Artist Carlos Betancourt not only demonstrates an intelligent and exuberant use of post-modern artistic language, but he is very valuable yeast in the culture of the Caribbean and his home island of Puerto Rico. Widely travelled, he has long observed, and participated in, Miami’s transformation from a refuge for the risqué and the superannuated to a great city with an international reputation as an art destination. Its subtropical pace, verdant waterways, and glamour is reflected in his work, as is the abundance of trinkets which infest every corner of a resort city that caters to so many visitors and immigrants. He accepts it all with a generosity of spirit he probably
learned from his birthplace, where santeros rub shoulders with contemporary artworks in a world full of syncretism; where the history of conquest is seen on every street, and where Spanish and indigenous influences have finally melded into a society that is recollected with delight by anybody fortunate enough to have experienced it.
Anything is grist to Carlos’ artistic mill— plastic fruit, Styrofoam angels, exquisite antiques, broken cups, bric-a-brac from a treasure trove of junk— and is handled with a sensibility that is all his own. Looking at his assemblages and collages is a humbling experience for art lovers. Here ephemera and mementoes are given the respect that anonymous people have long given to personally valued but worthless trivia. We enter into a relationship with the objects and their unexpected juxtapositions, and we become part of a great democracy; one of those who love things and the memories they evoke. Carlos playfully reveals their dormant beauty and cuts across the sometimes snobbish hierarchies of the art world while doing so.
Some of the works are large, but we are drawn into them with a desire for intimacy, as if we are privy to love letters. His works bring us back to a world where privacy can still exist. We are rewarded by snippets of recollection, and by festivals of color that have never known restraint. Betancourt’s work confirms in us our humanity and need for joy.
San Juan, Miami, New York and the burgeoning population of art students in other cities and small towns are fortunate. A fellow artist has bridged the difficult gulf between the beauty of the provincial and the international without losing a sense of identity and an appetite for invention. He accomplishes this rare achievement in part by reinterpreting memory and placing it in a new context that becomes relevant to our hurried times, reminding us to slow down and smell the flowers.