Wilfred Labiosa: Painting Abstracts, Landscapes, and the Old San Juan


Photo Credit: Galería W. Labiosa

Wilfred Labiosa (1937-2015) captivated his audience with his modern abstract representations and his famous renditions of Old San Juan scenery. His art has made its way around the world with exhibits in Japan, Australia, New York and his very own gallery in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

He passed away unexpectedly this summer and to honor his memory there is currently an exhibition, Impulsivismo: A Retrospective of works by Wilfred Labiosa” put together by his son, also Wilfred Labiosa, showcasing a selection of his life’s works which is coming soon to our gallery, in Villa Victoria Center for the Arts on November 10th. We had the chance to speak with him about his father’s legacy, just in time for opening night.

Labiosa was born in New York and started the study of his craft in the Fashion Institute of Technology before moving to San Juan and continuing his education at the Inter-American University. Although his parents were Puerto Rican, it wasn’t until later in his life that he began to experience his heritage in an artistic way. “When he married my mom he was introduced to Puerto Rico in images and sounds,” explained the young Labiosa. “Even though his parents were from the island, they didn’t bring any pictures, but my mom did.”

He moved to Puerto Rico in the 60s, and fell in love with the country. He became an art professor at Sagrado Corazón University, maintaining that “Art is what leads youth through the path of intelligence.” But, his true passion was always to make art, not teach it. “He wanted to showcase Puerto Rico and a little bit of Massachusetts and New York,” said Labiosa. “He wanted us to be reminded of where we came from and where we live.”

Labiosa 3

Photo Credit: Galería W. Labiosa

The late Labiosa is one of the most acclaimed Puerto Rican artists to use watercolor, although his son explains that his use of the material is a common misconception, he was actually an advocate for acrylics instead. “He only painted watercolor in the beginning. In Puerto Rico he realized that it would fade away because of the weather,” Labiosa said. “So he switched to acrylics with watercolor techniques. He was able to mold and to really control the acrylics.” Although acrylic is a difficult medium to master, he skillfully incorporated it into his work and taught others to do the same.

Labiosa opened his gallery in the early 60s, withstanding the artistic crisis undergoing Puerto Rico a few years back that caused over 30 galleries to close. It is still open now, being managed by the younger Labiosa. His son thinks there is a very special reason this artist was able to flourish that sets him apart. “Art is for everyone, not just a privilege. That’s something my dad taught me,” he said. “That’s why he survived. He had a wide range of prices in his pieces so that everyone could take and enjoy his art.”

Galería W. Labiosa

Galería W. Labiosa

His abstract paintings, part of his “Impulsivismo” collection from the 80s possess a relaxing quality. He used textile design, as well as Japanese technique and mixed it in with the Puerto Rican landscapes that became his trademark. Through his use of loose brushstrokes and warm colors; he invites viewers to forget their troubles and immerse themselves in the work before them.

Photo Credit: Galería W. Labiosa

Photo Credit: Galería W. Labiosa

His paintings are characterized by his attention to detail and a particular way of depicting scenes, interpreting them through a unique perspective that invites his audience to rethink what they know and what they’ve seen.

However, although his style evolved, Labiosa never changed. “He was always creative and focused on putting out there what he wanted to create,” his son said. “He’s not like other artists, when they transform themselves into a modern artist and they may forget the first piece they ever did. My dad never did. He always kept Puerto Rico as his focus.

Labiosa left behind a valuable collection of art. Not only his own, but of great Puerto Rican artists that are displayed in his gallery. “Through art, he will always be with us,” said Labiosa.

Come experience his legacy yourself and bring your own perspective to his masterpieces, on opening night of “Impulsivismo: A Retrospective of works by Wilfred Labiosa,” November 10th. For more info click here.

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