|Thirty Years of Art - The Fifth Journey |
Roberto Montero Castro
America: the revelation
America was a source of knowledge for Alexander, Baron of Humboldt. Under his scientific gaze, plants became botany, earth turned into geology and man acquired the prestige, if not the pride, of being American.
Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt and Bonpland created a theory about the New World: reality was invented when the conscious mind assembled facts, linked them together and offered an interpretation of the whole. The explorers rubbed shoulders with the patriarch of botany Jesus Celestino Mutis, and the naturalist Francisco José de Caldas, and invited young Carlos Montufar to join them on their route. The area had already been explored by Charles-Marie de la Conda-mine's expedition, which, between 1735 and 1744, came to the conclusion that this land could be divided in two, to the North and South of the Ecuator, and that which mapped the Amazonas of the Maranones.
Between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century, America was a mining and agricultural land. That very relationship between man and nature gave rise to a limited, empirical and repetitive knowledge: the basic skill used in traditional occupations; arbitrary learnings, which, while sometimes effective, unashamedly recommended the stone of the iguana as a dissolvent of kidney stones, or Guayacan wood as the most effective remedy for syphilis.
Error, chance and achievement
Christopher Columbus discovered all kinds of unusual things when he crossed the Atlantic; fauna, flowers and fantastic landscapes, and, above all, a people whose existence was unknown to the Europeans of his time. He sailed across the "American Mediterranean", as Humboldt later called the Caribbean Sea, and took for granted that the numerous islands he came across were the periphery of the Indies.
America emerged from the clash between two times and two concepts of the world, which converted the Incan and Aztec civilizations into archeology (Mayan civilization already was that), and the aboriginal ethnic races into anthropology. Men familiar with indigenous technologies and experts in its use disappeared before they could be transmitted. At the most, their rudimental customs remained. Another technological order was imposed, but it was imported. Practically all manufactured goods were brought from Europe. Even the architecture was imported by Europeans, who returned to their own countries when they had finished the work. As a result, the traditional crafts and local industries, which made both everyday life and economical activities possible, changed very little over the centuries. Technology was not associated to the idea of progress. Moreover, the mining, agriculture and livestock farming carried out in these lands did not demand it.
Count Lampugnano, in the Novel "Cubagua" by Enrique Bernardo Nunez, brought a machine to the island of the same name which rendered the work of slaves in the exploitation of pearl beds obsolete. He also brought a marble statue of Diana the Huntress. This emergence of mechanicalism was inevitably short-lived, because the new method of extracting pearls undermined the economical regime. Diana became Nila Calice and was taken by the aboriginals to Tierra Firme, where she has remained ever since. Lampugnano came to a sorry end. He was rejected on account of his machine, and considered to be a heretic because of his mythological statue.
Theological space in America was a prolongation of the medieval world which Europe had already left behind. Except for a few artistic manifestations, the rational avant-garde of the Renaissance never reached this part of the world. This resulted in a dichotomy between American and European time which lasted until the eighteen century, when the Bourbons reigned in Spain. Then the French, Italians and Germans had access to the empire, enriching it with their learning. This was the century that saw the beginnings of natural science and produced Humboldt's vocation for America.
The discovery of art
In the first two centuries of America's existence, mestizo and criollo artists used imported Flemish, Italian and Spanish paintings as a point of reference. From Mexico to La Plata they spent their time depicting biblical episodes, the order of the heavens and the structure of the universe. At the dome is the Holy Trinity, in all its glory and splendor; Earth was the center, and then hell, with its demons and torments. Man was in his temporary kingdom halfway between the hope of salvation and the threat of condemnation. Jesus Christ was there to open the doors of Eternity, and the Virgin Mary, the Saints and the Archangels were there as their mediators.
This iconography is the metaphor of American spatial theology. Nevertheless, in the eighteenth century the local artists began to incorporate freely the elements of the sensitive world to decorate their compositions. In this way their images turned into American knowledge: the environment, the flora, the fauna, the people and the chronicle. Earth seemed to take on more importance than Heaven.
At almost the same time, European artists made an inventory of what they saw as just landscapes and exotic people. Mauricio de Nassau's expedition reached Brazil in 1634. Frans Post was the official painter on the expedition, and he stayed in the region for ten years. He painted the first landscapes of America, although they were very Dutch in style. He completed many of his canvasses when he returned to Harlem from sketches make during his stay. Another painter of the expedition, Albert van der Eeckhout, focussed on the aboriginals, plants and animals.
As far back as the sixteenth century, prints made from sketches and even verbal reports from travelers began to circulate around Europe. For example, the engravings of Hans Staden (Marburg, 1567) and Girolamo Benzoni (Venice, 1565), were based on drawings by Christoph Weiditz, who depicted the aboriginals taken by Hernan Cortes to the court of Charles V. Many of these pictures are quite remarkable, and they contributed to the spread of a series of myths about America.
