Antonio “Tony” Maldonado was a painter and graphic artist who belonged to the generation of the 1940s and 1950s. His work is of populist character and makes a statement regarding the Puerto Rican national identity.
Maldonado was born in Manatí on June 13, 1920 and took his first art lessons at his elementary school teacher’s house. He attended to school in his native town until the eighth grade. At the end of that school year, in 1936, his family moved to Puerta de Tierra, area adjoining Old San Juan.
Motivated by his aunt, Maldonado joined the Rosado Art Sign Shop, owned by artist Juan Antonio Rosado, who also served as his art teacher. There, he worked with other artists such as Lorenzo Homar, Carlos Raquel Rivera, and Rafael Tufiño. Then, he studied under the direction of Cristóbal Ruiz and Alejandro Sánchez Felipe. In 1947, he transferred to Mexico to study at the National School of Fine Arts, where he had contact with the school of Mexican social realism. Also that year, he joined the group of artists that work at the División de Educación de la Comunidad (DIVEDCO, Division of Community Education). Eventually, in 1963, he would take over as its director until it close down in 1986.
Maldonado’s works bring together both the abstract and real in amazing fashion. In many of his works human forms can be clearly drawn and then surrounded by an abstract landscape. The above image depicts a mask which is both real and abstract. If one was to consider the physical properties of the vejigante masks in question the viewer can see both a random set of colors and shapes or, in the alternative, a very real representation of one of Puerto Rico’s most noted symbols – the vejigante mask. Of the noted DIVEDCO artists, Maldonado seems to have experimented most with the incorporation of abstraction. While many of his contemporaries leaned heaviy on WPA forms and social realism, Maldonado seems to have experimented most with influences from the New York School of the abrstract, while still creating works which were in keeping with the DIVEDCO style and remaining uniquely Puerto Rican.
This is an early 1958 poster announcing a show for the artist Carlos R. Rivera at the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR). It is an abstract representation of the traditional Puerto Rican vejigante mask. The image of the vejigante is omnipresent in Puerto Rico and is represented by masks, statutes and costumes. The vejigante is a folkloric figure who’s origins trace back to medieval Spain. The legend goes that the vejigante represented the infidel Moors who were defeated in a battle led by Saint James. To honor the saint, the people dressed as demons took to the street in an annual procession. Over time, the vejigante became a kind of folkloric demon, but in Puerto Rico, it took on a new dimension with the introduction of African and native Taíno cultural influence. The Africans supplied the drum-heavy music of bomba y plena, while the Taíno contributed native elements to the most important part of the vejigante costume: the mask. As such, the Puerto Rico vejigante is a cultural expression singular to Puerto Rico.