The art of Puerto Rican painter Patrick McGrath Muñiz pays homage to the artist’s unique cultural heritage while initiating a dialogue that connects the past to the present. Muñiz spent the first 28 years of his life in Puerto Rico where he was raised by his mother and exposed to the Roman Catholic tradition of his family. Muñiz, whose identification with Hispanic culture is a large motivator for his work, moved to the United States in 2003 to obtain his master’s degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design. At nearly 30 years old Muñiz met his Irish American father for the first time, leading to the discovery of another family lineage and subsequently, new venues of inspiration for his art. “I feel that an artist has to dig deep into his own roots,” says Muñiz. “If you really know who you are, then you know what you’re doing or at least have a clear direction for your work.”
Muñiz blends his American and Hispanic heritage in his paintings by inserting symbols of American consumerism, pop culture and mass media into religious contexts influenced by Spanish colonial art. Muñiz uses this as a platform to address current social and political issues, particularly the way our consumerist society affects the environmental and social climate. Growing up in Puerto Rico in the 1980s and 90s allowed Muñiz to witness the economy’s industrialization and subsequent bankruptcy. He recalls the development of his grandfather’s farm, where a forest of 100-year-old trees was destroyed to build a strip mall that now stands empty among busy highways and car dealerships. Now living in Houston, Texas, the artist sees similar trends of overpopulation, traffic and industrialization. In his recent work, Muñiz is reflecting on this topic and the impact that humankind and big businesses have on the economy and most importantly, the environment. The artist channels his frustration with current politics into his art. “I just have to paint,” he says. “That’s my natural reaction.”
Muñiz’ retablos and triptychs in the Spanish Market Group Show are based on biblical or catholic imagery with undertones of environmental concerns. Symbolism found in pieces like “George’s Predicament” and “The Tree of Human Progress” comment on the major mass extinctions that have occurred in earth’s history and the destruction caused by humans. “Pipe Dream Divine” is a traditionally painted wooden triptych that depicts the sacred Madonna haloed with gas cans standing behind a seven-headed serpent. This piece points to the environmental, social and political issues associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline. Muñiz responds to the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in “Diluvium,” a painting of refugees crowding a small boat on a flooded Houston highway. Mythical creatures such as mermaids and sea monsters surround the boat, symbolizing climate change deniers and the power of myth. Humans and animals alike occupy the boat in a Noah’s ark style scene, some frantically bailing water while others remain oblivious to the situation, such as a young boy in a Mickey Mouse hat staring at his cell phone. Muñiz’ paintings contain timely story lines that are layered with complex streams of thought, which the artist explains in detail with accompanying narratives.
Muñiz believes that art shouldn’t be immune to what’s happening in the world. “I think many artists today and throughout history have been preoccupied with personal issues,” says Muñiz. “I think this is a time to be more preoccupied with things that are affecting the future of our species. It’s a time to be concerned for the survival of the planet and everything that lives in it. So for me, that’s the main reason why I paint.”
Muñiz will be featured in our Spanish Market Group Show along with Outsider / folk artist Nicholas Herrera. Attend the opening reception on Friday, July 28th from 5-7pm and see the exhibition through August 17th.