The naturalist iconography that Humboldt's journey produced stimulated other European artists in the nineteenth century. Later Rugendas, Bellermann, Nebel, Hilde-brandt, Berg and others went to America to describe an exuberant and apparently inexhaustible reality which surpassed fiction itself. It is strange that the American painters of that time were not landscape painters. The revolution of independence finally eliminated the metaphors of theology from their paintings. However, that revolution, fought by men who felt proud to be American rather than Spanish, only brought about the short and medium term transfer from religious themes to republicans themes. For many years, historical spread preceded geographical space.
Between 1852 and 1854, two foreign artists in Venezuela depicted scenes from nature, people and their customs. They were Fritz Melbye, who was born in Europe, and Camille Pisarro who was born in the island of St. Thomas, in the Caribbean. The light, the vegetation and the colors were all there, and they had the talent necessary to perceive and interpret them. Their production over two years is a legacy which is now greatly esteemed, as work of art and as testimony of our past. Later, Pisarro went to France where he produced his impressionist works through eyes that had learned to understand American light. Nevertheless it was not until the twentieth century that Impressionism motivated painters here to discover landscape.
The Cartesian coordinates
European movements had a decisive influence on the generation of Americans who organized the struggle for independence. The spirit of Enlightenment caught up with them, along with the political ideas of the French Revolution, scientific concepts and mechanical technology. The urban elite of new Republics began to modify the cultural patterns that 300 years of Spanish domination had established, and they adopted Paris as their cosmopolitan center.
Yet because of the scandal raised by the progressive writers from Domingo Faustino Sarmiento to Rómulo Gallegos, the economy remained square in the nineteenth century, with its large estates and slave labor, and with its traditional trade and crafts industries, the export of raw material and the import of manufactured goods, in particular those using technological components. On the other hand, that literary tradition portrayed nature as a tellurian force, capable of defeating and destroying man. (Nowadays, within ecological art, the polarity is inverted.) For foreign explorers, however, nature was a source of knowledge, as well as an invitation to adventure and an opportunity to achieve fame. And authors on the other side of the Atlantic who were able to imagine virgin forests, great rivers and high mountains filled with animals, floods, storms and barbarism, also thought up strong-willed characters capable of overcoming those challenges. Man is the only rival of man.
Meanwhile, in their comforting landscapes, the French painters depicted a vision of nature meekly subdued by rationalism, cultivated and preserved, happy to serve humanity in a mutually beneficial agreement. There are landscapes in which townswomen and children enjoy days in the country, traveling in coaches or well-built steam engines. The peasants reap plentiful crops, and meet at nightfall to pray the Angelus in thanks. Everything seems to respond to an established order: the seasons roll on, the limpid waters follow their course, trees keep to a scale, the clouds are peaceful, and well-doing bourgeois couples wander down pleasant meadows.
Venezuela as motivation: the French connection
The most outstanding Venezuelan painters in the second half of the nineteenth century studied in France. There they ably learned the technical skills, and they had direct contact with the development of western art from the Renaissance period up to Romanticism and Realism. They produced patriotic iconography, they worked on French themes and other mythologies, and faithfully painted the portraits of their contemporaries, with psychological insight. They imbued Venezuelan cultural development with European artistic tradition, and, through their influence, provided the conditions necessary for this link to be carried through to the next century. It should be said that this relationship is characterized by its diachrony, for local painters continued to use forms of painting which were not longer in use in France.
While the battlefield of Carabobo or the pampa of Junin still set the scene for the wars of emancipation waged on horseback, the great continent broke out with images of Martin Tovar y Tovar. A historical scenario conceived in a garret. Nevertheless, at the close of the century this artist began to paint natural landscapes, just like Jesus Maria de las Casas, which were to become the principal subject-matter of his small format pictures. There are also landscapes by Cristobal Rojas, Arturo Michelena and Herrera Toro, though they have little importance in the artistic profile.
In 1918, the Rumanian artist, Samys Mutzner, a contemporary of Monet, put on an exhibition in Caracas. He had been working in Venezuela for two years. The landscape painters of the time where familiar with Impressionism, through reference only, and had the opportunity to study his technique for themselves. The influence of Emilio Boggio was even greater. This artist was born in Caracas in 1857. At the age of 20 he went to live permanently in France, where he completed his studies. He mixed with the Impressionist painters, particularly with Camille Pisarro, and in around 1900 began to produce works based on concepts of this movement. His talent was recognized during his lifetime, and he was given and award at the Salon de Paris, and invited to exhibit at the Salon's autumn exhibition.
He returned to his hometown in 1919 where he stayed for several months. With him he brought a selection of pictures, mainly landscapes, with which he staged an exhibition. It was a great success. The Venezuelan artist who had returned from France with fame and talent which earned him respect and admiration, presented to the public a form of painting which was completely apart from anything being painted at the time, which had a new vision and expression which contradicted official academic styles. His presence gave support to a generation which was seeing its own identity in landscape painting.
Boggio, during his brief stay, was the master that these young artists had not encountered during their formal studies. He worked closely with them, encouraging them and explaining his techniques, and even accompaniyng some of them when they went to outskirts of the city to paint. During the first third of the twentieth century, Armando Reveron, Manuel Cabre, Marcos Castillo, Rafael Monasterios, Antonio Edmundo Monsanto were all to be the renovators of Venezuelan painting, along with Federico Brandt, who was educated in Europe, and others who later joined the so-called Escuela de Caracas, the Caracas School.
