Puerto Rican Artist's Future Solid as a Rock

By RICARDO VAZQUEZ
© 1999 LatinoLink

December 17, 1999

Many artists take their inspiration from nature. For Radamés Rivera, nature is art itself.

Rivera takes fossil rock from his Puerto Rican homeland and turns it into objects d'art. The coral pink, red, blue and silver hues of his sculptures and other objects are the result of millions of years of natural processes left set in stone, including the petrified remains of creatures that once inhabited the island.

As an artist, Rivera creates as much as he reveals -- each layer of stone uncovering a chapter in the geological history of Puerto Rico.

It's not surprising then that Rivera came to art with a scientific background. "I studied archeology in Mexico's Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia back in 76 and 77," said Rivera, who returned to the island about three years ago to discover what he calls widespread destruction of nature.

"My mother had two or three fossil rocks that she had found in a yard," said Rivera. So he turned them into sculptures, marking the beginning of an artistic career that certainly distinguishes itself by the novelty and innovation of the materials used.

"I started to go to mogotes (rock formations the size of small hills), stone quarries, you name it," he said. "And I started to discover the history of Puerto Rico."

It is a history few islanders have any idea about. For example, not many people know that the island has been under water three times throughout its evolution, said Rivera. Even fewer probably know that some of the fossils he works with are more than 35 million years old.

In dealing with a medium he calls a "national treasure," Rivera exchanged his archeologist's notebook for a new set of artist's tools -- chisels, saws and diamond cutters. They allow him to cut, clean and peel away impurities to reveal what he refers to as "a small library of natural history." In it, one can find coral, snail shells, clam shells and all the minutia of marine life from centuries ago.

Each of Rivera's pieces is a lesson in geology, and Rivera seems to enjoy pointing out the association between humans and nature as they relate to time. "I do a lot of clocks set in pieces of fossil," said Rivera. "It creates an analogy with the fossil representing time, millions of years of it, and the clock representing the present time.

His clocks also work on a level of irony: The juxtaposition of an almost timeless piece of rock and a mechanical clock that regulates our daily routine. "Why are you in so such a rush?" seems to be the artistic message.

"What they're seeing is the tragic comedy of life," said Rivera, who quickly added, "after all, we're all going to end up as fossil anyway."

In addition to his artistic statement on time, Rivera's work also makes a strong commentary on the environment as well. He said he's been horrified by the destruction of the mogotes in Puerto Rico, or what he calls a "butcher shop" of rocks. "I've seen mogotes one day, and then a month later I go by the same place and it's disappeared," said Rivera.

He likened the obliteration of natural rock formations in Puerto Rico to the cutting of the rainforests in Brazil. "This is a country where a realtor can buy a hillside, sell it to a quarry that will turn it into sand, and leave it completely flat and ready for urban development," complained Rivera.

It is precisely for this reason Rivera doesn't see his work as simply art, but also an attempt to educate the public about the island's precious natural resources.

Still, an appreciation for the beauty of his fossil pieces remains the main attraction. At Rivera's Galería Fósil Arte, one can find fossils set in stone, paperweights and other pieces that have been cleaned but left intact, such as giant snail and clam shells, some 10 to 12 inches in length.

"It sometimes looks like Jurassic Park in here," joked Rivera. "But people love it because the objects and the idea of using fossil rock is so unique and original."

Rivera began with a few sculptures that he gave to friends as gifts. But so many admirers developed an interest in his pieces that calls soon poured in from throughout the island and places like New York and even France.

"One of the reasons I think people have received my work with such enthusiasm is that it allows them to talk not just about the piece, but also about the history it evokes," he said.

In addition to exhibits, Rivera said his work will not be complete without a campaign to educate the public and begin conservation efforts. Said the artist: "We want to do a program to preserve this national patrimony."

 

Note: You can reach Galería Fósil Arte at Tel. 787-725-4252 Cel. 787-671-4159
or via e-mail at galeriainfo@fosilarte.com - galeria1@caribe.net.