Rican Artist's Future Solid as a Rock
artists take their inspiration from nature. For Radamés
Rivera, nature is art itself.
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.
an artist, Rivera creates as much as he reveals -- each layer of
stone uncovering a chapter in the geological history of Puerto Rico.
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
they're seeing is the tragic comedy of life," said Rivera,
who quickly added, "after all, we're all going to end up as
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."