Darío Antonio Suro García-Godoy (June 13, 1917, La Vega – January 18, 1997, Santo Domingo) was an art critic, diplomat and painter from the Dominican Republic. He was the nephew of painter Enrique García-Godoy, his first art teacher. Along with Yoryi Morel and Jaime Colson, he is considered one of the founders of the modernist school of Dominican painting.
Early on, he became popular as an Impressionist landscape artist, often painting horses and rainy scenes of the Cibao region of his country. Suro had his first solo exhibition in 1938 at the Ateneo Dominicano in Santo Domingo. Subsequently, the same exhibition was shown at the San Cristobal Ateneo and in 1939, he was included in group exhibitions in New York City, at the Riverside Museum and the Dominican Republic Pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
In 1940, Suro participated in the Inter-American Exhibition of the Caribbean organized by the Organization of American States. In that same year, he participated in a group show at the Ateneo Dominicano in Santo Domingo. In 1942, he had a solo exhibition at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santo Domingo.
The following year, 1943, he married Maruxa Franco Fernandez of Santiago and shortly after, they departed for Mexico where he was named cultural attaché at the Dominican Republic Embassy in that country. On the way, they stayed in Havana for several weeks, where his bride's cousin, Tomas Hernandez Franco, was the Dominican Consul General to that city. Here he met with the young art critic José Gómez-Sicre, whom he had encountered previously in Santo Domingo. Later they would renew their friendship in Washington, D.C., where Gómez-Sicre was the founder and director of the Art Museum of the Americas, which was established in 1976 by the O.A.S. Permanent Council. While in Havana, Suro also met and befriended important modern artists such as Fidelio Ponce, Carlos Enríquez and Amelia Peláez.
Finally arriving in Mexico after their fascinating Cuban "sejour", Suro had a very busy schedule. In addition to his duties as attaché, he enrolled at Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado "La Esmeralda", where he studied art for nearly four years with some of the most prestigious artists in contemporary Mexico, including Diego Rivera, Agustín Lazo, Jesús Guerrero Galván and Manuel Rodríguez Lozano.
Suro soon befriended some of the most prominent people in Mexico City, which was a great cultural center at the time, including the philosopher Alfonso Reyes, the art historian and critic Justino Fernández, painters María Izquierdo and Angelina Beloff (the first wife of Rivera), and writer and critic Agustín Velázquez Chávez. He also met José Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Lupe Marin and José Vasconcelos, who would play a crucial role in Suro's career. In 1944, he received word that he had won the Second Prize (Silver Medal) at the Second National Fine Arts Biennial in Santo Domingo. Two years later he won First Prize (Gold Medal) at the Third National Fine Arts Biennial.
Impact on work
Suro's time in Mexico had a dramatic impact on his work. Moving away from a harmonious palette and depictions of pleasant, often melancholy, genre scenes that made him popular with his countrymen, he opted for something more bold and jarring. Influenced by the Mexican nationalistic spirit that embraced all things ethnic, Suro created a related Dominican vision heretofore unseen, a new kind of painting called "Negroide", which had its counterpart in Dominican literature of the time, namely in the poetry of his brother Rubén Suro ("Poemas De Una Sola Intencion"). Directly addressing multiracial issues (an obvious component of Dominican reality) through graphic images, was indeed a new approach in a nation where whitewashing was often the norm. Many Dominicans liked to think that their heritage derived exclusively from Spain, forgetting their important African legacy. Suro's take was confrontational and challenging, using imagery that made some of his countrymen uncomfortable.
In 1946, he was included in a group show at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. The following year, he had a solo exhibition at the institution, an event that was widely publicized in the city, bringing him recognition from some of the most important art critics – but perhaps leading to his downfall with his own government. His embassy job was suddenly terminated. Before he knew it, he was on a plane with his family going back home where he would be facing an uncertain future. Suro was told by unofficial sources that Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo was not happy with the attention his cultural attaché had received in Mexico.
Upon his return to Santo Domingo, Suro and his wife were warmly greeted by family and friends, while others, especially some who were close to Trujillo, kept a certain distance. The fall from grace was short lived.
Vasconcelos, his friend from Mexico, who happened to arrive in Santo Domingo on an official visit and raved to Trujillo about the recently repatriated diplomat and painter, calling him "brilliant", and strongly urging the Dominican leader to name Suro Director of Fine Arts of the nation. This happened in early 1947 and once again Suro was celebrated. That same year, he had a successful solo exhibition at the National Palace of Fine Arts in Santo Domingo, showing works that were shown in Mexico with a few recent Dominican additions. Overall, Dominicans were greatly impressed by a new dynamic vision of their nation forged in Mexico by a young Dominican.
Director of Fine Arts
As Director of Fine Arts, Suro was once again in the spotlight, receiving distinguished guests, including Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin and groups like the celebrated "Coros y Danzas" from Spain. He was responsible for overseeing new exhibitions at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and setting up cultural programs. He also gave lectures covering a wide range of themes, like the one on his friend José Clemente Orozco, "La Muerte de Orozco", which he gave at the Instituto Dominico Americano in Santo Domingo. In 1948, he participated in the 4th National Biennial of Fine Arts.
During this same period, the Suro family underwent dramatic, painful changes. His son, Jaime, died suddenly shortly before his second birthday. This event became an obsessive recurring leitmotif in several of his paintings. Depicting the dead child becomes a kind of catharsis in those canvases; the native Baquiní ritual of burying children becomes an important point of identity for the artist. In 1948, his son Federico was born and the following year his daughter Rosa.
In 1950, Suro's life changed once again when he was sent to Spain as cultural attaché of the Dominican Republic. Arriving with his family in Madrid, Suro befriended some of the most outstanding Spanish artists of that time, including Antonio Saura, Antoni Tàpies, Manolo Millares, and Jose Caballero ("Pepe"). Caballero was a close friend of Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Luis Buñuel and others. Suro was also able to see the great art of Spain, including works by his personal favorites Velázquez, El Greco and Goya.
Living in Spain also facilitated extensive travel to other European cities, including Paris, London and Amsterdam. He especially loved Italy, and was particularly impressed by the works of Piero della Francesca.
Combining diplomacy and art as he had in Mexico, Suro participated in group exhibitions in Madrid and Barcelona, as well as faraway places like San Francisco (Legion of Honor) and Pittsburgh (Carnegie Institute). He was invited to participate in the Salón de los Once in 1951, along with ten other artists, a venue organized by the philosopher Eugeni d'Ors. The same year, he participated in the First Hispano-American Biennial, which was exhibited in Madrid and Barcelona. He represented the Dominican Republic in several important congresses (including the Congreso de la Cooperacion Intellectual Latino Americano—1952) while continuing his travels throughout the Iberian Peninsula and several other European nations.
In terms of his artistic development, Spain had a significant impact. This is where Suro painted his first abstract canvases, influenced by European trends.
As in Mexico, his busy professional life came to an abrupt end. His job was suddenly terminated, without any explanation. Upon arrival in Santo Domingo the same scenario was repeated that they experienced upon their return from Mexico. The Suros heard gossip about the termination of his job and a close friend, who happened to be related to Trujillo's wife, recommended that they leave the country. Leaving the country in that era was not simple. Both Dario and Maruxa were interrogated, but in a fairly short time they were on their way to New York City in 1953. Their children joined them the following year.
New York City
Suro's New York City experience would be decidedly different from his Mexico City and Madrid years. With limited English, the couple had a difficult time adjusting to the metropolis. His wife immediately found work as a seamstress in a factory. Suro, however had a harder time. Visiting several establishments that hired artists to do fairly routine work, he soon realized that there was little demand. He finally found a job on 23rd Street, in a factory where artists painted porcelain, screens and other objects. They were given models to work from, with a limited freedom of artistic expression.
As an art critic, Suro wrote the first in-depth critical articles on both Piet Mondrian and Stuart Davis in the Spanish language. He reintroduced the work of Joaquín Torres García to the artists within the Rose Fried Gallery circle, where he was asked to write the text of an accompanying monograph for Torres Garcia's 1960 breakthrough exhibition.
Among the artists befriended by Suro in New York City were Fritz Glarner, Ronnie Elliott, Jean Arp, Stuart Davis, Adolf Fleischmann, Minna Citron, Bud Hopkins, Burgoyne Diller, Philip Guston, Charmion von Wiegand, John Grillo, Jean Xceron, Judith Rothschild, Lil Picard, Esteban Vicente, Raymond Hendler, John Hultberg and Lynne Drexler.
In spite of his busy schedule, working in the factory and painting at home, he wrote for many international publications, including the Paris-based Aujourd'hui and the Madrid-based Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, and he was a frequent contributor at El Caribe and other newspapers in the Dominican Republic.
Through his job, he met Herman Somberg, one of his coworkers who was a quintessential New Yorker and a talented artist who happened to be a close friend of Franz Kline. After a certain reluctance, the latter finally agreed to meet Suro and the two became fast friends (later Suro reminisced about the encounter and ensuing friendship in an article written for Americas Magazine "Franz Kline – Freedom and Space" in 1969). He frequented the Cedar Tavern in Manhattan, which he later called "one of the great universities of my life" and the place where he drank seriously along with his growing number of acquaintances. Another special friend was Philip Guston, who was fluent in Spanish.
Many of the friends that he met early on through Fried were part of the Neo-Plasticist world. Fritz Glarner had been a close friend of Mondrian, a kindred spirit and the man who photographically documented Mondrian's New York City studio. One of Suro's most intriguing friends was the German Dadaist poet, writer and drummer Richard Huelsenbeck who was also a psychiatrist who went by the name Charles R. Hulbeck. As in Mexico and Spain, Suro changed his style once again, expressing himself through geometric abstract images and eventually going on to works that were decidedly informal and expressionistic.
He participated in group shows at the Rose Fried Gallery, including the International Collage Exhibition in 1956. Barbara Guest, covering this show for Arts Magazine, observed, "Suro has carried the Dada idea along, with a frank assemblage of numbers which would have delighted le grand maitre Picabia". Suro also participated in many group shows, including the "International Avant Garde Perspectives" at the Newport Art Association in 1959.
He finally had a solo exhibition at the Poindexter Gallery, in Manhattan, in 1962. The new paintings were both a reflection of his American experience, as well as his lifelong obsession with Spain – several paintings were entitled "Tauromaquia", Suro's homage to Goya. Unfortunately, the exhibition coincided with a major newspaper strike and Suro did not receive a normal press coverage. John Gruen, in the New York Herald Tribune, among the few periodicals that covered the event, wrote: "A Dominican artist who has shown extensively in Europe but not previously here offers oils and collages in intensely muted colors flavored with textual elements reminiscent of the Spanish concern with the "earth". They are strong, bold and terse". Suro received a congratulatory letter from his old friend Vela Zanetti, who visited the exhibition and was both impressed and surprised by the new paintings. The art magazines had overall positive comments as well.
In 1961, events in his homeland once again changed his life. Trujillo was assassinated. Juan Bosch, Suro's childhood friend, was elected President of the Dominican Republic in 1962 and named Suro the cultural attaché at the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Washington, D.C., as well as the Organization of American States (OAS). Suro remained in these posts for most of the rest of his life. Washington did not offer the same artistic stimulus as New York City, but his new job was more comfortable and better-paying.
Suro continued painting and exhibiting worldwide into his old age. His painting went through new phases, constantly changing. In his last decade, he revisited old themes, often combining them and coming up with something new in the process. He also continued writing, frequently contributing to Americas Magazine, several Dominican Republic publications, including Ahora and Listin Diario, as well as international ones, including Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos and Acento Cultural. He was promoted from cultural attaché to Counselor (1965) to Minister Counselor (1967) to Minister Plenipotentiary, Deputy Chief of Mission (1970) and finally Adjunct Ambassador, Alternate Representative (1980).
In October 1996, he returned to the Dominican Republic with his wife. He was hoping to concentrate on his art, developing new ideas for paintings inspired by shadows; however, he died the following January. His funeral was attended by many friends, as well as Dominican dignitaries; three former Dominican presidents were present – Salvador Jorge Blanco, Donald Reid Cabral and Juan Bosch – who told the Suro family "Dario Suro was not only a great artist, he was a great Dominican".
Suro was the first artist to receive "El Premio Nacional de Artes Plasicas" of the Dominican Republic in 1993, which was presented to him by President Joaquín Balaguer. The "Orden de Duarte, Sanchez y Mella" medal was presented posthumously to his widow by President Leonel Fernández in 1999.
A comprehensive retrospective, "Dario Suro 1917–1997: Metamorfosis y Transmigracones", was organized at the Centro Cultural de Espana in Santo Domingo, curated by Ricardo Ramon Jarnes, Laura Gil and Marianne de Tolentino in 2001. The 4th Caribbean Biennial (2002), dedicated to Suro, was organized by Sara Herman, Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art of the Dominican Republic; Ricardo Ramon Jarnes and Laura Gil curated an accompanying retrospective exhibition. President Hipólito Mejía and Vice President Milagro Ortiz Bosch opened this biennial.
In 1981, Suro assessed his approach to art in the following manner: "I have always been motivated by the existential condition of an object and not by the development of a style." More recently, art historian and critic Alejandro Anreus, who often wrote about Suro, offered a more complete summary of his multifaceted career as follows. "Stylistically, Suro transformed the social realism of the Mexican muralists into a neo-realist aesthetic charged with an existential view of tragedy. By the 1950s he had already painted in a kind of pre-Pop Art when he completed his numeric series, and in the 1960s his abstract expressionist phase was a highly original one where the stain, more than the gesture, was his proffered mark-making strategy, while his palette was evocative of 17th century Spanish painting. His erotic period (1970s) culminated in an obsessive calligraphic use of thin, transparent layers of paint, where lines constructed the female sexual forms as pulsating, fully empowered entities with a life of their own. His body of work before his death was a fierce expressionism, where both the human and landscape forms were torn and reconstructed."
- Dario Suro. "Orozco en su sitio". Cuadernos Dominicanos de Cultura. Volume VI, Number 73. page 16. Santo Domingo. September 1949.
- Dario Suro. "El Mundo Magico Taíno". Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos. Number 17. page 259. Madrid. September–October 1950.
- Dario Suro. "La pintura de Esteban Vicente". El Mundo. San Juan. July 29, 1951.
- Dario Suro. "Dos Pintores Americanos: Davis y Glarner". El Caribe. page 11. Santo Domingo. January 9, 1955.
- Dario Suro. "L'espace: Mondrian et Picasso". Aujourd'hui - Art & Architecture. Number 20. page 28. Paris. December 1958.
- Dario Suro. "Joaquín Torres García" (monograph). Rose Fried Gallery. New York. 1960.
- Dario Suro. "De Malevich A Demain". Aujourd'hui - Art & Architecture. Number 29. page 54. Paris. December 1960.
- Dario Suro. "The Baroque in Santo Domingo". Americas. Washington, D.C. 1963.
- Dario Suro. "Torres Garcia of Uruguay, Universal Constructionist". Americas. Volume 17, Number 3. page 24. Washington, D.C. March 1965.
- Dario Suro. "Stuart Davis (1894–1964)". America. Washington, D.C. 1965.
- Dario Suro. "Taíno Sculpture – Of Artists and Owls". Americas. Volume 18, Number 3. page 21. Washington, D.C. March 1966.
- Dario Suro. "Estilo y Condicion". El Nacional de Ahora. page 25. Santo Domingo. October 29, 1967.
- Dario Suro. Arte Dominicano (first comprehensive history of Dominican Art). Santo Domingo; Publicaciones AHORA, C. por A.; 1968.
- Dario Suro. "Franz Kline - Freedom and Space". Americas - Volume 20, Number 6. page 21. Washington, D.C. June 1968.
- Dario Suro. "Taíno Sculpture" (part 2). Americas. Volume 20, Number 11–12. Washington, D.C. November–December 1968.
- Dario Suro. Colson – Dominicano Universal. Publicaciones Ahora. Santo Domingo. 1969.
- Dario Suro. "Construccion de un Desorden". Ahora. Number 440. Santo Domingo. April 17, 1973
- Dario Suro. "Thomas Jefferson, the Architect". Americas. Volume 25, Numbers 11–12. page 29. Washington, D.C. November–December 1973.
- Staff (undated). "Dario Soro 1917–1998". Museo Bellapart. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
- Museo de Arte Moderno. Santo Domingo.[vague]
- Berardo Collection Museum. Lisbon.[vague]
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