Pictured: “From Puerto Rico to Southbridge”/”De Puerto Rico a Soutbridge” by Francisco Rivera Mararera (FRIMA).
By Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor
SOUTHBRIDGE – Francisco Rivera Marrero’s colorful paintings provide a visual interpretation of the history and the culture of places he has lived, including Puerto Rico, New York City and now Southbridge.
Marrero, who goes by the name of FRIMA in his work as an artist, will have an exhibit of his work with Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities in Southbridge, from Sept. 8 to Sept. 30 with an opening reception Saturday, Sept. 8, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. All members of the community are welcome to attend the event at 111 Main Street in Southbridge.
At the reception, Marrero will provide a background on selected works in English and Spanish. He provides a particularly vivid interpretation of a painting based on the poem “Black Majesty” by Luis Palés Matos. Marrero shows his painting, bearing the same title as the poem, and recites the poem in English and in Spanish. While some at the opening won’t completely understand the Spanish portion, they are likely to understand the emotion, the rhythm and the intent of the piece.
FRIMA has worked professionally as an artist since the early 1980s when he was looking for extra work to support his young family. His first major public work of art was a mural that the mayor of Cataño, Puerto Rico commissioned after seeing some of FRIMA’s paintings. Since then, he has worked on murals for other public spaces, has documented archeological digs an
d has worked in film and television as a contributing artist, amongst other uses of his artistic talent.
The history of Puerto Rico is deeply woven into his artwork. One painting explores the impact of more than 20 women who died in childbirth, whose remains were found during an archaeological dig that the artist worked on. Another piece depicts a woman on a beach, as the artist imagines the hot weather of Puerto Rico and warm ocean waves creating a warm and comforting
place to sleep. Other paintings depict the food and culture of Puerto Rico with robust color and a deeply informed historical sense.
>Readers of The Citizen Chronicle might know Marrero/FRIMA best for his wall mural sports work in Southbridge, even if they didn’t already know his name. He painted the mural on side of Los Vecinos Market (formerly Los Hermanos Market), which faces Hook Street. The mural was created just over two years ago when Marrero moved to Southbridge. As an established mural artist, he likes to create art that documents and serves the community where it is seen, so he decided to contribute to his new community through his artwork. The mural facing Hook Street celebrates the multicultural richness of Southbridge, with nods to Puerto Rican, French Canadian, Polish and other ethnic groups that have settled here and created a unique community
“I painted the mural because that’s what I did in Cataño. It represents the four seasons and the people who live here,” Marrero remarks.
Marrero was not commissioned to paint the mural on Hook Street like he had been for many of his previous works; he painted it using his own materials and free time. He included details in the mural to document things that are unique to this area, such as blue jays or other natural elements not common to other places he has lived.
Marrero says that he has enjoyed living in Southbridge because he has found friendly faces and a welcoming community – as opposed to his experience living in New York, where people were not as quick to say hello and where he said there were “a lot of long faces.”
Marrero works at United Lens in Southbridge, where he says that he can use his technical and mechanical skills in a meaningful way. His perspective as an artist persists in how he describes his workday though. He says that at United Lens, he helps transform glass into something new that serves the needs of people, much like an artist transforms a canvas into something that serves others.
Marrero’s artist’s biography lists a variety of professional experiences in Puerto Rico and New York, both artistic and vocational. He painted for the Taino people of Puerto Rico on a project called Travesia Taina (Crossing Taina). He worked in television and movies, “doing freelance set painting, carpentry and props.” His work in these contexts include over a decade at a television station and work on the movies “Assassins” and “Amistad.”
His exhibit in Southbridge will also feature works that he describes as “escape windows.” These nature and landscape pieces are framed with the image of a window, as seen from the inside of a home or building. The paintings represent the escapism and the pleasure of dreaming of a warmer place or time.
“When I came here, I was thinking of looking through a window and seeing the seasons go through summer, and fall and winter. And most people don’t like winter too much,” he explains with a laugh. “What if a window was there, but I could see something that made me feel like I was in Puerto Rico?”
“From Puerto Rico to Southbridge” will open at The Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities at 111 Main Street, Southbridge, Saturday, Sept. 8 with a reception from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. A special work by Marrero/FRIMA which depicts Southbridge will be auctioned off.
After the opening, Marrera’s artwork will be on display from Sept. 9 to Sept. 30. Gallery hours are Fridays 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. or by appointment. For more information, you can call the arts center at (508) 764-3341.