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Antonio Martorell tells the story behind the portrait of Luis A. Ferré

It was 1961, when the plastic artist Antonio Martorell was taken to the original seat of the Ponce Art Museum (MAP), at number 70 Cristina Street, an old Spanish colonial-style house built in the 19th century and located in the urban center of the city of Ponce.

His dear friend Félix Aguayo took him there, when he learned about his interest in going to study painting in Madrid, Spain, with the intention that his uncle would meet him and in case he could help him.

“I got into my friend’s car with paintings I had done recently, many of which, or almost all of them, I have to admit, weren’t much. The truth is that he was an amateur, with very few professional studies. He had done a career that had nothing to do with art, but he had drawn and taken some classes here and there,” Martorell narrated as he went back to what would be that first meeting with the New Progressive leader and founder of the MAP, Don Luis A. Ferre.

He carries the memory intact in his memory. At first glance, Don Luis was hanging a painting of a rear female nude by Sorolla. “Beautiful painting. It is still in the Museum’s collection and I see it every time I go, and I celebrate it very much, ”he said.

With a sleeved shirt and a hammer in hand, he was hanging that painting in the same room where his portrait “Visions of Proteus” now hangs, which 30 years later the aforementioned Puerto Rican plastic artist painted for him. This action was interrupted to receive Martorell in a very attentive way, who at that moment rested the painting on the floor, to immediately, in a powerful voice, ask him to see the works that he was carrying.

“I showed him what I had very timidly, because it was nothing to boast about. She looked at him carefully and asked, ‘what do you want to do?’, ‘I want to be a painter, I want to paint’. ‘What do you want to do about it?’ ‘I want to study’. ‘Where?’ ‘Well, in Madrid’. He looked at me and said, ‘what if you come by my office next week and pick up a check so that you can go study in Madrid for a year,’” he narrated while saying that he immediately accepted, continuing to be surprised at the unexpected response, which he described as “such an enthusiastic and immediate response”.

The following week, Martorell went, looked for the check, bought his ticket to Madrid and the rest is history. Three decades later, the request made by the former governor of Puerto Rico himself arose, for an initiative that arose from his daughter Rosario Ferre.

Antonio Martorell (Puerto Rico, b. 1939), Visions of Proteus, 1992, oil on cedar panel, Museo de Arte de Ponce. The Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc. (92.1901). Framing work in dark acacia wood made by Roberto Antonio Cortés. Photography by Milton Ramírez Malavé. (Supplied)

“Many years had passed. He wasn’t the same and neither was I. It was not easy. We agreed to meet and he expressed to me his desire for his portrait ”, He indicated while recounting the innumerable caricatures that he had already made of him under his incumbency as governor and after his office, that they were political in nature and none of them flattering. However, Ferré’s request was clear: “I want a portrait that goes further, that is a work of art with all the complexity, with all the richness of an oil portrait.”

“Well Don Luis, that is not going to be easy, because you know how I am and you know how you are”, and took the risk of what that could mean for both of them. After some preparatory sketches and final work, the result was enriching for both protagonists.

That work will precisely be exhibited, in honor of the birth of Don Luis A. Ferré, in the same place where both the artist and he met, Starting on Friday, February 17, which today is the structure that houses the Carmen Solá de Pereira Cultural Center of Ponce, where this exhibition project will be presented until May 14, 2023, under the name: “Visions of Proteus: Ferré and Martorell in Cristina street”.

“I must say that I have had few, if any portrait sitters as enthusiastic and helpful as he was. If you look closely, it’s not a flattering portrait. It’s not a portrait where the fold of the tie and the sparkle of the pearl stud on it look flawless, nor does it look like he’s had plastic surgery. None of that,” said the painter, sculptor, journalist and writer.

The exhibition, organized by Iraida Rodríguez-Negrón, curator of the MAP, includes eight preparatory sketches and the impressive work of Martorell, a large-format polyptych of the effigy of Don Luis A. Ferré, presented to the public for the first time in 1992. .

“He was pending in each session. He would look at the painting and encourage me to be more expressive. He told me ‘hit it hard, I want it to have all the strength of the portrait that you can do. And forward. I felt fully supported, free to do what needed to be done without any restrictions. So it was a very pleasant collaboration, very risky and the result is now in everyone’s eyes,” he recounted about the process that lasted several months and included several visits to various places, including his workshop in Cayey and Ferré’s residence. in Guaynabo.

“Throughout the time I was posing we talked about everything, art, history, we are both art history enthusiasts, it fascinates us. We talked about politics, wearing shorts and joking. We laughed at each other and at ourselves. The whole process was a long and rich conversation, full of nuances, with spark and jokes, because he had a great sense of humor”, he said while also highlighting that as a significant by-product of the portrait process of Don Luis, they established and developed a different relationship that would never have occurred without that mutual collaboration. “From then on our relationship was different.”

It should be noted that the opening event next Friday will begin at 6:00 pm with an opening cocktail that will have the special participation of Martorell and that will be open to all the public who are interested in attending. There the artist said that he will personally dedicate it to those who acquire a limited edition multi-copy graphic of ‘Visions of Proteus’, signed and numbered.

“The proceeds from the sale of that graphic poster will go entirely to the museum’s operating expenses funds because the idea is to help those who have helped us so much. Neither Ponce nor the country would be the same without this valuable museum, which is still closed due to the damage suffered by the earthquake that hit our region,” said Martorell.

“The fact that he gave me a scholarship to study was a definitive step in my life. And then when I met him again for the portrait, it was also an important event in my development as an artist, because it was not an easy portrait for him or me. It was an extraordinary challenge”sentenced.

The Cultural Center of Ponce Carmen Solá de Pereira is open to the public from Monday to Sunday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm If you are interested in visiting the exhibition, you can call 787-841-8044 or 787-607-5112 or write to: [email protected] to the Ponce Art Museum at 787-840-1510, access the social networks @museoarteponce or the website: www.museoarteponce.org.

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