Latino art exhibit features Dominican artist

Dominician artist's vibrant, bold works in Latino exhibition
BY KELLE BARR, mlive.com, October 11, 2009

PORTAGE -- While Erick Pichardo grew up in the Dominican Republic, his father never could get a grasp on his son's passion for the arts, especially for oil painting.

Art, the Dominican government employee told his boy, was a hobby -- but certainly not a wise career aspiration.

“He told me that as an artist I was going to suffer a lot and he would ask, `Why not a doctor or an attorney? Why not an engineer?,''' recalled Pichardo, grinning. “He didn't like it.''

Pichardo, who is also a dancer, musician and writer, had different ideas. He discovered early that he could express himself artistically with much more satisfaction than other forms of communication.

And although his father didn't embrace the notion, he supplied a constant stream of loving, unconditional support by financing music, dance and art lessons, as well as the education that would help Pichardo further his dream of being an artist. Pichardo said not everyone attends high school in the Caribbean country of his birth, which is on the island of Hispaniola, with Haiti on the western side of it. However, he was fortunate to have a family who could finance it. And, Pichardo is pleased to report, by the time he reached adulthood, the elder Pichardo finally came to terms with the passion that drives his son.

“He knows what this means to me now,'' said Pichardo, now of Grand Rapids, who is one of six Latino-Americans whose artwork is on exhibit at the Portage District Library. “He comes to my shows and sees my paintings. I am an artist, and now he really gets it.''

Pichardo's work is displayed all over the Grand Rapids and Holland area, where he works and is frequently exhibited and lives with his wife and young son.

His oils and mixed-media works are a dramatic splash of vivid color, defined by bold, contrasting hues and abstract, flowing images. Many of his pieces in the Portage District Library show, for which there is an artists' reception today and presentation, are large and distinctly characterized with interesting texture that Pichardo created using soil, sand or eggshells on the canvas. Pichardo has dabbled in watercolor, but said it doesn't provide the flexibility or vibrancy that he needs.

“I love oil,'' said Pichardo. “It allows me to play with the pigments and the textures flowing through the canvas.''

Using his brush to express his emotions, childhood memories, his faith and his strong feelings on social issues such as hunger and child abuse, some of his pieces are whimsical or uplifting, some dream-like, reflective and others haunting.

His native language is Spanish, but Pichardo calls himself a “Caribbean artist'' partially to honor the black portion of his island's heritage. It's something Pichardo is proud of and often illustrates to potential clients as they discuss his background, but he said it has cost him some sales.

“Six or seven times it has happened to me,'' Pichardo said. “But it never happens here. Kalamazoo is so cultural and diverse -- I love it.''

Pichardo plays several instruments, including congas and bongos and timbales, and performs interpretive dance. He sometimes blends those artistic elements with readings of his poetry during special exhibitions.

And although its his oils that Pichardo is known so well for, it's the words that flow from his heart onto paper that wife, Alma Suarez, said made her fall for her husband of eight years.

“He wrote me beautiful love letters every single day,'' she said. “And poems, too. He really has a gift. It made me feel so special -- how many people can write words that way?''

Pichardo said he didn't choose his profession -- rather, it was genetically assigned to him.

“I didn't decide to be an artist, I was born an artist,'' Pichardo said. “And I'm proud of that."

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