.
With these various student artists working on the mural, does he think it will represent his vision?
"What I did was started it out at home," he explained. "I'm not that good with measurements and architecture, but I start with a very loose sketch to have an idea of where to go. [The mural] will look very close to my design, but it's a little bit of a mix—a hybrid between painting, street art, and muralism."
"Pacificaribbean invites us to celebrate and cultivate a relationship between our inner landscapes and the landscape around us and, even amidst time of separation and grief, find windows of hope," SLOMA's press materials added. "Juan has been intentional about the relationship between the mural and the trees and natural environment visible above the museum, creating an unlikely and unexpected symbiosis between our community and his."
According to Leann Standish, SLOMA's new executive director, "On Sunday, Jan. 10, we will unveil the new mural by legendary artist Juan Alberto Negroni. All sides of the building will showcase his work, which is a vibrant exploration of nature and nostalgia and the feelings it inspires in all of us. We encourage you to stroll by and watch the work unfold." Δ
Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey firstname.lastname@example.org.