Lee Romero was a contributing photographer to a team that earned The New York Times a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. He has crossed the continental United States by train eight times, taking in the nuances of the varied landscapes during those journeys. His physical travels, around the country and all over the world, can be seen as a metaphor for his interior thoughts on the interrelationship of art, photography, and his reminiscences of these locales over time and throughout his life.
“Lee Romero’s evocative landscapes help us see how the places we inhabit can help form our personal identities and how exploring that relationship through art can be rewarding for ourselves as well as others,” says Laura Vookles, Chair of the Curatorial Department at the Hudson River Museum. “This theme puts him in conversation with many great landscape painters in our collection.”
The Museum presents Librado Romero: From the Desert to the River through June 27, 2021. The exhibition, which includes paintings and sketchbooks, explores the varied landscapes of the artist’s journeys, both internal and external, from his childhood in Calexico, California, to his studio in Yonkers and a home overlooking the Hudson River.
Broadly painted in jewel-like tones, Romero’s paintings have an expressionistic quality, but not necessarily from working quickly. Romero often develops his pieces over a long period of time, with many layers and revisions. His paintings remind us of the power of place in forming our sense of self and in anchoring our deepest memories.
Romero was born in Los Angeles in 1942, and while he was still young, his parents relocated to Calexico, on the US-Mexico border, where his father was a railroad worker. Some of his paintings, such as Blessing the Water Tower, pay homage to water as a precious resource in the arid countryside surrounding his hometown, which is irrigated with canals. Water still fascinates the artist, and his deep sense of connection to his natural surroundings underlies much of his current work, whether painted glimpses of the Hudson River and the Palisades through stands of trees or meditations on the landscape of his youth.
Romero studied painting at the San Francisco Academy of Art before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1965. An assignment as the regiment’s photographer changed his career path for the next fifty years. While he continued to paint and exhibit his work, he also became an intrepid and insightful photojournalist, working for the Providence Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and El Sol de Mexico, as well as Newsweek, Time, and other magazines.
In 2001, Romero was a contributing photographer for the “How Race Is Lived in America” series, which earned The New York Times a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. After having worked for The Times for five decades, Romero retired in 2013 and established his full-time painting studio in Yonkers. His childhood memories and his extensive travels as a photojournalist combine to make Romero deeply appreciative of living and painting along the beautiful and historic Hudson River:
“I believe that the success I experienced as a photographer was largely due to my proclivities as an artist,” Lee Romero said. “And in return, like the weave of an artful basket, the photography aided my exploration and efforts at drawing and painting. As a photographer, I captured reality. As an artist, I deal with my imagination, unbridled creativity, serendipity, and ambiguity.”