this artist’s universe of
concerns extends beyond
the individual and takes its
rightful place in the social
and cultural spheres, while
at the same time adhering
to the formal coherence
required by certain formats
An austerity with respect to formal expression and the use of minimal, essential resources make the sculptures of Rafael San Juan an organic and coherent contribution to the contemporary art scene, since he does not partake in the minimalist trends that influence some of the best art around today or in the neo conceptualism holding considerable sway over the young generation of artists in Latin America. On the contrary, his pieces flirt with the classical traditions and the wealth of twentieth-century expressionism without taking sides: we are therefore in the presence of a balanced, fair, unique work with an emphasis on the inner life and spirituality of man from the anatomical and visceral perspective, as metaphor of wide emotional echo and social and intellectual meaning.
Focusing on the human body in many of his works, San Juan takes us on a journey into vast exterior and public regions that, in today’s world, find themselves suffocated by speed, hurriedness and the stress of modern life. The artist exposes the nakedness of man so we might get a glimpse of other less visible elements, notably the heart, and at the same time draws our attention to the energy, passion and strength which are transmitted by other organs, torsos and extremities.
He does not hesitate in showing his dominion of forms and traditional materials in the conventional manner, an uncommon trait nowadays owing to the popularity of new technologies which have replaced the inherent aura of art. His approach to aesthetics is therefore based on figures which are clear, recognizable and understandable to most of the public, all of which translates not only into sculpture but also into installations capable of producing a tense and thought-provoking atmosphere in the exhibition hall.
As if the emotion at times transmitted through an understated religious perspective were not sufficient, Rafael San Juan also appeals to the rational as another pole of his expression, since both poles weigh down –and always have– on every authentic work that seeks out the interplay between what is produced by man and his vital experience.
At other times, San Juan draws his inspiration from nature by reflecting on the indiscriminate damage done to it by man, and on occasions he takes us directly to nature and vegetation as a call to reconcile ourselves with them once and for all. That is why this artist’s universe of concerns extends beyond the individual and takes its rightful place in the social and cultural spheres, while at the same time adhering to the formal coherence required by certain formats and media, since his works are united by a common theme which weaves them into a conceptual and aesthetic whole.
Rafael San Juan’s art career has walked a fine line between ideological purposes and aesthetic results, between concept and matter, between content and form.
* Morón, 1947
Curator, editor, art critic, essayist and poet. Curator of the Havana Biennial. Prize in Curatorship in 2001 and Prize in Critique in 2007.