by The Editors | October 27, 2021

See a Powerful Portrait of Puerto Rico at the Rollins Museum of Art

Two divergent artists illustrate the natural brilliance of Puerto Rico in this new exhibit at the Winter Park museum.

Frances Gallardo. Carmen, 2011. Cut paper, collage. Private collection, Miami, FL.

In September of 2017, Puerto Rico was besieged by Mother Nature. As Hurricane Maria roared ashore as a Category 4 storm, the island was deluged with wind and rain, triggering devastating flooding, wiping out the electrical grid and ripping apart roads like strips of paper. The storm was a powerful reminder of the island’s vulnerability to nature’s sometimes violent whims, and it forever changed the people of Puerto Rico, millions of whom were left without power, shelter and basic needs for nearly a year. 

Frances Gallardo's work is influenced by her childhood in San Juan. Photo courtesy of Frances Gallardo.

Now, on the fourth anniversary of this defining disaster, the work of two artists with roots in Puerto Rico comes together at the Rollins Museum of Art in Winter Park to tell the story of this resilient island molded by nature. In Growth, Breadth, and Terrain, which will run through Dec. 31, Frances Gallardo and Nathan Budoff examine the relationship between humans and the natural world to reveal a 360-degree view of the complex Caribbean island. 

Using media including laser-cut paper and needlework, Frances Gallardo portrays natural phenomena in the Caribbean. Growing up in San Juan, Gallardo noticed that the island she lived on was in constant conversation with the meteorological world, but it wasn’t until she moved to New York in her early 20s that she thought to examine these events from a satellite view. With newfound distance from her childhood home, Gallardo began poring over infrared images of hurricanes and using them as inspiration to carve delicate, lace-like portraits of the swirling spectacles from paper. Ten pieces from Gallardo’s Hurricane series will appear as part of the Growth, Breadth, and Terrain exhibit at the Rollins Museum of Art.

“What I love about that series, too, is that the idea behind all those little portraits of the hurricanes is that they try to convey that sense of the particularity of a hurricane,” she says. “You’ll be able to see the differences in texture, technique, even contour, and that will hopefully underline that whole play with how every single hurricane is different.”

Nathan Budoff. Rising Water, 2017, oil and shellac-based ink on canvas. Lent by artist, Nathan Budoff.

Not only hurricanes have captured Gallardo’s artistic eye. Numerous other environmental marvels that can be viewed from above, like the Saharan Air Layer and the movement patterns of mosquitoes, are present in her work Murmuration, at the exhibit.

Artist Nathan Budoff has lived in Puerto Rico for over two decades. Photo courtesy of Nathan Budoff.

While Gallardo’s work takes an abstract, aerial approach to Puerto Rico’s environmental wonders, artist Nathan Budoff zooms in on the island’s signature streetscapes and cities, often incorporating vibrant wildlife in unexpected places. 

“There’s one part of it that’s just intuitive. It’s fun, it’s playful, it’s trying to enjoy the idea of the richness and variety of the world and think about how things could interact in some imaginary possible future,” Budoff says. “But also there’s a point of trying to bring more visibility to natural life.”

Originally from Massachusetts, Budoff has called Puerto Rico home for more than 25 years, and it frequently serves as the backdrop for his fantastical compositions. Always one to buck the natural order of things, Budoff regularly features wildlife intermingling with other creatures or spaces that are atypical in his work. In Cosmic Love, two vivid red octopuses dance above skyscrapers and powerlines. 

While his artwork has an air of whimsy about it, he hopes that the bright colors and unusual pairing of animals and landscapes prompt viewers to consider the environment around them and how they care for it.

Frances Gallardo's Murmuration (mosquito cloud), 2017. Installation of laser cut paper pinned on wall. Courtesy of artist.

Each artist’s work offers an unusual look at their shared home, but when brought together, their art spurs a meaningful dialogue about the environmental, social and political forces at play in Puerto Rico. 

“I think they’re really looking at this relationship between human and nature, and what are the implications here if we think about our relationship from a different perspective,” says Gisela Carbonell, curator at the Rollins Museum of Art. 

Perhaps no other piece embodies this dialogue better than the one these artists worked on together during the pandemic. For more than a year, they mailed a large canvas back and forth from Gallardo’s studio in Ithaca, New York, to Budoff’s studio in San Juan. Upon arrival, each artist would add a new element to the canvas—bees from Budoff, drawings from Gallardo. Finally, it was mailed to the Rollins Museum of Art, where it will make its debut in the Growth, Breadth, and Terrain exhibit. An oversized letter between artists about the ever-changing island they’ve both called home.

Sponsored by the Rollins Museum of Art