Tying together a common thread of artist Gerry Diaz’s life experience, it's fitting his new exhibit is titled "Renacimiento," meaning rebirth. The new works are on display through Aug. 5 at The Society of Bluffton Artists Gallery.
Diaz, a native of Puerto Rico, experienced a rebirth when he moved to the Lowcountry in 1998.
“I was in search of a closer proximity to stateside family as well as a peaceful family life," he said. "In Beaufort, I quickly found a house of worship that provided me with a sense of community and the spiritual support I needed."
Last summer, as he visited his native island, Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico. This is when a typical tourist would leave on the first flight out, but not Diaz. He stayed for as long as he could to help and give a hand to friends and family. Upon his return, he was inspired to create, and from there the new exhibit was born.
“I could not believe my eyes and what I was seeing. The destruction was massive. There was no way I was leaving them behind with all the work," Diaz said. "It was bittersweet, my return home. I felt much more needed to be done. I grabbed my charcoals and oil paints and began to work.
"One thing that really moves me and inspires me are people. I could still see the look in their eyes. The sense of loss, but I too could see the resilience. Although the island still has much healing to do, the exhibit has helped me deal with internal healing as I watch the day-to-day struggle that is still going on in Puerto Rico,” he said.
The show will focus mainly on Diaz’s love for Puerto Rico and his fascination with the human figure, featuring work in a variety of mediums.
“I began drawing at the age of 9. Later during my teenage years, I went to study art at Escuela de Artes Plasticas y Diseño in Old San Juan. I knew I wanted to be an artist but at the school, I could not connect with other artists since their focus was that of a political tone. When you work in such isolation, your techniques and ideas are quite unique.
"I trained myself in classical drawing and painting styles using graphite, charcoal, pastel, pen and ink, acrylics, oil, watercolors and even gouache. I later went back to school and became an engineer, but art has always been a part of me."
Over the years, Díaz has been a member of local art associations, participated in international painting competitions, and worked as a certified Grumbacher art instructor for Michaels stores. In 2012, he placed second in the Charleston Piccolo Spoleto Festival juried painting competition.
Díaz is active with the nonprofit Memory Project, making portraits for abused children in orphanages all over the world. He has sent portraits to Peru, Ukraine, Syria, Poland, the Philippines, Ecuador and Puerto Rico.
“Devastation and destruction are the basis of a rebirth," he said. "I hope this exhibit lets audiences experience not only how short life really is, but the real connections and parallels that we all share."