Painter and sculptor Rafael Ferrer was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He established his reputation in the art world on the United States mainland during the mid-1960s, as a conceptual artist who specialized in ephemeral works with a political but poetic nuance and with installations that celebrated his Puerto Rican heritage. In the 1980s, Ferrer turned more or less exclusively to easel painting, producing a body of work that not only serves as an effusive homage to the people and places of the Caribbean but also reminds us of the intricate political and economic dynamics that exist between the United States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands.
At first glance, "Merengue en Boca Chica" presents a pleasant beachside resort scene, probably set in the Dominican Rebublic, where the artist owns a home. Underlying the composition, however, are issues of race and class as well as, perhaps, sexual tension. On the beach, five figures face frontally; each seems posed as if waiting to be photographed. Dressed for the sun, a blue-eyed, pale-skinned woman, based on the artist's wife, lounges on a wooden chair in the lower right, her blonde hair pulled back tight. In the center of the composition, a trio of strolling musicians plays a small drum, a guitar, and a guiro (gourd). Palm trees already bent by the wind appear to sway to the tropical rhythms of the combo's merengue. A fourth man, resembling the artist, seated to the left of the woman, stares away, unmoved by the improvised serenade. Ferrer has skillfully affected a "primitive" or "naive" style that approximates the conventions of folk art, which has a rich history and flourishing practice on many Caribbean islands. Following in this tradition, the painting's bright, exuberant colors form a decorative pattern of rhythmic expressionism. Distortions in scale and proportion enhance the narrative.