The pioneer of modern art
The life and work of Armando Reverón (1889-1954) has an ethical an aesthetic value which constitute a great contribution to Venezuelan culture. Over and above the legendary heights that he attained, he is an exceptional example of an artist devoted to the creation of his own universe in a self-imposed isolation which was an indispensable condition for fulfilling his destiny. The primitivism of the living conditions that he chose, and the essentials achieved in his painting, are the characteristics which define his profile. These values, achieved through his authenticity, brought Venezuela a deeply significant form of modern art which had its beginnings in Western civilization at the start of the century.
Having graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Caracas, Reveron continued his studies in Spain and then spent several months in France. He returned to Venezuela at the outset of the First World War. His encounter with Emilio Boggio left him with some impressionist resources, as can be seen in some works of his blue period. Later, when he began to eliminate colors and made white his main and almost only means of expression, Reveron went beyond Impressionism. He tackled the problem of visual perception from new perspectives, and resolved it with an original contribution.
In the paintings of the white period, the pictorial matter is scarce and appears as thin patches scattered over the canvas, without covering it. The background and the figures are on the same plane. The eye has to separate them and assume a space between them. Unlike well defined painting, his works have an open structure. The observer must participate actively to put together something that is scarcely suggested, imaginatively joining pieces together, discovering the underlying unity, thus shaping a totally or Gestalt. Perception is not just the simple sum of sensations. It is a complex process that synthesizes visual stimuli. By using an interpretation of the effect of light on objects, Reverón discovered that the problem was in the selection of a minimum of information. He did not set out to describe the world. Here was a reflection and practice on the possibilities of an autonomous pictorial language created to express his relationship with the phenomena of the universe. These formal devices are the most important achievement in Venezuelan art in the first half of the twentieth century. The special period confirmed that Reverón had created fruitful principles to present the images.
His generation used nature as the main theme of their artistic production. They converted color, and the changes in it caused by atmospheric light, as their principal artistic theme. They knew how to create an image of Venezuelan geographical space in their landscapes, and felt at home with a subject-matter that allowed them to practice and perfect their art, and to master it. It is clear that they had to commemorate the physical work as an unavoidable ontological requirement. Manuel Cabre took this to its greatest extremes, through his fascination with the mountain of Caracas, El Avila, to the point where he represented it in manner bordering on hype-realism. Monsanto and other painters were teachers who brought about a new approach to art teaching in the country. During the 1940's they taught a new generation that was to emerge as a vigorous presence, and which started out by repudiating them.
The international avant-garde movement
Western art's definitive break with Renaissance traditions occurred before the First World War. The European avant-garde movement discarded the principle of imitating the sensitive world and declared themselves in favor of autonomy in art. Thereafter, in succession, came Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Abstractionism, Neo-Plasticism and Suprematism, as well as Dadaism (1915), Constructivism (1917) and Surrealism (1924). Thus the form known as twentieth century modern art took shape. Untarnished, ideal relationships of lines, colors and forms became the aim and meaning of the work, which refers back to itself instead of the external objects. They were then worried by strictly artistic questions: aesthetic codes, formal invention, color research, planes and spaces, movement, the use of new materials, the significance of things taken from reality and reused by artists.
The primitivism of modern art, according to Roy McMullen, consisted in the rejection of the rationalism that, since the Renaissance, had guided and controlled the representation of visible aspects of reality. It was the absence of this rational component, at least as it was understood by Europeans, that expressionists and cubists admired in the artistic manifestation of Oceania and Africa. They also admired the naive art of Picasso and his companions. It is the direct expression of the unconscious in Surrealism, and the acceptance of myth as the origin of metaphoric activity. As for Essentialism, which McMullen also comments on, this is the communication of sensations, impulses and ideas through the work.
After the second World War modernism appeared on the scene, that is to say, variations on the problems raised and solved by the artists at the beginning of the century. During the post-war period, however, the general belief in the need and possibility of producing a new art form spread. In this manner a period characterized by experimentation, internationalization and contradiction between trends developed; one on the one hand, concrete art, of abstract origin, along the lines established by New-Plasticism and Contructivism; on the other hand, free abstraction, of intuitive orientation, that started out from Kandinsky and surrealistic automatic writing. The antithesis was also apparent in language; the former spoke of artistic invention, in a very rational, scientific and technological sense; the later of artistic creation, in a spiritual, almost technological sense. This confrontation took place in Paris.
At the end of 1940's, a generation emerged in Venezuela that reacted against the trends shaping the aesthetic panorama of the country: landscaping, as has already been mentioned, and social realism, a product of the influence of Mexican Muralism. The rural country described by Romulo Gallegos in his novels was changing. The main factor in this process was oil, which became the most important item of export, and encouraged the rural population to travel to the cities, which brought about the slide in agricultural production. Cities grew fast in size, social mobility was accelerated and, after the Second World War, new cultural models were introduced.
