Theses and Dissertations - UTB/UTPA

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)



First Advisor

Dr. Richard Phillips

Second Advisor

Philip Field

Third Advisor

Richard Hyslin


My art Is built on a foundation of personal experiences: First, as a child In New York City and Puerto Rico, and second, as a man learning his craft in universities and workshops in Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, and Mexico. I categorize this deductive process as the emergence of the personal "Me,” because most artists develop a visual language of signs and symbols that has been shaped by the artist’s family, education, and personal experiences. It is also a deductive process that has shaped the personal “Me” through an analysis of my movement away from pernicious generalities, characterized by living under mistaken ethnic and cultural assumptions, toward a specific ethnic and cultural identify based on the discovery of my Puerto Rican identity and the realization that I am also a Latino artist.

Regarding the issue of ethnic and cultural identity, many minority artists confront two problems: First, in shaping their art within the Western canon of aesthetics; second, by exploring the meaning of their personal "Me” vis-a-vis their relationship with their ethnic community or communities. Critic James D. Cockcroft cogently affirms the importance of community for many Puerto Rican and, especially relevant to me, many mainland-bom Latino artists:

Latino artists have a strong commitment to making ait a part of public life, whether in the home, on the side of a building, or at a bus stop. It is art to be seen and enjoyed by everyone."1

My art is community specific, i.e. Puerto Rican and Latino, a model which has been employed by other minority artists such as Haitian-Puerto Rican artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who elevated urban graffiti into mainstream art, Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican Rafael Tufino, who celebrated his Puerto Rican heritage in bold strokes on linoleum prints meant for mass diffusion, and Chicana artist Santa C. Barraza, who created a modem iconography based on Chicano and Mexican folk traditions. I situate my art in this realm by employing iconic and allegorical fantasy coupled with Puerto Rican, Latino, and indigenous traditions from the United States, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica.

My use of fantasy involves a vocabulary of visual images that share two specific elements. They are, first, community based, and, second, they are memory specific, acting as metaphors to transform my past into art that works on two levels: a surface context, i.e. the subject of the painting, and a sub-context, i.e. the underlying meaning of my work. In real terms, as I draw one icon, it acts as a catalyst to produce another image until I have accumulated a complete design, charged with the energy of my emotions, expressed conceptually through the subject matter's imagery and subversively as I exaggerate them on canvas or paper.

What I do is not a reaction to visual objects, but a reaction to my mind’s impulses. By heightening awareness, I produce art based on the personal "Me." However, I do not want to leave the impression that these images are mere random impulses drawn from my subconscious. In reality, they are shaped by a willful intention that articulates and transforms ideas and experiences into visual forms. This is what I call the power of the image.


Copyright 2005 Benjamin P. Varela. All Rights Reserved.

Granting Institution

University of Texas-Pan American