The Astonishing Art of Dionisio Blanco

The splendid variety and quality of artists in the Dominican Republic is often a surprise to the visitor, unaware of the island’s rich cultural heritage. In 1992, I was one of these unaware visitors, astonished and delighted by the originality of the painting I found even in Santo Domingo’s smallest galleries. I shared “my” discovery with my fellow North Americans over the years by writing about it and have re-visited the country to meet its marvelous artists. One of my favorites is the renowned, Dioniso Blanco. In his native Dominican Republic, Dionisio Blanco is an art critic, professor and artist whose work is exhibited in worldwide. Dionisio Blanco paints one subject: the Dominican sower. His sower images explores issues with which he has long been preoccupied: Latin American culture, the metaphysical role of the peasant, and the representation of idea as object. Yet, they remain enigmatic paintings for they are of the earth — of human labor that is almost palpable and at the same time they are paintings of the opposite — of dream and illusion. In Dionisio Blanco’s most recent work, the image of the sower is often transformed. Sometimes sower evolves into a fantasy of sower elements. The sower might transform into a palm tree, while other curiously elongated “sculpted sowers”, some with hula hoop rings and others with truncated bodies, seem to inhabit a haphazard lush landscape that includes palm trees, hanging fish, houses and Blanco’s own signature, be-whiskered, maleveolent-lookig birds. Enigmatic, sensual, seemingly trembling with vibrant color sunlight, invite us to make surprising emotional connections. His paintings which have enchanted me over the years with their shimmering strange truths, speak of things we know, but have not yet learned to articulate. In this way Blanco’s paintings are like dreams that through their very strangeness make us see anew. Indeed the artist himself declares, “I believe that painting is always an act completely contrary to reality and in that way is similar to a profound and deep dream.”

In Blanco’s art the mundane joins hands with the mythical. Paradoxically, the faceless sowers are both unique fanciful creations of the artist’s personal mythology as well as universal worker archetypes. For above all, Blanco is examining and portraying with the utmost love, the peasant, the essence of his Dominican homeland, and in this respect his work exists in the same serious social context as did Daumier’s.

I believe the enigma of Blanco’s art — it’s ability to haunt — lies in the emotional truth, the “heart knowledge” of the peasant that permeates these vivid, beautiful scenes. For when we look at a Dionisio Blanco painting we are seeing not only the objective life of the sower, we are seeing the sower look at his life subjectively, and we are seeing the sower seeing himself seeing himself. Thus, a subjective reality is mirrored in the landscape and in fact, in many of Blanco’s paintings, the landscape is a mirror. The artist shows us that reality becomes indistinguishable from its own reflection and the effect is not merely a surreal painting that distorts truth for cleverness, but a surreal painting that delivers us several truths at once, the very hallmark of great art. The statement of Paul Klee is apt to Blanco’s art here: “Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes it visible.”

Published by Maxine Rose Schur

Maxine Rose Schur has a passion for travel and for art and has combined these two loves in many of her award-winning travel essays. Maxine's essays have appeared in numerous publications including, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Escape, Américas, Caribbean Travel & Life, Northwest Airlines World Traveler, Insight Guide to Hispaniola, LION Magazine, Traveller (U.K.) National Geographic Explorer and Salon.com. Her essays have been anthologized in several Traveler’s Tales series, Salon.Com Wanderlust: Real-life Tales of Adventure and Romance and Paris in Mind, both published by Random House and The Kindness of Strangers by Lonely Planet/Pantheon Books. In 1995 and again in 1999, Maxine won the Lowell Thomas Award given by the Society of American Travel Writers for excellence in adventure travel journalism. Maxine Rose Schur is also the author of critically-acclaimed, award-winning books for young people including picture books and historical novels. Her non-fiction for adults includes the art-filled gift journals: The Reading Woman and Enchanted Islands: Voices and Visions from the Caribbean, Solo Passages and the travel narrative, Places in Time, named 2007 Best Travel Book by the North American Travel Journalists Association and named Best Travel Narrative of 2007 (Gold) from the Society of American Travel Writers.

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