The young Venezuelan artists were split into two main tendencies: one group represented by "Los Disidentes", and another by the so-called "Taller Libre de Arte" (Free Workshop of Art). Names that figure in the former group are Pascual Navarro, Alejandro Otero, Mateo Manaure, Luis Guevara Moreno, Carlos González Bogen, Narciso Debourg, Omar Carreno, Ruben Nunez, Peran Erminy, Miguel Arroyo and Armando Barrios. From 1950 they set up in Paris and their production was orientated toward geometrical art. Jesus Soto, Victor Valera, Mercedes Pardo, Enrique Sarda and others went there too, and Carlos Cruz-Diez arrived in 1960.
The "Taller Libre de Arte" was founded in 1948, under the direction of Alirio Oramas; the artists gathered there were mainly figurative. The started research into the cultural mixture of races in Latin America -this term was already in use- and were particularly interested in the Cuban Painters Wilfredo Lam, Rene Portocarrero and Amelia Pelaez, whose works were in line with these ideals. They gave new values to naive painting by identifying and divulging the expressions of Feliciano Carvallo and Barbaro Rivas, and studied local culture. The workshop was a meeting place and a place for discussion, in which intellectuals and writers such as the Cubans Jose Gómez Sucre and Alejo Carpentier, the Frenchman Gaston Diehl, and the Venezuelans, Oswaldo Trejo, Juan Liscano, Rafael Pineda, Sergio Antillano and Alfredo Armas Alfonzo participated.
The work of this group was influenced, at different stages, by the new figurative art, abstract expressionism, surrealism, free abstraction and informalism. Its principal artist were Jacobo Borges, Oswaldo Vigas, Manuel Quintana Castillo, Régulo Pérez and Humberto Jaimes Sánchez, who also went to Paris. Both groups broke up, but their respective leanings survived. It can be said that throughout this decade these leanings intertwined. Some of the artists from the Workshop later joined "Los Disidentes", and some of the Geometrists moved across to figurative art.
This generation was responsible for bringing new forms to Venezuelan art. Its members aspired to create works of modern art linked to the great international movements. And they also aspired to universal recognition. Many of them participated in the project of synthesizing arts at the University of Caracas, an idea developed by the architect, Carlos Raul Villanueva. Ceramic murals, and frescoes, sculptures and relief by local and international artists were exhibited in public places, since the idea was that art should play an important role in society. The geometrical and constructivist trends are dominant in most cases, in keeping with the atmosphere of the time. Arp, Bloc, Calder, Laurens, Lam, Lobo, Leger, Pevsner, Tauber and Vasarely represent international collaboration in this project. Among the Venezuelans participants were Miguel Arroyo, Omar Carreno, Carlos González Bogen, Mateo Manaure, Pascual Navarro, Alirio Oramas, Alejandro Otero, Jesus Soto, Victor Valera, Oswaldo Vigas, Armando Barrios, Francisco Narváez, Hector Poleo and Pedro Leon Castro. Most of them were dedicated to painting and sculpture. This characteristic relates to an effort to integrate the arts, leading to a global work. The aim is to make the aesthetic proposition work in space, while discarding the traditional division into two and three dimensions. This objective was achieved in the following decades in works by Alejandro Otero, Jesus Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez.
Thirty years of Venezuelan art
A trend may be considered to be international when many artists, in different countries, and not just in the center of its divulgation, share the same language. Each of them create work within a code, and give an individual perspective to the collective tendency. This cultural community is made possible by world-wide media. It also requires a feeling of empathy by the artists which goes beyond personal differences, because the modern art system made its mark with the strength born of historical necessity, and thus became universal.
When they joined the international scene, in the second half of the century, Venezuelan artists overcame the diachrony that had characterized local production for the past century. They were, at the same time, influenced by the speed of changeover from one movement to another, which happened in succession for periods as short as a decade. The new generations that have taken shape with their own particular values, judgements, and behavior, also contribute to the dynamism of this process. Contemporaneity is assumed through the participation in this complex space-time network. The Venezuelans bring their work to Venice and Sao Paulo and to Kassel's Documenta. They exhibit in museums and in art galleries throughout Europe, the United States, Latin America, and even Asia.
Renewal is an inherent requirement for Venezuelan art. This need to follow the trends of the times has given each decade an individual profile. Different stages can be detected in the individual output of artists, and in many cases, instead of common development along one line, there are ruptures, contradictions, movement forwards and backwards, openings, closings, and then again, new beginnings.
Alejandro Otero (El Manteco, 1921-1990) played a leading role in the renewal of Venezuelan art, both in his creative work and also in his enthusiastic support of movements, young artists, new projects and cultural institutions.
He developed a series of Coloritmos between 1955 and 1960. Made in ducco on wood, in these works color is divided into parallel strips and geometrical form, arranged on vertical, horizontal, and diagonal axes. These bands give dynamic linear interrelation, and create the illusion that the elements abandon the pictorial plane to occupy virtual space. Otero managed to incorporate the sensorial value of colors in this strictly rational composition.
In 1967 he began to work on his great metallic constructions, in which the mobile sections, moved by the wind, bring about the transformation of the vibrating elements, and in which metallic surfaces reflect the sunlight. In these huge spires and towers, cubes and pyramids, rotors and wheels, there is an integration of ever-changing lines, planes and volumes which suggest a multiple gaze, and also real space and energy. They are machines in the broadest sense of the word, created for aesthetic experience, contrivances potentially present in the Coloritmos, which take dynamism, structure and luminosity to the utmost consequences. The output of these works continued until 1990, and Otero left models of other devices.
Jesus Soto (Ciudad Bolívar, 1923) based his kinetic work on a pattern of relationships from parallel lines on a flat background and elements placed in front of it and in the air: wires, metallic rods, colored squares, hanging bars, calligraphies, and "T's". Background and form react depending on the observer's perception of them, and by moving and then observing from different points, a sense of movement is created. Kinetism arose to oppose geometrical art. Soto's works solve this contradiction. The logical, rigid order of the composition creates the static element, which opposes the virtual vibration of the objects. Later he carried his ideas on to monumental dimensions, with his Penetrables, masses of hanging elements placed in a space, through which the general public passed. Up until that moment, a frontal viewpoint prevailed in his work. Today he works with open volumes which are to be viewed from every angle, and which he synthesizes his opinions on color, form, time, and space, and virtual movement.
Carlos Cruz-Diez (Caracas, 1923) began his research into kinetics in 1960. In "Fisicromias" color is displayed by vertical strips placed on a background. They are usually four or five colors that combine in the eye of the observer, who should move in front of the work to perceive the transformations intended by the artist. In the Transcromias he uses a series of dyed sheets. The optical mixture takes place by placing one color over the other, which is made possible by the use of transparent materials. In the Cromointerferencias he introduces mechanical movement, using a motor that moves a disc with colored stripes between two planes. Cruz-Diez has produced great works integrated with architecture, as well as structures for urban spaces.
Gerd Leufert (Kiaipeda, Lithuania, 1914) settled in Caracas in 1950. His first works are characterized by their bulk and form and by their monochromy. He later developed a pictorial language in which color plays a leading role, extended over large surfaces with geometrical designs with which he creates difficult and original harmonies.
Nedo, Mario Ferrario, (Milan, Italy, 1926), in the 1950's, he worked with textures on a white background. This was the start of later constructivist works, based on reliefs with holes and ledges, reversions of form and significance, in white on white, which enabled him to capture light and obtain a chiaroscuro effect. Leufert and Nedo have accomplished an important function as forerunners of modern graphic design in Venezuela.
Mercedes Pardo (Caracas, 1922) expresses herself mainly through color. She shows big chromatic planes on a geometrical lay-out, searching into the relationships and possibilities for mutual activation between the two.
From the two trend that emerged in the second postwar period, concrete art and liberal abstractionism, the later led to Informalism (a name given by Michael Tapio in 1952) which embraces abstract expressionism, gestualism and action-painting. Kandinky's work and surrealism are its origins.
Francisco Hung (Canton, China 1937) has been the greatest of Venezuelan gestual painters. He uses pictorial space which is rich in color, graphisms, texture and symbolism. He assaults the canvas, which turns into the area of activity of the gesture and very act of painting, and on which he thus leaves his mark. This is done swiftly and impulsively, totally spontaneously. His major artistic contributions took place in the 1960's. Humberto Jaimes Sánchez (San Cristobal, 1930) worked at that time on informal landscapes in which there is an illusion to nature by virtue of a substance reminiscent of geological formations and which is incorporated into the work. Angel Hurtado (El Tocuyo, 1927) also refers to landscapes in abstract compositions, in which colors suggest atmospheric luminosity. These three artists really belong to the vigorous informalist movement that took place in Venezuela.
The 1960's was a period of action and reaction, of motion and coutermotion, and of artistic sacrifices for political issues. A long dictatorship ended in 1958 with a civil-military uprising. There after the Venezuelan democratic process began. Fresh incidents, such as the Cuban Revolution and guerrilla movements started up by left-wing activists, gave right to political commitment in art. The artistic and intellectual groups demanded a radical renewal of all fields of languages. Oil acquired strategic importance for the United States and Venezuela started to develop its assembly industry.
The Salon Oficial de Arte Venezolano (founded in 1940 and closed in 1969) became the center of the polemics. Exhibitions reflected the eclecticism of the times, kinetism, geometrism, informalism, new figurative painting and its last exhibitions reflected the apparition of a new generation.
Jacobo Borges (Caracas, 1931) spent these years dedicated to critical figurative painting. He expresses himself through an individual aesthetic language, using excellent resources such as color, brushstroke and manufacture.
Régulo Pérez, (Caicara del Orinoco, 1929) was also a protest painter using aggressive colors and distorted characters. A draughtsman using loose, expressive graphism, he also uses relief, silhouettes and ambientation in his works.
The most important contribution of Oswaldo Vigas (Valencia, 1926) is the series Las Brujas, in which he combines constructive rigidity with expressive coloring. His vocation for South America leads him to support the morphology of his figures on aboriginal anthropomorphic ceramics.
