Lorenzo Homar

1913 in San Juan, Puerto Rico
2004 in San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico

A biographic sketch of Lorenzo Homar in the catalogue of the inaugural exhibit of San Juan's Museum of Puerto Rican Art in 2000 captures his significance within Puerto Rican arts: “Homar is one of the most important figures of the Generation of the Fifties and is recognized as the innovator and towering figure of the significant graphic arts tradition.

Lorenzo Homar was a pivotal figure of the fields of design and plastic arts during the second part of the 20th century. While his artistic production encompassed a large number of works across an array of media, his largest contribution to Puerto Rican arts was through his posters and printed engravings. He was a leader behind the popularization and internalization of the afiche, a commemorative medium equivalent to the poster. As a graphic designer and artist, Homar served as a teacher, a mentor and an inspiration for a group of Puerto Rican artists who collectively became known as Generación del Cincuenta (Generation of the Fifties).

Homar was born in the San Juan neighborhood of Puerta de Tierra on September 10, 1913. His parents were Lorenzo Homar and Margarita Gelabert, who had migrated to Puerto Rico from Spain. Both parents had creative inclinations. His father was a film distributor and his mother was a pianist. His main interests throughout his life were arts and athletics. In his youth he was a talented gymnast and acrobat as well as a recognized artist: by the time he was 13, one of his posters had received an honorary mention in a contest.

During his childhood, Homar attended schools in San Juan but also went to school in Spain, where his parents briefly relocated. At age 15, he and his family moved to New York searching for better economic opportunities. They arrived at the peak of the Great Depression, so Homar's educational opportunities were curtailed. He had to leave school and work to help his family make ends meet. Nonetheless, he remained active in sports by receiving athletic training in acrobatics and gymnastics at the YMCA. He also had a keen interest in music, but lacked the means to pursue it further.

By 1931, Homar had enrolled at the Art Student League, where worked under the tutelage of George Bridgeman. He encouraged Homar to express himself in different artistic styles, so that he could develop an aesthetic approach of his own (Garcia Cuevas 2001). Even while Homar continued his athletic training, he began to focus more on the development of his creative skills.

Homar's artistic talents progressed quickly and he was able to secure an apprenticeship at Cartier. His work with Ernest Loth, a master designer at Cartier, was key in his development of skills in the field of engraving. That, in turn, would play a fundamental role in Homar's developing an interest in typography and calligraphy, eventually blending typographic forms with other visual media. Upon completion of his apprenticeship, he was able to secure a full-time job with Cartier. Simultaneously, he also took courses at Pratt Institute in New York.

Homar enlisted in the service during World War II. He served in active duty, was wounded in conflict and earned a Purple Heart. The war left many visual imprints on his conscience and many of them filtered in his work for decades to come. After completing his military service, he returned to New York where he resumed his work at Cartier and began attending classes at the Brooklyn Museum of Arts. There he received instruction from some of the most accomplished and talented artists of the period. Among his teachers were Gabor Peterdi, Arthur Osver, Ben Shahn and the noted Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo.

Homar returned to his native Puerto Rico in 1950, a time of artistic ferment on the island. His talents were quickly recognized and his career developed and flourished. In fact, from that moment on, the works of el Maestro Homar, as he became known, were celebrated in artistic circles. Within the year, Homar had a first successful art exhibit at the Puerto Rican Athenaeum, the premier cultural organization of the time. He also established the Center for Puerto Rican Arts, an organization that opened opportunities for Puerto Rican artists by promoting artistic exhibits and exchanges between Puerto Rico and other countries.

Homar's work for DIVEDCO, the Community Education Division of the Puerto Rico Department of Education, was central to his productivity as an artist and role as teacher. DIVEDCO was established by the former governor of Puerto Rico Luis Muñoz Marín in 1949 as an outreach and empowerment tool to provide community development for disenfranchised Puerto Ricans. The division developed an aggressive effort to educate by producing and showing educational films and by distributing educational materials such as booklets and posters. His first job at the division was as poster maker and as an illustrator for many of their projects.

Homar became the head of DIVEDCO's graphics arts department in 1952. He played a significant role promoting and supporting other artists, helping them to reclaim the richness and uniqueness of Puerto Rican culture. Under his leadership, DIVEDCO became a major force in the development of Puerto Rican plastic arts during the 1950s. Homar worked hand by hand with prominent figures such as writers Pedro Juan Soto and José Luis González, filmmaker and photographer Jack Delano, and fellow graphic artists Rafael Tufiño and Isabel Bernal.

Throughout the 1950s, Homar continued a process of rich artistic production. His artistic engravings of native Puerto Rican images were widely acclaimed by art critics and collectors. His creations during that period have become valued collector items and unique historic testimonials of the legacy of DIVEDCO. His role as a graphic designer is best exemplified by his masterful afiches. His colorful posters are filled with rich and colorful images blended with exquisite engravings and calligraphy. Homar's ability to capture images and compositions that accurately represent Puerto Rican history, culture and social realities made him one of most important figures behind the development of the poster as a medium of artistic, educational and political expression.

Homar received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1957 that helped him to continue his creative work and also bolstered his international visibility. That same year he was asked by the Puerto Rican government to organize the Graphic Arts Workshop of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. Like DIVEDCO, this served as another major venue to help develop the talent and visibility of many other Puerto Rican artists. It also gave him a platform to showcase and promote his talent. He retired from that position in 1973.

Retirement was far from the end for Homar. During the 1970s and 1980s he was as productive as ever and exhibited his work around Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and Europe. He designed all of the posters for the 1979 Pan-American Games held in Puerto Rico, which have become priceless artifacts. His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Library of Congress. In 1978 the Ponce Museum of Art had the first full retrospective exhibit of his art. In 1987 the University of Puerto Rico bestowed him with an honorary doctorate in Arts. In September 2001, the Museum of Art at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras opened the exhibit “Abra Palabra…La Letra Mágica: Carteles de Lorenzo Homar 1951–1990,” exhibiting 150 of Homar's posters from throughout his career. Curator Dr. Flavia Marichal Lugo said: “The interesting thing of Homar's posters is that he almost played with the letters and ordered them to create images full of movement, rhythm and proportionality. So, he was also a tremendous calligrapher and typographer. His posters showcase the integration of text and image and color.”

Homar died on February 16, 2004, in Puerta de Tierra, the same neighborhood where he was born.

Adapted from Notable Caribbeans and Caribbean Americans (2003) and published with permission from Greenwood Publishing.

References and Suggested Readings

Lorenzo Homar Collection 1937–1999, Princeton University Library.

García Benítez, Mariana. “Lorenzo Homar, maestro de las artes gráficas.”

García Cuevas, Eugenio. “Itinerario del Maestro: Homar, mago del cartel.” El Nuevo Día (San Juan), September 9, 2001.

Gaya-Nuño, Juan Antonio. La pintura puertorriqueña. Soria: España: Centro de Estudios Sorianos, 1984.

Roylance, Dale. “The Art of Lorenzo Homar.” Caligraphy Review, 11, 1994, 34–37.

Ruiz de Fischler, Carmen Teresa and Mercedes Trelles. “Lorenzo Homar.” Treasures of Puerto Rican Paintings (Catalogue to an Arts Exhibit). San Juan: Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, 2000. 378–379.