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This essay, by the Puerto Rican writer and university professor Eugenio Fernández Méndez, sketches the life story of the Puerto Rican artist José R. Alicea on the occasion of the tribute exhibition in his honor at the IV Bienal de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano [Fourth San Juan Biennial of Latin American Prints], [which ran from] May 25 to August 31, 1979. Fernández Méndez provides biographical details of Alicea’s life and discusses some of his defining experiences as an artist. For example, Alicea studied informally under the eminent Puerto Rican artist Miguel Pou, and together with prominent artists such as Lorenzo Homar and Rafael Tufiño, was involved in key stages of the evolution of Puerto Rican printmaking. Many of Alicea’s prints reflect the mythology of the Taino people and Afro-Puerto Rican traditions. Fernández Méndez concludes by discussing the influence travel and exposure to certain European and Puerto Rican artists had on Alicea’s work.
José R. Alicea (Ponce, PR, b. 1928) is a printmaker, poster artist, graphic designer, and teacher. He studied printmaking under Lorenzo Homar at the Taller de Gráfica [Print Workshop] at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña [Puerto Rican Cultural Institute] (ICP), where he later worked as Homar’s assistant. He began teaching printmaking at the ICP’s Escuela de Artes Plásticas [School of Visual Arts] in 1965. In 1979, the IV Bienal de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano y del Caribe [Fourth San Juan Biennial of Latin American and Caribbean Prints] honored him at the exhibition presented at the Museo del Grabado Latinoamericano [Museum of Latin American Prints], home of the Casa de los Contrafuertes [House of Buttresses] in Old San Juan, from May 25 through August 31. The exhibition included 135 of his works. Eugenio Fernández Méndez (Cayey, 1924–1994) was a journalist, writer, and professor at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). As a young man he studied economics at the UPR, then went on to study anthropology at Columbia University in New York. His writings reflect a profound interest in the question of Puerto Rican identity, as can be seen in his books Unidad y esencia del ethos puertorriqueño [Unity and Gist of the Puerto Rican Ethos] (1954), Crónicas de Puerto Rico [Puerto Rican Chronicles] (1958), among many others, including the essay “La identidad y la cultura" [Identity and Culture] (1965), published in a variety of Puerto Rican newspapers and magazines. He was devoted to his studies and, as a member of the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española [Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language], he cultivated an excellent writing style. From 1955 to 1964 he was chairman of the board of directors of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña [ICP, Puerto Rican Cultural Institute]. In 1976 he published his views on the world of the arts in Las artes plásticas [The Visual Arts] and El primitivismo haitiano [Haitian Primitivism].