Santero Johnny Lorenzo presents his santos and retablos in a number of venues that are familiar: The Contemporary Hispanic Market, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and retail outlets throughout Northern New Mexico. Johnny has been certified as an artesian in Puerto Rico, also. Recently, Johnny was invited to exhibit his art at the 2016 Santa Fe Greek Festival hosted by St. Elias the Prophet Greek Orthodox Church held in the Santa Fe Convention Center, which is where I came across his most recent work. Exhibiting retablos at a Greek Festival is not so far-fetched.
An icon, from the Greek word meaning image, is typically a painting depicting Christ, Mary, saints and/or angels. It usually refers to a devotional painted wooden panel. The icon is far more than a piece of art; it’s an aid to worship, and an instrument for the transmission of Christian tradition and faith. Sounds like the definition of a retablo, doesn’t it? In New Mexico Art Through Time art curator Joseph Traugott wrote that a retablo is devotional folk art painted on wood depicting details of a saint’s life. Although there are stylistic differences between icons and the retablos, there are many similarities. Johnny’s art fit right in.
Born in New York, Johnny lived in Puerto Rico for over a decade, where he explored Puerto Rican carvings similar in origin to bultos (wooden statutes) found in Northern New Mexico. He was influenced by the great Puerto Rican carver Florencio Caban and santero Amaury Lugo, also from Puerto Rico. In addition, he studied the works of classic New Mexican painters such as Jose Aragon and Spanish colonial traditions. His education didn’t stop there. Johnny has examined Byzantine iconography and other Western artists of that period, including Fra Angelico.
When he creates his retablos, Johnny uses a variety of materials: sugar pine, cedar, and jelutong to name a few. Quite a bit of time is spent carving and preparing the wood. Once the gesso is applied, Johnny will sand each piece until its smooth. The design is traced onto the wood then erased. The painting process is involved as well. Colors are more often than not blended before applied, which creates almost a mood in the final piece. Many of Johnny’s retablos are rich and warm in color and texture; some almost glowing. His collectors have told him that they love the eyes in his figures, which is important to him.
While we were chatting, an employee of the convention center stopped to take a look at Johnny’s exhibition.
“They’re beautiful,” said the young man as he studied the retablos. “Do you have a St. Michael?” The patron saint of police officers is among the retablos Johnny has crafted. He is beautiful.
Anyone interested in learning more about Johnny's art, should contact the artist at JLore31@hotmail.com