Printmakers You Should Know: Myrna Báez

I don't like owning up to my own ignorance, but I'll admit that Puerto Rico is not a place I had given much thought prior to Hurricane Maria. In the wake of that painful disaster, I've been trying to educate myself in addition to donating funds. For me, that always includes looking into the art scene, so today, I learned about this important artist, Myrna Baez (1931-), who I can only hope is doing okay.

Image courtesy of

Born in Santurce, Baez had originally intended to study medicine before becoming an artist. Growing up, she was greatly influenced by her mother, a teacher who was a strong, independent woman. Baez earned her bachelor's from the University of Puerto Rico in 1951 before going to Spain to study medicine at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. By 1952 she had decided to pursue the arts, and was accepted into the San Fernando Art Academy in 1953. After graduating with her Master's in 1957, she returned to Puerto Rico, studying printmaking with Lorenzo Homar at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. She also studied at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute from 1969 to 1970.

Myrna Baez, Self-Portrait. Image courtesy of

Baez returned to Puerto Rico during a particularly rich period in its artistic history. This was the era of "The Generation of the 50s," a group that included the likes of Rafael Tufino, Isabel Bernal, Lorenzo Homar, and many others. Baez worked as both an independent artist and as an art teacher, playing a prominent role in the Puerto Rican art education.

Myrna Baez, Platanal, 1974, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of

Baez's work is immersed in the geography and cultures of Puerto Rico. As a painter, she works in both oil and acrylic. Platanal, a depiction of plantain, is exemplary of Baez's formal and contextual interests. The luminous reflections off of the green leaves underscores her interest painting's ability to capture different light effects, while the plantains themselves evoke historical concepts of Puerto Rican sovereignty. 

Of her own work, Baez has said, "I do not want to do landscapes for tourists nor make pictures of the sentimental, nostalgic or folkloric things that people in this country suffer from due to a lack of identity. I am using landscape because I am interested in form, because I'm interested in color, because I'm interested in the place...I'm interested in expressing: light--that which surrounds us, the shapes that have formed me, that have made me and moved me." What Baez paints isn't a picturesque version of Puerto Rico. Instead, she uses the visual idioms of modernism to interpret her specific experiences and impressions of this place.

Myrna Baez, Triptico (Retrato de America Baez), 1972, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of

Baez also considers the predominance of the male gaze in Eurocentric art by painting nudes from a distinctly female perspective. In works such as Female Mongrel, Baez isn't interested in serving up an idealistic, nubile figure to the viewer. Instead, she shows the female body as it exists in everyday reality, abstracted but independent of idealism.

Myrna Baez, Female Mongrel, 1981, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of

Myrna Baez, Gallo Pelon, 1958, linocut. Image courtesy of

As a printmaker, Baez has worked in a variety of media, including engraving, linocut, and collagraphy. Like her paintings, her work is inspired by her experiences in Puerto Rico, drawing on landscape and figural imagery.

Myrna Baez, El Yunque #3, linocut. Image courtesy of 

During the 1960s and 1970s in particular, her work responded to political and economic changes that had produced a new middle class. In works such as The Judge, she explores the discomfort and befuddlement that can often company newfound wealth or social status. The man in this work looks away from the viewer and is deliberately placed to not fit within the composition, visually suggesting the sense of unease that many Puerto Ricans were experiencing during this period. Like so much of her work, an understanding of Puerto Rican history and culture deepens its meaning, something I've still got a lot to learn about.

Myrna Baez, The Judge, 1970, collagraph on paper. Image courtesy of

I'm very much a novice to Puerto Rican art, and have only begun exploring the creative output from this region. From what I've seen, however, it's a rich field, and artists such as Myrna Baez are definitely printmakers you should know.

Learn more here:

Help out Puerto Rico here: