Rafael Soriano (b. 1920, Cuba, d. 2015, United States) studied at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, Havana, and was a member of the avant-garde group Diez Pintores Concretos. He immigrated to the United States in 1962, and subsequently transitioned from producing works of geometric abstraction to creating paintings that contain mysterious, glowing, biomorphic forms. Over the past few years, Soriano’s work has appeared in multiple individual and group exhibitions, including the following: “Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic,” The McMullen Museum (Boston College), Boston (2017); “Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art since 1950,” Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), Houston (2017); and “Concrete Cuba,” David Zwirner Gallery, New York City (2016).
Rafael Soriano (1920-2015) was born in Cidra, Cuba, but moved to the city of Matanzas at age nine. Shortly thereafter, he began receiving art lessons at the private academy of Spanish painter Alberto Tarazcó (dates unknown). At age fifteen, Soriano entered the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts in Havana, where he studied with renowned Cuban artists such as Leopoldo Romañach (1862-1951) and Juan José Sicre (1898-1974). Soriano graduated with a degree in sculpture and drawing in 1939, and with an additional degree in painting and drawing in 1941.
By the 1950s, Soriano was producing abstract geometric works that contained areas of strong, flat, color. For this reason, historians agree that he belongs to the third generation of avant-garde artists that emerged in 1950s Cuba – artists who embraced late surrealism, gestural and geometric abstraction, and aspects of neo-figuration. In 1954, Soriano exhibited his paintings alongside the sculptures of Augustín Cárdenas (1927-2001) at the Palace of Fine Art in Havana; and in 1959, he joined Diez Pintores Concretos – a group of Cuban painters who exclusively produced works of geometric abstraction.
As a result of the creative limitations placed upon artists by the Castro administration, Soriano immigrated to the United States in 1962 with his wife and daughter. For roughly two years following his arrival in Miami, Soriano stopped making art. At first, he worked as graphic designer and art director. Eventually, he became a professor of design and composition at the University of Miami.
When – in 1964 – Soriano resumed his artistic practice, geometry made a subtle disappearance from his work. In its place, glowing, biomorphic, otherworldly forms emerged. While the forms are unidentifiable, they often resemble fragments of landscape or the human figure, and seem to hover within aquatic or astral environments. Soriano rendered this ambiguous imagery in rich, deeply contrasting pigments. By patiently building up thin layers of oil paint, the artist created vast, receding spaces and dynamic, mutating organisms. Overall, the mysterious, luminous nature of these works evokes both the ethereal and the spiritual.
Over the past few years, Soriano’s work has appeared in multiple individual and group exhibitions, including the following: “Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic,” The McMullen Museum (Boston College), Boston, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, and The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum (Florida International University), Miami (2017-2018); “Between the Real and the Imagined: Abstract Art from Cintas Fellows,” Coral Gables Museum, Coral Gables (2017); “Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art since 1950,” Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), Houston (2017); “Concrete Cuba,” David Zwirner Gallery, New York City (2016); “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art,” Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC (2013); and “América Fría, Geometric Abstraction in Latin America (1934-1973),” Fundación Juan March, Madrid (2011).
The artist’s works can be found in many public and private collections, including those of the Blanton Museum, (University of Texas) Austin; the CIFO Collection, Miami; the Denver Art Museum, Denver; the Galería de Arte Moderno, Santa Domingo; the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana; the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America, Washington DC; the Pérez Art Museum, Miami; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC.