Morel, Yoryi (Jorge Octavio Morel Tavárez) (1906–1979) By Tornatore-Loong, Maria C.
Santiago-born painter, musician, and teacher, Jorge Octavio Morel Tavárez (also known as Yoryi Morel) is considered an early progenitor of the Dominican modernist school of painting, along with contemporaries Jaime Colsón, Darío Suro, and Celeste Woss y Gil. As one of the leading costumbrista painters in the Caribbean, Morel’s distinct vernacular style eulogized the Dominican landscape, people, architecture, and culture while under the oppressive dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo (1930–1961). The artist’s early oeuvre integrated realist and post-Impressionist techniques with indigenous subject matter depicting street scenes of his native city, Santiago, and the abundant villages and rustic landscapes of the fertile Cibao region, while his mature practice was characterized by a figurative expressionist mode. A gifted portraitist, Morel depicted local character-types, signifying the interdependent relationship between art and society. Another important feature of Morel’s practice was his preoccupation with popular customs like festivals, religious rituals, ceremonies, and gaming activities that accentuated the significance of merengue music and dances in Dominican society. These indigenist works not only contributed to the development of Dominican modernism, but also defined the spirit of dominicanidad [‘‘Dominican-ness’’]. As the founder of the ‘‘Yoryi’’ Academy and educator/director at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, Morel was an inspirational master for a generation of artists.