Rafael Ferrer (American, born Puerto Rico, 1933)
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 in. (152.4 x 182.9 cm)
Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 1984 (1984.2)
Painter and sculptor Rafael Ferrer was born in Puerto Rico and established his reputation on the U.S. mainland during the mid-1960s. First, as a conceptual artist, he specialized in ephemeral works with a political but poetic nuance, and installations that celebrated his Puerto Rican heritage. Later, in the 1980s, he began to work almost exclusively on easel painting, producing a body of work that not only serves as an 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 the other Caribbean islands.
Merengue en Boca Chica presents a pleasant tropical resort scene, probably set in the Dominican Republic, where the artist owns a home. Underlying the composition, however, may be issues of race and class, and perhaps sexual tension. Seated on the beach are two figures based on Ferrer and his wife, serenaded by a trio of strolling musicians playing 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. Ferrer has skillfully affected a "primitive" or "naive" style that approximates the conventions of folk art, a flourishing art form on many Caribbean islands. Further following this genre, the painting's bright, exuberant colors complement the overall decorative patterns, and the distortions in scale and proportion enhance the narrative.