Today we’d like to introduce you to Lope Max Díaz.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
My story begins in Puerto Rico, where I was born in 1943. Two years later, my family emigrated to New York City, where my father started off working in lower Manhattan, in the garment sector of the needle industry. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, although sporadically, she worked as a seamstress. In the early 1950s, my dad became a clergyman, and by the middle of that decade, my family had grown to eight: 5 sisters, my parents, and me. In 1956, we returned to Puerto Rico, where my father continued his career in ministry.
Because I had done my grammar school and part of middle school in NYC, I only knew how to read and write in English and could barely communicate in Spanish. My return to Puerto Rico came as an educational shock. However, with lots of help from my parents, especially my mother, I quickly overcame my Spanish language deficiencies and survived!
By this time, my interest in art had already been awakened. It was first sparked and nourished in the public schools of NYC. I remember, quite vividly, being complimented by my teachers for the arts and crafts projects that I created, as well as those I did in my industrial arts classes. During my middle and high school years in Puerto Rico, my elective courses were always in industrial arts, but it wasn’t until my college years that I was exposed to art, design, and architecture. In high school, my dream was to study architecture in college and become an architect, but there was no school of architecture in Puerto Rico at the time. Instead, I enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
After graduation, I was hired as a public-school art teacher in Puerto Rico. I loved the experience so much that I promptly made the decision to become an art and design educator and a practicing professional artist.
For graduate school, I chose Hunter College CUNY, mainly to learn from Mark Rothko, who was teaching there at the time. But becoming his student was not to be. In the winter of 1970, Rothko took his own life. While at Hunter, I did get exposed to the minds and teachings of influential teachers, including Howard Davis and Linda Nochlin in Art History – and Ralph Humphrey, Doug Ohlson, Robert Barry, George Hofmann, and John Baldessari in Art Studio.
Upon my return to Puerto Rico in 1971, I taught art at the high school level for a few years, then at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, and later at my alma mater UPR. There, I taught art and design in the Fine Arts Department and School of Architecture.
In 1988, I accepted a faculty position in the College of Design at North Carolina State University. My wife and I moved with our young son and daughter to Raleigh, where our family thrived, and my kids went on to have successful careers: my son as a prosecutor and my daughter as a television news reporter.
In 2009, after teaching for 41 years – 20 in Puerto Rico and 21 in North Carolina – it was time to retire … 41 years in the classroom were enough for me! Throughout the years, my family and I traveled to Boston to visit relatives and friends in New England and frequented local galleries and museums. My daughter went on to earn a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University. Today, I continue to mentor former students and young emerging artists, while staying active and productive, and exhibiting my artwork as a professional artist.
Please tell us about your art.
I can best describe what I do as colorful, abstract, geometric, constructivist paintings with a variety of materials. I enjoy the construction aspect involved in building my paintings as much as the brushwork. In my paintings, I strive to express who I am, where I come from, and what I think and feel about the significant experiences in my life.
The content and subject matter in my paintings emanates from autobiographical constructs. With them, I also explore formal and conceptual issues in painting and art history that are of my interest. The physicality of the materials used responds to the narrative that is being constructed; some sort of cause-effect relationship is established. The materials become active participants of the visual discourse that is unfolding in the painting. The compositions are a continuous tension between the formal and the informal, the static and the dynamic. Color carries the load of my expressive being; with it, I give tangibility to my feelings, emotions, and craves. The titles of my paintings are all in Spanish – an affirmation of my identity as a Puerto Rican artist.
Given everything that is going on in the world today, do you think the role of artists has changed? How do local, national or international events and issues affect your art?
The role of artists, as witnesses that testify, through their art, ideas, and actions of the time, place, events, and circumstances that life has dealt to them, hasn’t changed, it only seems that it might have, given that Art, much like life, is in constant change.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
Please visit my website and Instagram page to see my artwork and learn more about it. You can also contact me directly for information on how and where to see the paintings in person.
All images of paintings only: Michael Zirkle