All posts by M. A. Bello

Martin Naarmann: Images

All images are 3 x 3 inches on 11 x 7-1/2 inch paper (SUPERALFA by GUARRO in Barcelona). On the bottom, Naarmann places a blind or embossed spiral on the left and a red stamp on the right, both of his own design. Editions are small — five to a run. The engravings are titled, signed (M.N.) and dated (07 or 08) in pencil. The Spanish initials E. A. are the equivalent of A. P. or Artist Proof in English.

Click on images for details.

Alfred Hentze

Alfred Hentze: Ceramic Art Tiles and Plates

Alfred Hentze is an emerging artist from Guatemala. He is not really a potter or ceramist in the strict sense of the word, and he has no formal training or background in Lágrimas #3, 16 x 8 in.ceramics. Technically, he is a decorative painter whose canvas happens to be either terra cotta or a white majolica base.

Hentze’s art tiles and plates are not utilitarian vessels or functional objects in the traditional manner. They are strictly ornamental pieces, and such a departure from the production of household items signals a change in Guatemala, where Hentze is at the forefront of this new direction.

Hentze integrates texture, form and color, much like his own country’s indigenous textiles. The outcome is a sensual and tactile effect.

The stylized decorative surfaces of the Lágrimas and Alas series present a mystical and religious puzzle of sorts. Hentze uses multi-tile compositions as stepping-stones in a pictorial way of suffering and redemption. It is a Christian pilgrimage through lush and color-saturated landscapes. The trail leads from human tears at the foot of the Cross to angel wings and the beatific vision. The sources and references are all familiar yet fresh and unpredictable.

Hentze is becoming known to a much larger audience. His artworks have broad universal appeal and transcend regional geographical labels.

Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya: La Tauromaquia
Casa Santo Domingo, La Antigua Guatemala
December 2005 – March 2006

goya.jpgThere has been quite a bit of publicity recently in the local press about a discovery of sorts at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (ENAP) in Guatemala City. A set of prints by the famous Spanish painter-engraver Francisco Goya Lucientes (1746-1828) has been in the stacks of the school’s library without much notice since the early part of last century, and students have used the series of etchings continually as reference material until June of this year. The prints are no longer at the school. They have been at the Bancafé vault in the Capital until the opening of the current show at Casa Santo Domingo in La Antigua. ENAP is a state-run institution with very limited resources, and Goya’s La Tauromaquia or Bullfight (1816) etchings may well be its major asset.

There are four etching series by Goya: Los Caprichos (Caprices), Los Desastres de la Guerra (Disasters of War), Los Disparates (Follies), and La Tauromaquia. The Bullfight prints are the only ones published under the artist’s direct supervision. The others appear after Goya’s death. The subject matter of La Tauromaquia is also less controversial and more personal than the other graphic work. It is a documentary about bullfight by an aficionado of the sport.

La Tauromaquia has been published eight times from the original copper plates. ENAP’s set of prints is from the fifth run in 1921, and it comes to the school the following year as a gift from the then ambassador of Guatemala to Spain. The edition by the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid consists of 100 numbered copies. There are 33 prints in Goya’s initial series. Seven other etchings (A-G) have been added to subsequent editions for a total of 40. These are found by accident on the reverse side of the plates prior to the third edition. There are 38 prints in ENAP’s collection. Two prints (31 and 32) are missing from the series.

The arrangement of La Tauromaquia is a simple one. There are three basic groupings of etchings. The first is a time-line of history. A Hall of Fame roster of celebrities follows this set, and the series concludes with more or less a manual of technical maneuvers. There is movement in every print, but the etchings are also still-frames of critical moments. The upper portions of the compositions serve as background, and Goya zooms on the action by lowering the playing field. The focus is on the contrast between light and dark. It is a loose and fluid presentation. The execution is unpretentious and straightforward.