In the images of Alirio Rodríguez (El Callao, 1934) man is represented as if being formed in an elliptical movement, like a process rather than a closed figure, which also suggests the transformation of matter into energy. Rodríguez paints directly onto the canvas with a pigment tube, with actions linked closely to gestualism.
At the same time, because of the political changes, a reevaluation of people's culture took place, to rescue a collective memory and recover a social class. This was reflected in the appearance of many naive painters, such as Antonio Jesús Fernández, "The man with the ring" (Escuque, 1927) whose production consists basically of sculptures and polychrome reliefs that express legends, myths and traditional beliefs. Bárbaro Rivas (Petare, 1893-1967), a self-taught artist of modest origins, has been hailed as a great artist; there is a religious spirit to his work, which he produced with surprisingly spontaneous expressionism.
Mario Abreu (Turmero, 1919) who also participated in the "Taller Libre de Arte", did figurative painting on magical an mythical subjects, using vibrant coloring. He later worked assemblages of junk, which he presented in symmetrical, baroque compositions. The themes of his painting thus reach a new space, and ritual and popular elements are incorporated. His work has had an influence over a later generation of artists, as he showed them a path to search into American reality, and proved the validity of the devices he used.
A small piece by Cornelis Zitman (Leiden, Holland, 1926) is a good example of the sculpture he has been producing in Venezuela since 1947. A figurative artist, he has created his own human typology, which has expressionist features that led him to introduce deformations, disproportions and strange contortions. It should be stated that a vigorous sculptural movement has been taking place in the country for several decades. As has already been said, many artists alternate between painting and sculpture with great success. However there has recently been a notable specialization by artists in three-dimensional works.
As has been stated above, the work of Pedro Barreto (Santa Catalina, 1935) confirms that in this period there was intensive sculptural activity. Barreto chose to work with wood; from an abstract formulation he makes allusions to forms which are found in nature.
The figurative movement continued to develop during the 1970's. Mature painters took the scene, who had already been active in previous decades, even when young artists such as Jesus Antonio Quintero, Henry(Bermudez, Jesus Campos Biscardi, Freddy Pereira, Felipe Herrera, Corina Briceno, Ivan Estrada, Salvador Martinez, Carmelo Nino and Edwind Villasmil made their appearance. Drawing had its highlight as a valid an adequate technique for artistic expression, and many young artists were devoted to this discipline. This trend was known as the "New drawing in Venezuela".
José Antonio Davila (New York, 1953) started a form of painting that has social intentions. From 1968 he renewed his language and used a flat base, a range of colors close to serigraphical tones, structured on drawing. His subjects, cabins and construction-sites, refer to man at work.
Pedro León Zapata (La Grita, 1928) has had an outstanding career as a caricaturist, in his bitter irony and personal style. His paintings developed from drawing concepts. In 1975 he used three-dimensional supports and frames of different forms in a series of paintings on a theme of urban life.
Elsa Gramcko (Puerto Cabello, 1925) turned to informalism in the 1960's. Later she started working on three-dimensional objects and showed a great interest in using different materials: textures, rusting, the mark of time. This period of her production can be placed within the limits of new realism. She used junk, objects that she had come across, and even included stained glass. With elements she committed herself to the creation of a poetic world. She also produced polished metal sculptures, which reflects light and the environment, based on heavy geometrical volumes.
Gabriel Morera (Madrid, Spain, 1933) formed part of the informalist movement, Later he presented boxes, which he called Orthos, in which light is decomposed through prisms and reflected onto bent surfaces. He still works with mirrors an little show cases integrated in assemblages. His works has onirical connotations and is suggestive and evocative.
During this decade the first conceptual artists appeared on the scene in Venezuela. One of them, Hector Fuenmayor (Caracas, 1949), painted the walls of a gallery yellow, and presented this as an exhibition. Another work by this artist was a sequence of lines which stopped where he ran out of graphite. At the end of the sequence he included the discarded pencil. Later he started to research into the possibilities of photocopying. However, it is in the next decade that conceptualism, as well as body actions, performances and installations are extensively developed.
On the international scene, artists returned to the free abstractionism of the second post-ward period, and to its consequences: informalism, De Kooning's gestual expressionism and Pollock's painting. This tendency was to be called neo-Expressionism. There was a need to go on painting, using traditional materials, canvas and oils in large format. The post-modernist consciousness furthered the search into art history and past iconographies, and accepted the use of previously used and assimilated styles.
Although new-expressionism had an influence on the young painters of the time, it did not promote research into informalist and gestual Venezuelan painting, perhaps due to a lack of diffusion of the works kept in museums and private collections, and even in artists' studios. It would have been interesting to have shown a retrospective exhibition of works by Francisco Hung, Omar Carreno, Humberto Jaimes Sanchez, Gabriel Morera, Elsa Gramcko, Maruja Rolando, Angel Luque, Daniel Gonzalez, Fernando Irazabal and many others. The new painters took Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and the so called "new Germans savages" as reference.
