Pearls from artists* # 482
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Devils’ heads with daring and disturbing eyes, twisted horns, abundant grey hair and hooked noses hang on the blue walls of Antonio Viscarra’s house. Long benches covered with old, multi-colored cushions in Bolivian motifs surround the concrete floor of the small room. Several dozen of these hanging faces, which seem to watch in silence from the darkness, are ready to be used in festivals and traditional dances.
The maskmaker or “maestro” as he is called, lives [deceased now] in the area of Avenida Buenos Aires, far from the political and administrative center of the city of La Paz, but rather at the very center of the other La Paz (Chuquiago in the Aymara language) where many peasant immigrants have settled, and which for that reason, is the center of the city’s popular culture.
Viscarra is the oldest creator of masks in La Paz, and his work has helped to conserve, and at the same time to rejuvenate, the tradition of using masks in Bolivian dances. If economic progress and alienation have contributed to the excessive adornment of new masks with glass and other foreign materials, Viscarra, in an attempt to recover the distinctive, original forms, has gone back to the 100-year-old molds used by his grandfather. His work has been exhibited in Europe, in the United States and in South America, Most important, however, is that Viscarra is transmitting his knowledge to his children, ensuring that this form of authentic Bolivian culture will never die.
…Viscarra inherited the old mask molds from his grandfather and was told to take good care of them because some day he might need them. After keeping them carefully put away for 50 years, the maestro used them again for an exhibition of masks prepared in 1984, slowly recreating the original masks, beautiful in their simplicity, in their delicate craftsmanship and in their cultural value. In this way, the masks which emerged from the old molds are regaining their past prestige and importance.
Antonio Viscarra, The mask Maker by Wendy McFarren in Masks of the Bolivian Andes, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil
Comments are welcome!
Q: How do you feel about accepting commissions?
A: By the time I left the Navy in 1989 to devote myself to making art, I had begun a career as a portrait painter. I needed to make money, this was the only way I could think of to do so, and I had perfected the craft of creating photo-realistic portraits in pastel. It worked for a little while.
A year later I found myself feeling bored and frustrated for many reasons. I didn’t like having to please a client because their concerns generally had little to do with art. Once I ensured that the portrait was a good (and usually flattering) likeness, there was no more room for experimentation, growth, or creativity. I believed (and still do) that I could never learn all there was to know about soft pastel. I wanted to explore color and composition and take this under-appreciated medium as far as possible. It seemed likely that painting portraits would not allow me to accomplish this. Also, I tended to underestimate the amount of time needed to make a portrait and charged too small a fee.
So I decided commissioned portraits were not for me and made the last one in 1990 (above). I feel fortunate to have the freedom to create work that does not answer to external concerns.
Comments are welcome!