I painted sixteen portraits of Puerto Ricans living in the island, to be shown with portraits of Puerto Ricans living in the San Francisco Bay Area  at a Bay Area Gallery this year. Here’s a little more about me and about the portrait series that preceded this one.

Photo of an afro-caribbean woman sitting for a portrait

This woman lived in the heart of Santurce.

Why?

For a long time after Hurricane Maria, the media kept portraying Puerto Ricans with images of helplessness and victimhood. As a Puerto Rican living in California, I knew different.

I feel that more than ever, visibility is important for Puerto Ricans. The fate of our island is being decided by a Fiscal Control Board. This, is the real disaster that preceded hurricane Maria by a couple of years. While there are many economic recovery efforts under way, Puerto Ricans everywhere exist largely outside of the public’s consciousness. This won’t be done just through the discussion of the politics of boricua representation that is sure to follow the viewing of these portraits. This show aims to open a space where the economic and moral consequences of Puerto Ricans as colonial subjects can be considered.

Photo of Hector Ivan posing for this painting.

This was the first Puerto Rico portrait with light from a skylight.

Method

I traveled to the island for six weeks, and stayed with my aunt to save money. I asked friends to recruit sitters so I could show the closest thing to a cross-section of Puerto Rican society. They were paid and able to choose their clothes and poses. My college friends found people that could pose at their own homes.

I work fast. I believe paintings made with someone posing are fresher and more alive than the portraits  I painted each of the 16 portraits measuring 36 x 36 in (91 x 91 cm) over a single 4 to 5 hr session, but I put in an hour or two of revisions later for some of them, and completed all 16 paintings at my aunt’s house.

Once in California, I recruited and painted ten more boricuas from the diaspora in the same way, for a total of 26 portraits. Some of them were painted in my studio

I documented my progress in a blog that I shared with project backers. I do not plan to sell all the paintings, because I would like for them to travel together and become a catalyst for the discussion of Puerto Rican issues.

Photo of Jose Mojica, his painting, and me.

Posing with the finished painting

How Did I Pay For It?
Completing and showing this series cost more than $12,000 per my calculations. Thanks to more than 120 backers, my Kickstarter campaign reached its funding goal. I raised more than $8,000 for the island part of the project. This money paid for canvasses, transportation, a stipend to the sitters, and the cost of shipping the paintings back to the Bay Area.

Once in California I sold landscape paintings and prints from my trip to finance two solo exhibitions, one at Sánchez Gallery and the other at the EBMUD Gallery. Both of these are located in Oakland.

Reflections
I noticed how fiercely most of these women and men held on to their Puerto Rican identity. Their participation was about visibility and showing “we are anything but victims.” They challenged colonial, cisgender, and hetero identities and conventions with the way they presented themselves.

Many arranged their surroundings to introduce their identity and assert their independence. They are not too different from Puerto Rico, a country struggling to rid itself from centuries of colonialism.

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I want to share the work of Rebeca Garcia-Gonzalez, who painted 26 portraits of Puerto Ricans living in the island. Check out her project at http://www.garcia-gonzalez.com Thanks for reading!