Born in San Juan in 1947, Awilda Sterling-Duprey is one of the most important visual artists from Puerto Rico. In this interview, the Boricua artist Pepe Álvarez-Colón speaks with Sterling-Duprey about her work in abstraction, the body’s tridimensionality and about …blindfolded, the work on exhibit at the 2022 Whitney Biennial: “Quiet as It’s Kept,” in which the artist blindfolds her eyes to draw lines on dark papers in response to jazz improvisation.
C& América Latina: In addition to your background in experimental performance with a community of dancers and theater artists, you also trained in the visual arts with a group of abstract painters, at a time when abstraction in Puerto Rico was not considered a national art. When did you become interested in abstraction?
Awilda Sterling-Duprey: At the School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico. I was a teenager and I had just graduated from the University of Puerto Rico. I didn’t know any other art that wasn’t traditional Puerto Rican and Latin American. At the time… we have always been in a fierce fight with the United States because we are a territory, we are a colony. Talking about abstraction in Puerto Rico in the 1960s was complicated by what we had not been able to achieve (politically as a country). So I made a transition, but in a fierce way towards abstract expressionism… Franz Kline is the first artist who had an impact on me. His black paintings. Black and white. A fierce gesture. No doubt about it. Throw out the brushstroke of paint and accept the accident and the way in which it recomposes the pictorial plane. Also, Kline worked while listening to a great African-American musician, Sonny Rollins, who used to rehearse his saxophone solos on the Brooklyn Bridge. The jazz that influenced me the most at that time was straight-ahead jazz [with no influence from rock]… And it’s the practice of performance, which I had already integrated, … of listening and drawing, which led me to …blindfolded.