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Here is what the Museum of Puerto Rican Art (home to many of his works) has to say about the work of Santos Rene Irizarry:
”His painting, very personal and expressive, was considered controversial in the early sixties because of its subject deep, mysterious and sometimes grotesque. His portraits of alcoholics, homeless, drug addicts and patients are full of allegorical meanings, religious, social and political changes that reveal an artist of great expressive power and great sensitivity.”
Painter, graphic artist and printmaker, Santos Rene, was born in Lares Puerto Rico in 1934. He studied art at the University of Puerto Rico with Carlos Marichal and at the Galeria Campeche with Domingo Garcia in San Juan. In 1958 he was selected by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture to study art at the National School of Plastic Arts Academy of San Carlos in Mexico. It was during this time that he was in direct contact with Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo and Jose Clemente Orozco.
Art collectors, Anne and Arthur Granick, (The Granick Family Collection) discovered the work of Santos Rene in a Gallery owned by Don Roberto during one of their annual trips to Puerto Rico. The Granicks started to collect the work of Santos Rene, and within a few years they began a quest to meet the artist in person and purchase more of his works. Eventually they were able to track him down and purchase many drawings and other works directly from him.
This is how gallery owner Don Roberto described the life and work of Santos Rene in a brochure printed for one of the artist’s one-man exhibitions in 1964:
“Santos Rene, at thirty, is one of Puerto Rico's most controversial young artists, particularly in regard to subject matter. He paints alcoholics, street walkers, drug addicts, people who are sick or diseased...all with vivid empathy. When dealing with more conventional subjects, he injects sharp satire - almost traversity. The Church is one of his favorite whipping posts.
Regardless of theme, his approach is impassioned. He gives the feeling that his drawings and his paintings are dashed off in a frenzy to express himself...a medieval knight dispatching the enemy on the battlefield!
Probably the most stylistic influence discerned in his work is the result of his Mexican studies. This is only natural as he won the opportunity of studying there under a Scholarship awarded to him by the Cultural Institute. In this formative period he was in direct contact with Tamayo...Orozco...Rivera...Castelar...all of whom are among the accepted "greats" of Mexican painters.
Added to this Latin-American influences, there are distinct overtones of the French Impressionists...Van Gogh...Renoir...Gauguin. To these he has added the dynamic wire-like line as employed by Delacroix.
Even in Santos Rene's oils there is a graphic feeling - a respect for linear quality. His use of line covers a wide range...from economy...from thick to thin...from clear and smooth to nervous and tight.
To some extent this versatility is to be seen in his oil paintings. These show technique ranging from fatty, thickly painted panelles to thin almost transparent lightness. Some brushwork flows in long sweeping lines to short angry jabs of completely opposite character.
Working in oils seems to stimulate Santos Rene into highly complex design, filled with allegorical, social, religious and political significance. He allows and encourages an emotional quality in his work, a most refreshing feeling in an era when things are pigeon-holed and paraphrased into self-contained boxes...when it is bad taste to speak out; and to state an original thought is heresy.
Right or wrong Santos Rene presents himself as he is...sometimes one...sometimes the other. He is as honest in his work as he knows how to be. His style may change later as he is still very young but he will always be devoid of the Conventional Shell.”
Solo Exhibitions: Galería Oller, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1965 Galería Don Roberto, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1964 Galería Campeche, San Juan, Puerto Rico , 1959 Galería Pintadera, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1956 Ateneo Puertorriqueño, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1956
Group Exhibitions: Puerto Rican Painting: Between Past and Present, The Squibb Gallery, Princeton, Nueva Jersey, Estados Unidos, 1987 Gráfica Puertorriqueña, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1963 Dos siglos de pintura puertorriqueña, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1962 El dibujo como medio de expresión, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico , 1958
Museum Collections: Cooperativa de Seguros Múltiples de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico