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The “own voice” in the work of Enoc Pérez

For the Puerto Rican artist Enoch Perez, the craft of painting is his means of expression, the one he has known best since he was a child and what allows him to visually explain what he feels, what he cannot describe in words. That is why it is so important for him to have a style with his “own voice”, which has allowed him to stand out as one of the most recognized and valued Puerto Rican artists in the international art market.

In fact, his works are in the best museums in the world and private collections in Germany, Paris and Italy. In addition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York; the British Museum, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; the New York Public Library; the Corcoran Art Gallery, in Washington DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Juan and the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, among others.

“I always see the creation process as my own freedom and it’s something I enjoy doing, so I don’t see it as a job because it’s what I’ve done since I was a child,” says the artist in a telephone interview from New York , where he has lived for more than three decades.

Precisely, since last week, the individual exhibition “Enoc Pérez: Recent Paintings”, in Obra Galería Alegría, in San Juan. A sample that, according to the gallery owner José Alegría, has the objective of “showing the creative versatility of the artist”. He mentions, for example, three beach landscapes that, in his opinion, have a unique composition and that are part of the exhibition.

“The exhibition has a variety of six themes that, in addition to those landscapes, the public will be able to appreciate one of the famous interiors that the artist has painted: the Renee Rockefeller room, the last interior of Enoch that remains in the primary market” explains Alegría, exclusive representative of the artist in the Caribbean.

Other pieces in the exhibit include a portrait of Alexa Demie, one of the characters in the HBO series, “Euphoria”; a play with political connotations about the treatment of immigrants during the presidency of Donald Trump; two works of architecture, one from the “World Trade Center” series and “an exquisite nude from the artist’s personal collection, painted for its exhibition at Acquavella Galleries in New York,” describes Alegría, after mentioning that it has been a year and half preparing this exhibition “which includes many of the best pictures of Enoch currently available”.

“Rockefeller Residence, NYC”, 2020, oil on canvas, 42″ x 34.5″, by Enoc Pérez. (Supplied)

For Pérez it is an opportunity to publicize a sample of the work that, in his opinion, is a reflection of his last five years of work. “A selection that I think is closely related to Puerto Rico.”

“I have been painting in New York for thirty-odd years. In the 80s if you wanted to be truly connected you had to emigrate to the United States or Europe. So I’ve been here ever since; I don’t want to say that it is a struggle, but it has always been to do my job as an artist and to exhibit my work”, adds Pérez, who believes that now it is different thanks to technology and communications that allow working from anywhere.

“I’m already established here, but the dream of living in Puerto Rico is always in the back of your head,” says the artist, who hopes that his success and career will also be a way of opening doors for the most talented artists. young people who understand that everything can be achieved with perseverance and hard work.

“My own voice”

Pérez comments that since he was about eight years old he was interested in art and liked to paint. His father was an art critic and from an early age, he says, he learned to respect the work of artists. He also influenced, he accepts, that from a very young age his parents also took him to visit museums around the world. That’s why he didn’t hesitate, after finishing high school on the island, to study art at the Pratt Institute and then at Hunter College, where he did a master’s degree.

“In New York the first thing you do is try to distinguish yourself from other artists. I am in a city where there are thousands of artists, so you have to look for them, you have to invent something that is different so that people look at you”, says Pérez, emphasizing that much of that experimentation and stages can be seen in everything that has done in these years.

In that sense, he highlights that much of what he has done in those stages has been “searching for my own voice.” “Once I have my voice, it’s a matter of what I want to say at the time. For example, after Hurricane Maria passed, I think that I and all the artists in Puerto Rico wanted to talk about it (in their paintings). There are also paintings that one wants to do out of responsibility, out of civic sense, just as there are paintings that one does for pure pleasure. They’re going to look different, but it’s still one’s job.”

"apocalypse now"2021, oil on canvas, 80" x60"by Enoch Perez.
“Apocalypse Now”, 2021, oil on canvas, 80″ x 60″, by Enoc Pérez. (Supplied)

That is why he emphasizes the importance of having his “own voice”, a style that defines, in a certain way, the work he does. Above all, he says that since he arrived in New York he knew that if he did something different, he could have “a break” from making himself known. “The process has been long and it still continues because one is never satisfied.”

It is, in fact, a job that, according to the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico (MAPR)has drawn the attention of local and international curators and collectors “for its innovative parallelism with the graphic technique of the monotype and for the use of photography as a starting point to comment on the predominance of technology in the world and art contemporary”.

Precisely, Pérez highlights the influence that the maximum representative of “pop art” has had on his work, Andy Warhol, who, together with Robert Rauschenberg, introduced the method of making engravings and serigraphs in painting.

“For me, from a very young age, Warhol’s work has been very important.”

Among the themes that the artist has used in his work, architecture and the representation of buildings stand out, for example. Pérez candidly comments that he began to be inspired by architecture around the time he met her future wife and that, although she was in another relationship, he wanted to make an exhibition about her.

“I did a display in code because I didn’t want anyone to find out. One of the paintings was a representation of the Normandie building. I knew the story of this Puerto Rican married to a French woman who built the hotel as a love letter to her. And in my mind it was like a portrait of my wife. But after two weeks in the workshop, I realized that there was something more to it because the hotels, apart from being international modernist structures, are also symbols of a colonial presence in Puerto Rico. That is why it always made a lot of sense to work with the theme of architecture”, explains Pérez.

In the same way, he says that he uses the landscape because he feels that it is part of being Puerto Rican. For example, he affirms that when he sees a “palm with a little water around it” or even inside a golf course, “I feel that they are mine and I am going to paint them”. Like painting bottles of rum that, according to him, were “like self-portraits” because “rum is from Puerto Rico and everything I do has a lot to do with me.”

In the last year, she says that she has been painting faces of women crying because she feels the atmosphere of sadness and depression that arose after the pandemic and with so much sad news. “One makes, through painting, a reflection of his time and I bring that to my work.”

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