The visual artist Antonio Martorell was in San Juan when Hurricane Maria made landfall Puerto Rico in September.
He lives a couple hours away in a small beach town and spent several frantic days worried sick about his family and workshop. But his home, his family and his studio all survived. And this gracious 78-year-old gentleman — seldom seen without one of his trademark hats — takes disaster as a matter of course.
“My home was safe. The garden was devastated, but we’re turning it into a zoo,” he said.
Martorell and his staff of five “collaborative artists,” as he calls them, have been painting fallen trees in vivid colors: “Turning them into fish, reptiles, birds, prehistoric animals. Some are already sprouting leaves because part of the roots are still on the ground,” he said.
“One of my mottos is ‘Finding grace is disgrace’ — making the most of everything. Being a Puerto Rican, that comes easily to me,” Martorell said.
Antonio Martorell found a way, despite blackout conditions, to get his prints, sketches, sculptures — and himself — to Linfield College in McMinnville this month for an exhibition two years in the making.
Prints show umbrellas bent — not broken — by gale-force winds. Hats stand stacked in teetering underwater structures. Martorell also created an installation, “Umbrella Wall,” in which dozens of stacked black umbrellas create, on one side, a towering black silk and steel barrier. On the other, the handles are tied together with cheerful cascades of red, white, and blue yarns.
Martorell is famous throughout the Latin world as an artist, a curator, a printmaker, a teacher, designer and more. He thrives in graphic disciplines like poster making, where his lyrical feel for color and warm humor can shine.
While he does find opportunity in disaster, he was mortified to hear an American President invoke limits to disaster aid and to see rolls of paper towels thrown into the crowd like T-shirts headed for the bleacher seats.
“I am an optimist,” he said. “I myself advocate independence for Puerto Rico. I think this attitude by the 45th President is going to help the cause of independence. If we’re going to come out of this, it’s because we’re going to get together and work.”
Antonio Martorell’s exhibition, “Rain/Lluvia” is on view at Linfield Gallery, at Linfield College, through Nov. 18.
He’ll give a talk Wednesday at Linfield at 7 p.m. in the Ice Auditorium.