Figurative and landscape painting, which had been fresh and spontaneous in the previous decade, reached a level of perfection that corresponded with the professional maturity of the artists, not to mention manierism. What had been new drawing became technical formula.
In the mid-1970's, oil prices increased. Economical resources were abundant during the following decade and there was apparent prosperity, with domestic industry protected and expanding. This was to the advantage of the arts, since new museums were set up and many private collections appeared. The period ended with the international revenue crisis of 1990's.
A new generation of 1985 was reviewed in the Salon Nacional de Jovenes Artistas in what proved to be its last exhibition. Out of 409 paintings, 42 were accepted; from 59 drawings, just one was accepted; 13 sculptures were accepted out of 98, and 28 projects from a total of 62. The art of the 1970's was excluded and neo-expressionism, transvanguard and post-modernism took the scene. Some installations, live-actions and ephemeral works were also presented. These artistic movements had important precedents in works by Diego Barboza, Eugenio Espinoza, Marco Antonio Edttegui, Angel Vivas Arias, Antonieta Sosa, Carlos Zerpa, Pedro Teran, Yeni and Nan. Claudio Perna is a vital reference for conceptual art. In the second half of this decade, video-art works appeared by Sammy Cucher, Jose Antonio Hernandez Diez, Nela Ochoa, Oscar Molinari and Carlos Castillo.
Among the new painters, the following names stand out: Ernesto León (Caracas, 1956), who introduced an alternate iconography and was characterized by his swift execution and spontaneous and light workmanship.
Antonio Lazo (Caracas, 1943) one of the draughtsmen who made the transition to painting. Using horses as his subject, he re-elaborates artistic representation within a somewhat intentional primitivism.
Felix Perdomo (Valle de la Pascua, 1956) is characterized by graphisms on flat, colored surfaces, with subtle references to objects.
Sigfredo Chacón (Caracas, 1950) works with an artistic alphabet limited to graphism and color, in a research into geometries of cubism.
Pancho Quilici (Caracas, 1954) also emerges from origins in drawing. In his resourceful painting, he proposes landscapes and imaginary cities.
Several painters who had worked in the previous decade used new languages of expression during the 1980's.
Julio Pacheco Rivas (Caracas, 1953) inquires into perspective, and simultaneously applies it to the invention of fantastic architectures, displayed in wide panoramas that resemble the ambiguity of mirrors.
Adrian Pujol (Palma de Mallorca, Spain 1948) works on urban subjects in large format paintings and engravings. One of his main symbols is the car, which he mythifies to enormous dimensions.
Edgar Sánchez (Aguada Grande, 1940) fills the whole surface of the canvas with foregrounds of human faces. He treats skin as if it were a telluric space and turns physiognomical features into topographical details.
Eugenio Espinoza (San Juan de los Morros, 1950) researched into the structure of perspective, and gradually dissolved it. At the end of this period of his production, he began to work on assemblages, deformed objects and volumes.
Jorge Pizzani (Acarigua, 1949) went from drawing to painting. He works in a gestual-expressionist style with allusion to landscape.
Carlos Zerpa (Valencia, 1950) expresses himself through installations, assemblages, glass cases and paintings. His production is characterized by the use of traditional iconographies, in his own fashion or as part of collages; violent colors, irony an opposition between kitsch and aggressiveness.
Victor Hugo lrazabal (Caracas, 1945) has done assemblages and drawings. In his paintings he arrives at abstraction through the reduction of the object represented. He expresses himself through aesthetic devices that still refer to an ulterior reality. He divides the surface into sections displayed in lines and columns, in every one of which there is an image.
Roberto Obregón (Barranquilla, Colombia, 1946) has committed himself to research the subject of the rose. He dissects it, petal by petal, and records a different version of the process. It is his personal myth. He also works with others aspects of nature, such an insects and water.
Margot Romer (Caracas, 1938) alternates painting, graphics and drawing. Through her pictorial language she gives huge shapes to a symbol: the Venezuelan flag. Later she did the same with a metaphorized star as her central motif.
A common characteristic of most of these painters is the use of large formats in an attempt to stress the importance of extension and scale, distancing themselves from intimate easel paintings and approaching the requirements for mural works intended for ample spaces.
Three-dimensional expression during this decade had contributions from young artists such as Carlos Mendoza, Miguel Borelli, Carlos Medina, Luis Lartitegui, Oscar Machado, Marcos Salazar, Jorge Salas, Javier Level, Sydia Reyes and Mailon Garcia. Many ceramists gave sculptural size and concept to their production. The special relationships and objects proposed by Pedro Teran, Nan González and Carlos Quintana are also included in this category.
Marisol Escobar (Paris, 1930) stands out as an internationally recognized sculptress. She lives in New York but is still linked to Venezuela through her works. Since the 1960's she has been making a personal interpretation of Pop Art, using wood and other materials. Her language has evolved; using bronze casting, she has found a new way to develop her shapes and volumes.
Victor Valera (Maracaibo, 1927) was the first Venezuelan artist to use iron in his sculptures. During his long career he has had constructivist and figurative periods, and today expresses himself through free geometrical shapes. He is also a painter.
