Arnaldo Roche Rabell was born and raised in Puerto Rico and earned his MFA from SAIC in 1984. After graduating, he split his time between Puerto Rico and Chicago, a duality that is apparent in his paintings. While in school, he developed a technique similar to frottage, in which he pulled impressions from his models’ bodies underneath the canvas, or made prints from his own paint-covered body. He would then press objects into the thick layers of paint in order to make imprints on the surface, before carving into the canvas, resulting in intricate textures. The expressionistic bodies and mask-like faces which appear in many of his paintings speak to the complexities of Roche’s life as well as the broader theme of Puerto Rican identity. Symbols such as tropical vegetation, the lace fabric made by Puerto Rican craftspeople, Christian iconography, the Chicago skyline, and landmarks from Washington, D.C. appear in his paintings. Early on, Roche made portraits and self-portraits, but the faces were gradually subsumed by thorns, leaves, sticks, and feathers, with only a pair of piercing eyes remaining. While these portraits lack identifiable features, they can be understood as versions of the artist, “acting out compulsions,” as noted by critic Enrique García Gutiérrez.
Arnaldo Roche Rabell was the subject of several museum survey exhibitions, including at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Mexico in 1993, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, San Juan in 1994, the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City in 1995, the Anderson Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia in 1997, and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas, Venezuela in 1998. His work can be found in the collections of the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, San Juan, PR; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; El Museo del Barrio, New York; MFA Houston and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., among others.