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Arnaldo Roche Rabell. Photo: El Nuevo Dia.

Arnaldo Roche Rabell (1955–2018)

Arnaldo Roche Rabell, the oil painter widely considered to be one of Puerto Rico’s most significant artists, died yesterday at age sixty-two. The cause was lung cancer, according to Walter Otero, whose gallery represents the artist. In the 1980s, Roche Rabell gained international recognition for his textured, sensual figurative neo-expressionist canvases, which resulted from complicated layering techniques. In his works, he often grappled with the themes of memory, political turbulence, and consciousness, as well as the medium of painting itself.

Born in 1955, Roche Rabell trained under Lope Max Díaz at the Luchetti School of Art in San Juan before studying architecture at the University of Puerto Rico and art at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was influenced by Ray Yoshida and Richard Keane. Roche Rabell became known for his frottage and grattage portraits, whose processes engaged both tenderness and brutality, absence and presence, and sight and touch. “I could not tell you whether part of my conscious or unconscious comes to life in these processes,” he once said. “It is the physical act of painting that . . . ratifies the urgency of my ideas, connecting all the actual elements I rub, print or project on the canvas. That is when the subconscious is released, materializing itself through digging, pasting, and tracing.”

Roche Rabell’s work has been exhibited widely and belongs to the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Miami Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Juan. In 2016, large-scale still lifes and self-portraits from his “blue period,” made between 2007 and 2016, were shown in an exhibition titled “The Blue of Ruins” that was held at Point of Contact gallery in Syracuse, New York.

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