ENAP’s prints have been matted and framed for the show at Casa Santo Domingo, but the watermarks and mold are evident. Regardless of their condition, it is a rare public viewing of Goya’s La Tauromaquia in Guatemala. An exhibition catalog is in the works.

La Antigua Guatemala

La Antigua Guatemala. Text by M. A. Bello. Watercolor illustrations by N. Clement.
Northampton, MA: arteBELLO, 2005. 32 pages.
ISBN: none

The city of La Antigua Guatemala is many things to different people. To Antigüeños, it is home. The cobblestone streets and architectural ruins are their birthright. They antigua.jpginherit a place semi-frozen in time and become guardians of its history. Guatemaltecos, in general, also share this sense of stewardship. The colonial city is for them a source of tremendous national pride. Antigua is a common destination of school trips and family outings. It is a place for special events and celebrations. Holy Week observances, in particular, are famous and reflect the country’s religious fervor. Visitors from around the world, too, are drawn to the city. For some, the lure of Antigua proves irresistible. They simply stay and remain under its spell, making themselves at home.

What makes Antigua such a special place? Its natural beauty, for one, is part of the attraction. Located at nearly a mile high in the Panchoy Valley of the highlands, the city is surrounded by three imposing volcanoes: Agua to the south, Acatenango and Fuego to the west. Their soaring presence looms over Antigua. Climate is another factor. The city is favored with spring-like weather all year-round. History and architecture, however, are Antigua’s strong suit. As capital of an area covering Central America and Chiapas during the Spanish colonial period, the city is unchallenged for its former political power and cultural influence. Present-day Antigua is recognized as both a national monument and one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

A museum-city is a fragile environment, and Antigua is no exception. The demands of modern life threaten its very existence. Nature, however, has been Antigua’s worst enemy. The city has been destroyed by earthquakes several times over the centuries. It has been rebuilt and repaired each time. Consequently, resisting damage is a major concern of construction in Antigua and accounts for many of its massive and solid structures.

There is no definitive Antigua. The magic and romance associated with the city is basically a state of mind. Antigua is always in transition according to the dreams of its current residents. The sheer force of nature, the reality of that imminent danger, creates a sense of urgency in the city and an appreciation for life […]

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Antonia Matos: Controversial Artist of the Human Figure

La obra de Antonia Matos.
Francisco Aguirre Matos and Desirée Berger de Aguirre. Guatemala: n.p., 2002.
ISBN: None.

Antonia Matos (1904-1994) is an almost forgotten artist in Guatemala. Her name is known among family members and a small circle of people in the arts who place her alongside Valenti, Mérida, and Garavito. She has only two solo exhibitions to her credit — Paris and Guatemala City during the early 1930s. A tribute twenty years ago and two retrospectives, one in the 1990s and another earlier this year, have focused attention on her career. La obra de Antonia Matos, a recent publication by a nephew, makes the artist’s life and work more accessible to the public.

Matos attracts controversy. As an art student in the 1920s, she poses for the sculptor Rafael Rodríguez Padilla, and her likeness appears on the four nude female figures holding up the Castillo family mausoleum. The Egyptian-style columns are censored with the addition of a pelvic girdle, and she is saved from scandal. A decade later when she returns from Paris as an established artist, an exhibition of nudes causes an uproar. She is ostracized by both her social class and the art community. Matos responds by retreating to her studio, painting only for herself, and not showing another work again for fifty years. The nudes give way to indigenous subjects, landscapes, portraits, and still lifes. Even death cannot shield Matos from current debates over Decreto 27-2002, the so-called Obscenity Law. Recently, the Post Office objects to two of her nudes on an invitation and refuses to deliver the cards without envelopes.

Matos defies easy classification. In Paris, she enrolls at the School of Fine Arts, becoming the first Latin American woman to be granted admission, and she joins the Society of French Painters as one of its members. Her one-woman show is acclaimed by critics. She meets Picasso and befriends Mérida. In Guatemala, the artist is blacklisted (reparation is a belated gesture), and most of the paintings remain in her possession during her lifetime.

