Born in Zacatecas, Mexico into a family of artists—his grandfather decorated interiors of churches, his parents were musicians, and his older brother Pedro was a well-known painter and sculptor of the Generación de la Ruptura—Rafael Coronel wanted to be a soccer player for the Mexican League’s Club América. Upon moving to Mexico City in 1952 to study architecture at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, he also became involved with painting. After earning first place in an art contest at UNAM, he won and a scholarship sponsored by the Instituto Nacional de la Juventud Mexicana which allowed him to attend Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado La Esmeralda to study under Carlos Orozco Romero. Although his art school experience was short-lived, Coronel soon garnered his first solo exhibition in 1956 at the prestigious Galería de Arte Mexicano. His career in the late 1950s and 1960s was marked by high-profile exhibitions such as the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana in 1958, a solo exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1959, among others.
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