Harry Abend (Yaroslav, Poland, 1937) he has been dedicated to wood carving for several years. A mature sculptor, who has an abstract language, he proposes the archaic in the configuration of his volumes and the marks he makes on his material, without modifying its natural state.
Max Pedemonte (Habana, Cuba, 1936) these days uses the wood used for lining planks to produces works in which he integrates arches and columns.
Maria Teresa Torras (Barcelona, Spain, 1927) works on soft materials in a formal repertory that enables her to refer to vegetative as well as human subjects. She also casts tree sections in bronze; in this way she modifies natural materiality, while preserving its original appearance.
Milton Becerra (Colon, 1951) associates minerals, vegetables fibres and metals in objects that function as analogies of primitive instruments and geometrical rituals.
Rafael Barrios (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1947) produced a conceptual work in which he investigated the relationship between conterfactual objects and the spectators' perceptive habits. Later he started a series of illusionistic sculptures in painted metal, with virtual volumes which seem to contradict gravity and to extend beyond their physical limits. This decade is also defined by the work of several artists, whose presence in Venezuelan art extends over a long period which, in some cases, has its beginnings in the 1950's.
Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt, Hamburg, Germany, 1912) produces sculptures, environmental works, drawings, engravings and hand-made books. She settled in Venezuela in 1939. Her Reticularea, one of her most significance contributions, is a net of lines and transparencies which articulate spatiality in a structure, making visible an open volume. Another of her accomplishments is a series of three-dimensional drawings, made with wires of different thickness, which create a clearly outlined image in space.
Alirio Palacios (Tucupita, 1944) is a draughtsman, engraver and painter. His neo-figurative works, using characters, environments and animals that belong to an onirical atmosphere, are remarkable in the excellence of the drawings and graphical qualities.
Manuel Quintana Castillo (Caucagua, 1928) took part in the "Taller Libre de Arte" ' He has been a careful student of the cubist problems, the consequences of which he acknowledged in the structural characteristic of his images. He accomplished a fantastic figuration, had on informalist period and later developed a series of harmonies between monochromatic wide planes, and later still returned to figuration. Today his language is characterized by free geometrical shapes and calligraphic symbols. Color has been a constant preoccupation in his production.
Luisa Ritcher (Besigheim, Germany, 1928) alternates painting with drawing and collage. Her pictorial work has clear expressionist connections, which has led her from a trimming stage to informalism, with extremely textured materials. She also works on figures Luisa Richter Es and landscapes glimpsed through an open window.
Jorge Stever (Templin, Germany, 1940) uses trompe l'oeil to place calligraphies, strokes and colored pill in a virtual space, contrasting with the materials backgrounds of his large format paintings.
Miguel von Dangel (Bayreuth, Germany, 1946) has been present in the Venezuelan artistic process throughout the three decades represented. By temperament and behavior, an expressionist, the pathos of his works emerges from his sense of everything that is terrible, in particular, apocalyptic. In the 1960's he worked on assemblages of skeletons, stuffed animals, junk and organic materials. He recognizes that his methods were helped by the influence of Mario Abreu, and that in barbaro Rivas he found the inspiration to develop his artistic vocation and to express his religiousness. Many years ago he started work on unfinished writing on long strips of paper which he fills with figures, symbols and graphisms, and which make up, fragment by fragment, an endless diary. In his relationship with nature, he took samples of earth and minerals from different places, encapsulating them in a transparent polyester volumes, like real landscapes. He frequently visits aboriginal ethnic groups, searching for a mythical and ritual sense to his art: feather compositions, masks, corporal painting, and shamanic objects. This whole universe is displayed in his collage-paintings. Color, which he applies directly from the tube, unify the whole and at the same time functions as a field of energy. His work refers to images in the centre of which the cross is sacrificed. In 1983 he took part in the Sao Paolo Biennial, with a huge construction using different materials and fibre glass: El regreso de la cuarta nave (The return of the fourth ship). Columbus's ships would have numbered four, not three, and one of them remained on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, lost in time and space.
Five hundred years later, it returns to Spain, transmuted by a fusion of mythical and historical time, laden with the botany, zoology and geology of Latin America. The Vessel is made of earth, water, air and fire. She makes and remakes herself, as an open and unfinished creation. First the fluid blue, then the white reverberation of light and the sepia of the sails. Then comes the solid red of the wood, and the shining yellow of the unending gold. The Ship starts out on the on the opposite journey across the Ocean Sea guided by signs from the stars. The troubadour crew is made up of artists who later tell the tale of their visions. Word and Image. Like an ark, it carries animal life, flowers and landscapes, among other riches. First it turns into an island, then a continent, and then the continent becomes History in which both shores are joined. Back at its primeval substance of time and nature, it winds over itself in the centre of a spire in time for abduction of Europe. It emerges, converted into art and surrenders its Meaning.
Taken from the publication Arts and Literature , published by the Embassy of Venezuela, Washington DC. Reproduction for commercial purposes is prohibited.