Matos1Matos2Among these paintings is a double-sided canvas with a portrait and a nude. To appreciate the two requires flipping the work on its head, an unusual format perhaps alluding to censorship. The lady in the portrait sits, leaning slightly to her left, facing the viewer and staring into the far distance. A single braid falls over the right shoulder. Her legs are crossed, left over right, creating a balance between the upper and lower body. The right hand rests on the left and closes the triangle. The sitter is a study in simplicity — no jewelry except for a single strand of beads that mirrors the shape of her face. A plain backdrop accentuates the profile. Pattern is found only in the Cobán-like huipil, but the corte creates a counterpoint with a solid area of color. The nude is a studio model who straddles a stool draped with a green cloth. The focus is on her supple back and buttocks. The woman leans on the extended right arm and tilts her head to the left. The gesture gives a faint twist to the back and makes for a diagonal axis. Light bounces off the bare skin in contrast to the ochre background. Both paintings are classic Matos interpretations of the human figure against unadorned settings where color and light emerge as her true subjects.

La obra de Antonia Matos is neither a biography nor a catalog raisonné. Matos demands critical analysis and a more professional presentation. She needs to be studied in the context of other Latin American women artists like Frida Kahlo from Mexico or Tarsila do Amaral from Brazil. The next feminine icon may just be from Guatemala.

Religious Folk Art of Guatemala

Devoción del Pueblo: Religious Folk Art of Guatemala
American Bible Society, 1865 Broadway, New York, NY 10023
5 October – 29 December 2001

The Gallery at the headquarters of the American Bible Society in New York seems an unlikely venue for an exhibition of santos from Guatemala. Its major objective is to showcase art with biblical inspiration, and the 76 hand-carved wood figures currently on display are an expression of Catholic tradition and Maya ritual. The Society is a Protestant institution.

The Gallery does not have a permanent collection. Devoción del Pueblo is on loan from Messiah College, a small Evangelical liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. An illustrated brochure accompanies the show, along with a couple of informative handouts in either English or Spanish. Three special events are part of the program: a lecture by Fatima Bercht of El Museo del Barrio, a roundtable discussion with professors of Art and Religious Studies from Messiah, and a tour with curator David Parkyn.

The installation is a colorful affair. Wall-text is set against either a yellow or red background. There are blue bases and yellow pedestals. Glass cases have red interiors, and some backdrops are orange. These colors introduce various sections of the exhibition. Angels and Archangels are at one end. The Virgin Mary and the Passion of Christ are at another. Between these categories are Indigenous and Traditional Saints. There are also separate areas devoted to the Crafting of Santos and to a family altar.

The San Miguel pictured on the cover of the exhibition brochure reflects this overall color scheme. With blue wings fully spread and a red cape flapping in mid-air, the young and handsome warrior appears frozen in action. He is portrayed standing barefoot on one leg at the moment of battle against evil, sword extended over his head (yellow streaks of light on the blade) and the scales of justice in hand. His powerful arms bulge from an armor-like green tunic trimmed in orange gold. The face concentrated on victory is capped with a head of black curls, parted and swept back. Miguel Sacj ‘Tai, the wood carver from Nahualá, is in full control of his craft.

The organizers of the exhibition do not have an equal grip on their subject. To them, santos still “chronicle a way of life that revolves around celebrations and festivals that give meaning to a people’s Christian faith.” The viewpoint may work for a classroom discussion, but it denies the effects of a sweeping evangélico movement in the country. Conversions alter these traditions.

Devoción del Pueblo is an engaging show. It brings to uptown Manhattan a large cast of Catholic and Maya characters from the Highlands of Guatemala, but their pilgrimage is a puzzle. How do American Evangelical missionaries who convert the indigenous from Catholicism to “Christianity” — rejecting in the process all devotion of traditional images — become themselves collectors of religious folk art?