We have to grow our own to be our own, he smiles, splits open a coffee pod, drops the pulpy body in my hand and tells me to try it. I’d always been told freedom would never come for Puerto Rico. There wasn’t a climate for it. I ask the farmer about the strawberries. Son silvestres, he responds, and points to their beautiful excess. ~excerpt from STRAWBERRIES by Ana Portnoy Brimmer, 2021
Wainscott, NY – Tripoli Gallery is pleased to present artist Félix Bonilla Gerena, Los Delirious en la Pintura, a new series of paintings completed during his month long residency in Wainscott. Bonilla Gerena’s work is a layered cacophony of gestures and colors using abstraction and figuration to tell a story all his own. Thinking of the poem in excerpt above, Bonilla Gerena’s work is an excess in the most delicious way. Not unlike the coffee pod grown fresh and split open, his work extracts the color and energy of a place —tropical, hot, dizzying, sexy, bursting with life. The exhibition will open with a reception for the artist on Saturday, April 23rd, from 6 to 8pm at Tripoli Gallery in Wainscott.
Los Delirious en la Pintura translates to, The Delirious in the Painting, and the artist’s new work is indeed a richly lyrical feat. Using the landscapes of Puerto Rico as his point of departure, his work is as lush and direct, as it is mysterious. Landscapes meet seascapes, interiors meet exteriors, and nude figures emerge from abstract grounds. While two of these works were initiated five years ago on linen from the 1950’s found in Carlos Basaldua’s old studio, others were started from scratch on premade stretched canvases. The work moves through personal and cultural moments of anxiety. It oscillates, giving clues as to what the artist might be thinking, and then descending back into abstraction. In these works he explores long standing motifs that have appeared throughout his oeuvre, notably the ocean, palm trees, landscapes and the female form. He transports the vitality and vibrancy of La Bajura, his homeland, through his physical being and painterly gestures.
The last two works completed in his residency, La Danza de las Dos Lunas (The Dance of Two Moons), and “La Virgen del Carmen” Protectora de los Pescadores, 2022, were done on carpet used to protect the gallery floors throughout the duration of Gerena’s residency. Bonilla Gerena found both works incredibly crucial to the exhibition. "There is still a cultural importance of the Sea God, La Virgen del Carmen, in Puerto Rico and many other latin American Countries that prayed to her and gave offerings to protect their fisherman and provide bountiful catches before a Christian God was introduced to the islands by The Europeans" says the artist. Gallery founder Tripoli Patterson stated, “I love the parallel histories of the Puerto Rican fishing culture and that of the earlier whalers and ‘Widow Walks’ built into the architecture of the old Sag Harbor homes where the wives would walk in hopes of seeing their husband’s whaling ships returning.” He continued, “There is a power to the ocean, specifically when people embark into the deep seas without assuredness of coming back.”
Viewing the artist’s work in Wainscott, it’s impossible to not recognize parallels between his work and that of the many Abstract Expressionist painters that once called the Hamptons home. Many of Bonilla Gerena’s paintings evoke the liminal qualities seen in the work of both Elaine and Willem de Kooning. There is a poetic quality extracted from the two shores —that of Puerto Rico and the East End of Long Island— inspiring a spatial experience, rhythmic, connected to the rolling tide. While their respective palettes are different, both the East End and Puerto Rico have a particular relationship with the sea. All of his new work has grown out of a sense of isolation within the studio from the last couple years of the pandemic and the deliriousness that emerges and is released inside the paintings. The residency and use of the gallery afforded Bonilla Gerena the opportunity to take risks and while utilizing familiar gestures, he continues to explore new terrain.
Tripoli Patterson and Félix Bonilla Gerena have worked together regularly since 2008 with their first exhibition together in a barn in Bridgehampton that now is Toppings Rose House. They continued their collaboration in 2009 with the debut exhibition of Tripoli Gallery on Jobs Lane Southampton, then again in 2010, 2012, and 2015. Bonilla Gerena returned to the East End during Hurricane Maria in 2017 working out of a studio attached to Tripoli’s home. During his 2022 residency, the artist has allowed himself to shed anxiety and indecision in favor of elegance and clarity. Line turns to form and form turns to line in a silent concert made of paint. In Félix Bonilla Gerena’s own words, “The women are getting consumed by their landscapes.” Perhaps this is in the same way that one consumes a glass of wine, or the way a rose gets lost in a garden —beauty begets taste.
Félix Bonilla Gerena was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico in 1968 and still calls the island home. He earned his BA from the School of Plastic Arts at the University of Puerto Rico in 1992 and went on to study at the San Carlos University of Mexico and at the Autonomous University of Caracas, Venezuela. His paintings have been exhibited extensively throughout Puerto Rico, internationally at the Museum of the Americas in Miami and the Museo de las Casas Reales in the Dominican Republic, and in group shows in Philadelphia and Guadalupe, Mexico. Bonilla Gerena’s work is included in many international private collections, as well as in the permanent collections of the Museo de Arte Moderno in the Dominican Republic and the Museo de Arte Historia de Arecibo, Puerto Rico. This is his fifth solo show with Tripoli Gallery.
The Artist-in-Residence program at Tripoli Gallery started in 2015 with artist Jonathan Beer’s exhibition “Memory Palace” at the gallery’s Southampton location. Since their move to Wainscott, NY, the Artist-In-Residence program has become a permanent part of the gallery’s annual programming. Félix Bonilla Gerena’s residency follows Angelbert Metoyer’s Magnificent Change: April 3rd – May 3rd, 2021 and Alice Hope’s Surge: March 14th – April 12th, 2020.