Whitehot Magazine

Rafael Trelles: The Imagined Word at Rollins Museum of Art

Rafael Trelles, Chilam Balam, 2019. Etching ink and acrylic, 30x22 in.

Rafael Trelles: The Imagined Word
Rollins Museum of Art
Through December 31, 2021


The Imagined Word, the United States’ premiere solo show of Puerto Rican painter and draftsman, Rafael Trelles, runs through 31 December 2021 at Rollins Museum of Art in Orlando, FL and presents a collection of 15 works based on the artist’s representation of characters from impactful works of Literature. 

University of Florida’s Professor Emeritus of Latin American Studies Dr. Efrain Barradas’ observes that unlike illustration, this body of work functions as a reverse Ekphrasis - Ekphrasis being the literary tradition that basis poetic texts on existing works of visual art. Although this symbolic movement from text to image is mostly implied in the works’ content, sometimes it is plainly depicted. In works such as About a story of Scherezade, (2017 Etching ink, 30”x22”) and Nick Bottom (2017 Etching ink, 30”x22”), flowery calligraphy descends into the optical reality of another’s presence; in The Golem (2019 Etching ink and acrylic, 30”x22”), impeccable Hebrew lettering hangs above the black splattered clay of the eponymous creature’s twisting visage. 

One can likewise observe that Trelles’ hand grants the featured personages widely varying levels of formal resolution. Characters from realist works such as Anna Karenina (After Aleksei Kolesov) (2018, Etching ink, 50”x36”) or Chilam Balam (2019 Etching ink and acrylic, 30”x22”) congeal into fragments of etheric human form while in The Metamorphosis (2019 Etching ink 36”x48”), a surrealist assemblage of insect, person and shoe snaps into focus as a discrete entity possessing contour and weight. Being the most resolved of the works, this latter example’s fullness is a testament to how the phantasmagoric is most well-suited to enjoy realization within the imaginal.

Rafael Trelles, About a story of Scherezade, 2017. Etching ink, 30x22 in.

Rafael Trelles, Nick Bottom, 2017. Etching ink, 30x22 in.

Despite such diverse stylistics, this series registers as a whole by virtue of Trelles’ consistent and narrow selection of materials. That these works were executed with only reference to his recollection of the texts (emphasizing the role of memory in this body of work) Trelles potentiates a conceptual relationship between the expanses of untouched paper and the process of extracting forms from an imagined source, betraying his sensibilities as a true surrealist. 

It is thus Trelles’ interpretation of his initial encounter with these works that is central to their significance as images rather than the original texts (as would be the case were they examples of illustration). Reflecting on the implications of this process, the dynamic relationship between imagination, memory, and consequently, identity emerges as a definitive theme. In affirming the necessity of a literary work’s subjective interpretation, Trelles implies that without exception, it is not the author but the reader who is always at the center of an encounter with a text.

On this note, Dr. Barradas astutely observes that despite their source material belonging to the category of what is termed ‘universal literature’, this show’s works are bereft of colonialist elements implied by such a term. It is Trelles’ sensitivity as a humanist that liberates the work from this unfortunate association and effects a true universalization – or as our friend Dr. Barradas puts it, “by making it his own, he makes it ours”. WM


Alfred Rosenbluth

Alfred Rosenbluth is an artist and researcher currently residing in the Philadelphia area. You can find him at @_aallffrreedd on instagram or through his website at www.alfredrosenbluth.com

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