In Focus: The Protagonist of an Endless Story

Uncovering the passion and power behind Angel Rodríguez-Díaz’s portraiture

September 13, 2023
Media - 1996.19 - SAAM-1996.19_1 - 12668
Angel Rodríguez-Díaz, The Protagonist of an Endless Story, 1993, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible in part by the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1996.19, © 1993, Angel Rodriguez-Diaz

Born in Puerto Rico in 1955, painter and sculptor Angel Rodríguez-Díaz created a wide body of artwork ranging from dramatized self-portraits to monumental public art. He spent the last several decades painting portraits of important cultural icons of San Antonio and the Southwestern United States. Known for his richly textured and painterly style, Rodríguez-Díaz used portraiture to, as he described in a retrospective of his work, “explore thoughts of identity, power, passion, and the everyday masks we all wear.” 

In The Protagonist of an Endless Story, the "protagonist" is renowned Chicana novelist and poet Sandra Cisneros, best known for her debut novel, the coming-of-age classic The House on Mango Street. Cisneros stands before a fiery sunset, dressed in a traditional Mexican skirt embroidered with sequined imagery that refers to her profession as a writer. Her commanding pose, reminiscent of historic European portraiture, proclaims that she will endure in her native landscape. In the work's title, as well as its composition, the artist asserts that Chicanx culture will not be erased. 

Upon Rodríguez-Díaz’s death in 2023, Cisneros paid tribute to the artist, calling him “a gentleman and a genius.” 

Based on text created for SAAM’s special exhibition Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea. Rebekah Mejorado contributed to this story.


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