The works in this exhibition were inspired by Francisco Oller’s painting, Plátanos amarillos (Yellow Plantains), from ca. 1892, in the collection of El Museo del Barrio in New York City. New Jersey artist José Camacho has borrowed the work’s central motif—a bunch of ripe plantains—and reworked the image multiple times to create a series of moody monochromatic paintings and drawings.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Camacho feels a special bond with Oller, who is one of the most famous Puerto Rican artists of the nineteenth century. Camacho first encountered Oller’s work in the museums he visited as a young man in Puerto Rico. Now, several decades later, he has turned to Oller’s painting as the inspiration for this new body of work, which he calls “Plantation.”
Repeating and reworking the original image, Camacho experiments with scale, medium, color and line. His richly layered surfaces reveal a complex art-making process, but they also suggest multiple layers of embedded meaning within the works: the cultural memory of the plantation system; the importance of the plantain in Puerto Rican culture; the racial implications of black and white; the relationship of the copy to the original; and the burdens of art history and national identity. The works in “Plantation” are poetic meditations that pay homage to their source while exploring deeper ideas.
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