"Legacy of Place"
June 18, 2021
Born in Havana, Cuba; raised in Texas; and presently living in Tallahassee, Florida, Lilian Garcia-Roig's landscape paintings examine ideas of place, belonging, identity, and perceptual experience. Legacy of Place features work from four of the artist's series, including Plein-Aired Histories, Fluid Perception: Banyan as Metaphor, Hyphenated Nature, and Hecho con Cuba.
Drawing from the perceptual to conceptual experiences of landscape, Garcia-Roig’s paintings use the materiality and process of paint to explore her own connections to land and place. Her on-site works, painted over the course of an entire day, are immersive expressions of bodily movement, fleeting moments of time, and the illusionistic and abstracting possibilities of painting.
Garcia-Roig’s practice links her Cuban and American identities. In the included four series, she speaks to the differences in the experience of place—the closeness of the American South versus the forced distance of the Cuban landscape. Referencing histories of painting, representations of land, and legacies of place, the works express the complexity of her hyphenated identity.
As an on-site painter, place is integral to both my subject and process. I make large, often multiple-panel on-site oil painting installations of dense landscapes that overwhelm the viewer’s perceptual senses. Each individual painting is created over the course of the day in an intense, wet-on-wet cumulative manner that underscores the complex nature of trying to capture the multidimensional and ever-changing experience of being in that specific location over time.
Formally the works are about the materiality of the paint and the physicality of the painting process, in which the figure and the ground are actively exchanging places. This highlights the contrast and interplay between the illusionist possibilities of painting and its true abstract and material nature, while also alluding to the active, perceptual experience one has when negotiating actual 3D spaces. From a distance, I draw the viewer into what is first perceived as a dense but conventional space. Up close, however, the images break down; the lush, gestural paint marks, squeezed-out paint patches and areas of raw canvas help, instead, to reinforce the 2D character of abstract painting as both an activity and an end product. Ultimately my “all-day” plein-air paintings have become documents of a real-time process: the accumulation of fleeting moments, the experience of the day.
On a more personal level, I have realized that all of the on-site works I’ve made in the U.S. have, at their core, been about trying to negotiate the complex propositions of sense of place and belonging which so influence the construction of personal identity. I am drawn to wilderness out of a deep psychological need to connect. In America, I am uninterested in conventional vistas, and it is in seemingly unclaimed or raw, dense natural spaces that I feel the most at home, where I am temporarily invited yet never fully allowed to enter.
I believe this comfort with and parallel aesthetic attraction to complex spaces comes from my background as a Cuban refugee. As a first-generation immigrant, I had to be open to seeing things from at least two culturally distinct and often opposing perspectives. Unsurprisingly, these identity struggles are common themes in Latin American art of the last few decades, in which the postmodern Latin American subject is fragmented and fluid, with multiple unresolved and at times contradictory identities. It turns out my creative work, like my life, has always been about improvisation and reconciliation.
Like my Cuban-American identity, my work can be broken down into two distinct but interrelated categories: the American-made works (30 year’s worth) and the very new and developing Cuban-made and -inspired works that explore the idea of a hyphenated-nature and offer a more conceptual approach in reconciling my Cuban and American pictorial and personal identities.
Garcia-Roig has shown nationally at such places as the Americas Society Gallery in New York City; the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Art Museum of the Americas, both in Washington, D.C.; and extensively in the south, especially in Texas and Florida. Internationally, she has shown at the Chopo Museum in Mexico City and Byblos Art Gallery in Verona, Italy. She had a large work included in Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago, which opened in 2017 at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach as one of the Getty-funded Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibitions that traveled to several museums across the country through 2019. Recently she was included in the 2019 Florida Prize in Contemporary Art exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art and in the Florida Contemporary at the Baker Museum in Naples.
She received a master of fine art from the University of Pennsylvania (1990) and a bachelor of fine art from Southern Methodist University (1988). From 1991 to 2000 she was a tenured associate professor of studio art at the University of Texas at Austin and in 2001 was a visiting associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of Art Practice. She then moved to Tallahassee, where she became the director of graduate studies in studio art from 2002-2008. Currently she is a professor at Florida State University, where she serves as chair of the Department of Art.
In 2021 Garcia-Roig was named a Guggenheim Fellow in fine arts. Other major awards include a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award in painting, a Mid-America Arts Alliance/NEA Fellowship Award in painting, State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship Award in painting, and a Kimbrough Award from the Dallas Museum of Art. Residencies include being a visiting artist at the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, a Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship, a Vermont Studio Center Artist Fellowship, and a MacDowell Colony Milton and Sally Avery Fellowship.
In 2017 she was an artist-in-residence at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans, where she developed an entirely new body of work (Hecho Con Cuba) that responded to her experience of finally being able to work in her homeland. While in Cuba, she was able to walk in the footsteps of the great landscape painters who had worked in the iconic Viñales Valley before her. Garcia-Roig made a series of perceptually-based work (Hecho En Cuba) while also thinking about the idea of a hyphenated-nature and hoping that that the Cuban-American perspective she brought with her would produce new works that ultimately offered a pictorial reconciliation between her Cuban and American identities.