An artist known as the "Painter of the People" for his canvases and posters depicting traditional aspects of life on the island, Mr. Tufiño, who was born in Brooklyn and frequently returned to the city, was an important presence in New York, where he was a mentor to Puerto Rican artists and served as a bridge to Puerto Rico's traditions and aesthetics.
He was a founder of Taller Boricua, a workshop and art collective started in East Harlem in 1970, and was also influential in the establishment of El Museo del Barrio in that neighborhood. His work was the subject of a major retrospective at the museum in 2003.
Mr. Tufiño's art, which can be seen on posters throughout Old San Juan, presents scenes of daily life in Puerto Rico--work, dance, music and festivals--in bright, Fauvist colors. His paintings, including landscapes, interiors and portraits, are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress and the Galería Nacional in Puerto Rico.
In 2003, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the National Arts Club in New York City.
Born Rafael Tufiño Figueroa in 1922, he became interested in Puerto Rican traditions as a child in Brooklyn, where he often heard stories of life on the island from his mother and father. When, at 10, he moved to San Juan to live with his grandmother, his drew pictures of nearly everything he saw.
After serving in the Army Signal Corps in Panama during World War II, he went to art school in Mexico under the G.I. Bill. Returning to Puerto Rico in the early 1950s, he became a member of Generación del Cincuenta, a group of young artists dedicated to forging an aesthetic identity for the island.
He created some of his best-known posters and prints during the '50s, many for government-sponsored literacy and hygiene campaigns. He also spent time in New York on a Guggenheim fellowship, and returned to the city in the 1960s, when he encountered a generation of Puerto Rican artists particularly intent on exploring and celebrating their cultural heritage.
Of the 316 posters in the collection, 64 are by Rafael Tufiño.