Is This Can of Black Beans Pop Art's New Icon?

Frijoles Negros. All images courtesy the artist

A can of Goya black beans is begging to be the next iconic Pop art reference, according to New York-based artist Dave Ortiz. His Goya Series is a collection of 14 silkscreens of traditional Goya products, featuring an adobo shaker, a bottle of malta, and a box of guava paste that, each in their own way, speak to a childhood of bodega runs to fetch ingredients for dinner.

Ortiz began making the prints during a 2015 residency with the Gowanus Print Lab in Brooklyn. He tells The Creators Project, “I jokingly made a Puerto Rican Andy Warhol, Frijoles Negros. All these memories came up and after speaking with my mom I decided to silkscreen the main menu ingredients of my childhood.”

Pasta de Guayaba

He says that the printmaking process is labor intensive and manual. It takes up to three days for one motif. Some prints have up to 10 colors.

His process starts with taking photos of the products then color separating them. He then burns each screen, hand mixes the colors, and prints each layer individually. Ortiz explains that each print is slightly off registration, along with some other imperfections. He likes this slow pace and slow yield to make artworks of consumables meant to be a fast commodity.

Dave Ortiz at the Gowanus Print Lab

What started out as a fun way to make art about his Puerto Rican heritage grew into a whole concept: The Goya Series is also a platform to talk about the fact that the neighborhood bodegas that Ortiz grew up with are beginning to disappear from the New York landscape. His vision is to build out a pop-up called Bodega Ortiz where one can pay homage to the Goya prints in their “original habitat.” The space is also meant to be a lively cultural and social exchange where one can experience the mom and pop ease in running a store, a place where people can play dominos, take a salsa class, or learn cooking tips from Ortiz’ mom.


He envisions the Bodega Ortiz as a celebration of old school New York before cellphones, where he says bodegas were the center of Boricua life and culture. "Where you found out who got busted, who got pregnant, who got locked up.”

Recently Ortiz was invited by Goya to exhibit his prints on a float for the Puerto Rican Day Parade that travels along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The parade attracts celebrities like Rosario Dawson and nearly two million spectators annually, making it one of the largest outdoor events in the United States.

The artist on the Goya float at the 2016 Puerto Rico Day Parade.

The Goya prints remind us how a mundane product like a can of beans or a can of tomato soup has the ability to impart tremendous cultural meaning on a large audience. In the artist's statement, The Goya Series explores the definition of Hispanic culture through family, community, and corporate branding via “the emotional and sentimental ties formed around family meals and food-related memories of childhood.”

For more information about the artist and his work, click here


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