“Las tierras pertenecen a sus dueños, pero el paisaje es de quien sabe apreciarlo. / The lands belong to their owners, but the landscape is from the one who knows how to appreciate it.” Upton Sinclair
To appreciate nature is to know yourself, your most inner admiration of what is around you. Alison Daubercies is a British born painter who worked in Puerto Rico for sixty years. She has a fierce, recurring vision of nature. When she was a young girl, her family escaped the German bombing on the outskirts of London. She started studying art at a very young age in Europe before coming to the island. From 1949 to 1953, Alison studied in London and later in France at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière de París. She then received a Masters in Art from The University of London in 1955. A few years later, Alison met an Afro-Puerto Rican Professor of Pedagogy with whom she fell in love and decided to accompany him to the Caribbean. While settled in San Juan, Alison divided her time between painting in her studio, teaching, and being a mother.
Most of Alison’s paintings are landscapes, one of the themes most favored by the artist. When I met Alison three years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting her in her home studio. The landscape surrounding Alison’s house was remarkable and it was obvious that nature was important to her and her work. That backyard in the city, warm climate and tropical rain are key ingredients in her paintings. Water, wind, flowing forces of nature in everyday scenery are “protagonists” in the depictions of the artist’s landscapes.
Rocks, water, foliage, and wind are embodied in several pieces including Barrera quebrantada / Broken Barrier (1980), La barrera / The barrier (1984), Corriente / Current (1989), Gaia resurge / Gaia Resurges (1991), Sinfonía del huracán / Hurricane Symphony (1992) and Germinación después del caos / Germination after Chaos (1992). These six paintings open a conversation that engage the pristine natural world. Blues, greens, ochres, yellows and screaming reds and oranges create a vibrant composition of twisting brush strokes. A spiral traveling through the painting’s center can be followed by the viewer’s eye. The movement of Alison’s graceful hand is almost gently violent, acting like the wind that delivers rain in a tropical storm.
In Hurricane Symphony a legion of spirals, some almost transparent and others in evident dance, cover most of Alison’s canvas. Like in a music sheet, Alison creates an overture that if you are open to the imagination you can hear the wind passing through the foliage. In Germination After Chaos, the colors become a force of quietness where the passing storm has left a place for new beginnings. The dark blues and greens evoke the inner strength of the earth. Something similar happens in Alison’s Gaia Resurges but this time her piece is painted with thinner brushstrokes that make the composition more zigzagged in appearance. The sharpness of the lines in diagonals and vertical positions forms a strong force where life is happening. Like lightning, the yellows and reds falls over the cold scene breaking the quietness a forest can have. Current is a painting where the balance between the cold and hot hues has a peaceful conversation. This piece is more recognizable; a corner of stones where the crystalline water of a river creates a submerged view of wet rocks.
Finally, in Alison’s Broken Barrier and The Barrier, despite the sensitiveness of the color differences in both paintings, squares can be seen in the center of the compositions. Increased intensity from the straight lines formed over Alison’s curved lines make the squares obvious in these pieces. Now nature is confronted with something else to overcome, a human made obstacle or maybe a blockage. Alison’s squares create walls that defines a boundary between both worlds. Her structures represent some of the assaults humans make on the environment. Sadly, sometimes these imposed systems destroy the essence of what keep us alive.
Alison Daubercies, from her unique point of view, relates to the ancestral bond between humans and nature. The artist’s 60 year relationship with the tropical nature of Puerto Rico changed Alison’s color appreciation and the style she favors. Alison’s work is a dynamic and emotional map of her life in the Caribbean.
Alison has since returned to London where she began her painting career. Nevertheless, she has left a strong artistic narrative behind in Puerto Rico. Her eyes and hands have long been dedicated to ponder the most sacral, the harborer of life, the earth. Her intensity and love of nature will be missed.