Rafael Tufiño, Goyita

A portrait of the artist’s mother, Goyita symbolizes the resilience of Puerto Rico.

Rafael Tufiño, Goyita, 1953, oil on canvas, 65.1 x 41.3 cm (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, San Juan, Puerto Rico). Speakers: Dr. Tamara Díaz Calcaño and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:04] We’re in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, or the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture, and I’m captivated by this portrait of a woman that is so striking because the way that she is cropped, where her face immediately confronts us. This is Rafael Tufiño’s “Goyita,” from 1953.

Dr. Tamara Díaz Calcaño: [0:27] This is Gregoria Figueroa, the mother of the artist, and conceived as a monument to his mother. This is the third of three portraits that he worked on and this is the one that he was truly satisfied with and his mother also loved it.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:43] Tufiño has placed her close up in the composition. It’s as if he’s taken a sculpted portrait bust of his mother and placed it inside a frame, and so we’re seeing her from the shoulders up and her head takes up the vast majority of the composition.

[1:01] He has painted her as this confident, strong woman who looks outwards to just beyond us, as if something has caught her attention that’s more important than our presence.

Dr. Calcaño: [1:14] Behind her, we see a landscape, not as detailed as the portrait itself, but we have enough to appreciate the representation of small houses, little roads, and three figures spread around the background.

[1:28] We see two figures seemingly playing on a stream. Then we find a small figure, what seems to be a boy with a satchel, and this has been interpreted by some as a possible self-portrait of a young Tufiño.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:42] Tufiño has paid such careful attention in the brushwork and the color of “Goyita”.

[1:47] The background has this much sketchier quality, we can even see what looks like some of the underpainting. The figures themselves are hard to make out, painted with only a few brushstrokes. Even the buildings have this less-defined quality. What this does is it forces us to look very directly at Goyita, and she is the clear focus of this painting.

Dr. Calcaño: [2:11] We have a colder quality to the colors in the background. That contrasts, very harmoniously, with the warm quality of the representation of Goyita: her red head wrap, the warm quality of her skin, also highlighting how masterfully Tufiño used painting.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:30] Tufiño’s brushwork and his color harmonies are beautifully displayed in this painting. If we’re standing very close to Goyita’s face, we see how he’s used a rainbow color palette to work her skin, to give the impression of its warmth.

[2:45] We see daubs of a very pale blue, we see oranges and golds, grays and taupes, but also a reddish ocher color. He’s using color to give character, to almost imbue life into Goyita.

Dr. Calcaño: [3:02] That use of color, especially around the eyes, does emphasize her gaze. The way that he uses that light blue not only complements the representation of her physically but also creates a chromatic link with the rest of the composition.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [3:17] His use of light and shadow to give her this three-dimensional quality is one of the reasons I get the impression of her as a sculptural bust. There is something truly monumentalizing about the way that he’s painted his mother.

Dr. Calcaño: [3:31] The context in which this painting was made, in the early 1950s, is also quite relevant. We are at a time of great change politically for Puerto Rico, where we have artists responding to new changes like the establishment of the Free Associated State in 1952, for example, that defined the current relationship between the US and Puerto Rico.

[3:55] We have a local government, which is headed by Luis Muñoz Marín, that is very interested in the representation and the highlight of a Puerto Rican identity and culture separate from the politics.

[4:08] We see many artists like Tufiño and others turning to the workers, the working class, the everyday people, the jíbaros, the people from the countryside, as inspiration for their work, as a way to capture and represent Puerto Rican people and hence Puerto Rican identity and culture.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [4:28] It’s a way of heroizing the people, but without romanticizing them. Before Tufiño is painting this, portraits typically are showing those in power, the elites, and so the fact that he’s showing an everyday woman is an important moment for Tufiño and others at this time in the 1950s.

Dr. Calcaño: [4:47] The representation of everyday people, people from the countryside, is not particularly new, there’s already a tradition of this in Puerto Rican art.

[4:57] But what we find in the 1940s and 1950s is that there’s an interest in representing people also in urban settings, in places like Barrio San José, which is the setting of this painting.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [5:09] His interest in everyday people, in workers, is partially informed by his time in Mexico. He was at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City, which is where he received academic training in painting and also printmaking.

[5:25] While he was there, he came into contact with other artists who had similar interests in socially informed art, like Leopoldo Méndez and other printmakers at the Taller de Gráfica Popular. While he’s there, he’s able to see works by artists like José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, who were similarly socially informed.

Dr. Calcaño: [5:46] When he returned to Puerto Rico in 1949, he co-founded the Center for Puerto Rican Art with artists like Lorenzo Homar, who were interested in very similar topics to what he also became more familiar with in Mexico.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [6:01] This is a time when you have people who are looking for a national art, an art that is rooted in Puerto Rico in terms of what types of subjects, what types of styles, what types of work could embody that identity.

Dr. Calcaño: [6:15] We have that interest in representing the diversity in Puerto Rican society as a way of also emphasizing that this diversity is part of the culture and identity itself.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [6:27] Tufiño actually describes “Goyita” as the best representation of his painting.

[6:32] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Tamara Díaz Calcaño and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Rafael Tufiño, Goyita," in Smarthistory, July 13, 2023, accessed July 15, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/rafael-tufino-goyita/.