Librado Romero: From the Desert to the River

November 6, 2020–June 27, 2021

Librado “Lee” Romero spends his days painting the Hudson River from his window in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, as well as scenes conjured by his imagination from his childhood in Calexico, California from his studio in Yonkers.

“Everyone is born an artist,” he declares. He has been drawing and painting since childhood, exhibiting both photography and paintings in Europe, Mexico, and the United States, throughout his long and successful career as a photojournalist.

This exhibition reveals Romero’s internal and external journeys. The artist has crossed the continental United States by train eight times, taking in the nuances of the varied landscapes during those journeys. His physical travels, around the country and all over the world, can be seen as a metaphor for his interior thoughts on the interrelationship of art, photography and his reminiscences of these locales over time and throughout his life. The selection of eight acrylic paintings and two watercolors evoke a sense of magical realism.

Broadly painted in jewel-like tones, they have an expressionistic quality, but not necessarily from working quickly. Romero often develops his pieces over a long period of time, with many layers and revisions. On the surface, the subjects of his paintings—the arid desert and the verdant Hudson River—could not seem more remote from each other. However, Romero contends that it’s all about nature. “That’s the ultimate challenge for an artist. It’s the grand teacher.”

Romero was born in Los Angeles in 1942, and while he was still young, his parents relocated to Calexico, on the US-Mexico border, where his father was a railroad worker. Paintings like Blessing the Water Tower pay homage to water as a precious resource in the arid countryside surrounding his hometown, which is irrigated with canals. Water still fascinates the artist, and his deep sense of connection to his natural surroundings underlies much of his current work, whether painted glimpses of the Hudson River and the Palisades through stands of trees or meditations on the landscape of his youth. In the most recent painting in the exhibition, View of the Hudson from Calexico, Romero uses the surreal power of art to express his emotional connection to these two places and times. The exhibition also includes sketchbooks that the artist kept from his travels across the country, recording his observations of the changing terrain.

Romero studied painting at the San Francisco Academy of Art before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1965. An assignment as the regiment’s photographer changed his career path for the next fifty years. While he continued to paint and exhibit his work, he also became an intrepid and insightful photojournalist, working for the Providence Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and El Sol de Mexico, as well as Newsweek, Time, and other magazines. In 2001, Romero was a contributing photographer for the “How Race Is Lived in America” series, which earned The New York Times a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. After having worked for The Times for five decades, Romero retired in 2013 and established his full-time painting studio in Yonkers. His childhood memories and his extensive travels as a photojournalist combine to make Romero deeply appreciative of living and painting along the beautiful and historic Hudson River:

I believe that the success I experienced as a photographer was largely due to my proclivities as an artist. And in return, like the weave of an artful basket, the photography aided my exploration and efforts at drawing and painting. As a photographer, I captured reality. As an artist, I deal with my imagination, unbridled creativity, serendipity, and ambiguity.

Romero’s paintings remind us of the power of place in forming our sense of self and in anchoring our deepest memories. The themes in the exhibition relate to the Museum’s concurrent offering, Landscape Art & Virtual Travel: Highlights from the Collections of the HRM & Art Bridges. A full roster of virtual and on-site programs have been planned to expand the interpretation and connections of both exhibitions and can be found on the Museum from Home and Calendar pages.

 

Supported in part by California Friends of the Hudson River Museum.

Exhibition programs are supported in part by Cesar Bujosa and Phyllis Fernandez, Ysabella Hincapie-Gara, and Gordy and Lydia de Necochea.

 

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Librado Romero (American, b. 1942). Traveling East (detail), 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.