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CUNY Dominican Studies Institute

Tito Cánepa Collection

Artist

Biographical Information

Tito Enrique Cánepa Jimenez is a unique case of a Dominican migrant who traveled to New York as a young man in the late 1930s, became a consummate painter, and remained in New York City for the rest of his life without ever losing his sense of Dominicanidad. He was born in 1916 in San Pedro de Macoris, a port town on the southeastern Caribbean coast of the Dominican Republic.
During Mr. Cánepa 's childhood, San Pedro de Macoris was undergoing rapid growth associated with an expanding sugar cane industry oriented to foreign markets, and the Dominican Republic was subjected to its first military occupation by the United States Marines; an eight-year take-over of Dominican customs by the U.S. government to collect the debt owed by prior Dominican governments, and to contain possible German influence in the Caribbean during WWI. Mr. Cánepa 's family would migrate to the Capital City of Santo Domingo and the painter would retain vivid childhood memories of the occupation. When the country fell under the iron grip of the Trujillo dictatorship, Tito engaged in acts of defiance against the regime and his family sent him to New York City out of concern for his safety.

The memory of his childhood hometown and homeland would become a source of inspiration for Tito Cánepa during his life in New York as he discovered his artistic talent, absorbing the twentieth century aesthetics and intellectual currents resonating throughout the City's cultural life, while learning the classics of Western art. Immediately upon his arrival in New York, Mr. Cánepa was given a post in the Experimental Workshop led by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and then with Bolivian-born painter Roberto Berdeccio after Siqueiros left for Spain.

Another important influence in his early formation as an artist was the fellow Dominican and art historian Americo Lugo Romero, with whom Tito would make numerous, visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to study Italian Renaissance classics.

Simultaneously, what had begun in Mr. Cánepa as an adolescent rebellion against the Trujillo dictatorship would become a life-long commitment to social justice, solidarity with the international labor movement, and the defense of freedom. In New York, Tito Enrique Cánepa evolved. He explored painting as a vehicle to elicit aesthetic and emotional response in others.

Mr. Cánepa also engaged passionately in the main global political struggles of his day, including the support for the republican Popular Front in Spain in the late 1930s, the anti-fascist movement of the 1940s, and the protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. All while remaining actively involved in the Dominican expatriate community's resistance against the Trujillo regime. He lived his life as a Dominican artist whose aesthetic concerns went hand-in-hand with very deep civic commitments, both patriotic as well as universal.

Throughout his six decades living in New York--which make him the senior of all Dominican painters in the City--Mr. Cánepa has had an artistic trajectory in which experts note, alongside his own distinct personality, a strong connection with the Latin America where Mr. Cánepa fist saw light, colors, and human drama. Mr. Cánepa's work received early recognition when exhibited in New York City in the 1950s, and also in the Dominican Republic, despite the dictatorship. In 1943 Dominican critic Rafael Diaz Niese named Tito Cánepa, Jaime Colson, and Dario Suro the three most accomplished Dominican painters of their generation.

The prominent art historian and critic Edward J. Sullivan locates Mr. Cánepa in "the second generation of Latin American modernists" who came to the artistic fore in the 1930s and 1940s. He elaborates: "While they incorporated the achievements of the radical modernists of the previous decades, they also imbued their own art with a renewed interest in classicism and, at times, a personal and political concern for the social realities of the day." According to Mr. Sullivan, what distinguished Mr. Cánepa's art is "the manifestation of the benevolence of divinity expressed in uniquely human terms."

 

Collection Description

The Tito Enrique Cánepa Collection consists of 53 drawings and sketches; correspondence with his cousin, Juan Isidro Jiménez Grullón (253 items, 1945-1982); subject files; numerous photographs and contact prints depicting Cánepa, his family, and his paintings; and other documents produced or collected by Cánepa. The collection also contains three paintings, “Caonabo”, 1984; “Mirabal Sisters” (“Las hermanas Mirabal”), 1985; and “The Gulf of Arrows” (“Golfo de las flechas”), 1987. The gesso on panel “Caonabo”, 48”x36”, portrays a faceless Spaniard in armor, Alonso Ojeda, moments after presenting the powerful Caonabo with the gift of handcuffs. The oil on canvas “Mirabal Sisters”, 48”x23”, depicts the heads of the three Dominican martyrs in the struggle against Trujillo. The sisters’ faces are figurative while the rest of the painting is abstract; the colors display influences of fauvism. The oil on canvas “Gulf of Arrows”, 60”x44”, is a cubist-influenced work that appears to address the Dominican landscape, culture, and politics.

The collection documents the life, work, and artistic trajectory of this important Dominican-American artist. It also shows how Dominicans immigrants often retained strong ties with the culture and politics of their native island while actively engaging in political and social life in the United States. Finally, it contains photographs and correspondence that address the earliest Dominican immigrants, 1930s-1960.