Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)
A: While traveling in Bolivia in 2017, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz. The masks were presented against black walls, spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings, the series I was working on at the time. I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift. To date I have completed seventeen pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series. One awaits finishing touches, another is in progress, and I am planning the next two, one large and one small pastel painting.
The following text is from my “Bolivianos” artist’s statement.
“My long-standing fascination with traditional masks took a leap forward in the spring of 2017 when I visited the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia. One particular exhibition on view, with more than fifty festival masks, was completely spell-binding.
The masks were old and had been crafted in Oruro, a former tin-mining center about 140 miles south of La Paz on the cold Altiplano (elevation 12,000’). Depicting important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions, the masks were created for use in Carnival celebrations that happen each year in late February or early March.
Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances. The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532. “The Morenada” dance was once assumed to represent black slaves who worked in the mines, but the truth is more complicated (and uncertain) since only mitayo Indians were permitted to do this work. The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins. The latter were originally disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols and mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except for totemic animals that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest). Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.
The exhibition in La Paz was stunning and dramatic. Each mask was meticulously installed against a dark black wall and strategically spotlighted so that it became alive. The whole effect was uncanny. The masks looked like 3D versions of my “Black Paintings,” a pastel paintings series I have been creating for ten years. This experience was a gift… I could hardly believe my good fortune!
Knowing I was looking at the birth of a new series – I said as much to my companions as I remained behind while they explored other parts of the museum – I spent considerable time composing photographs. Consequently, I have enough reference material to create new pastel paintings in the studio for several years. The series, entitled “Bolivianos,” is arguably my strongest and most striking work to date.”
Comments are welcome!
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
What do we carry forward? My family lived in New Jersey near Manhattan until I was ten, and although I have enjoyed spending my adult life as a photographer in the American West, when we left New Jersey for Wisconsin in 1947 I was homesick.
The only palliative I recall, beyond my parents’ sympathy was the accidental discovery in a magazine of pictures by a person of whom I had never heard but of scenes I recognized. The artist was Edward Hopper and one of the pictures was of a woman sitting in a sunny window in Brooklyn, a scene like that in the apartment of a woman who had cared for my sister and me. Other views resembled those I recalled from the train to Hoboken. There was also a picture inside a second-floor restaurant, one strikingly like the restaurant where my mother and I occasionally had lunch in New York.
The pictures were a comfort but of course none could permanently transport me home. In the months that followed, however, they began to give me something lasting, a realization of the poignancy of light. With it, all pictures were interesting.
Robert Adams in Art Can Help
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
HM: In order to create a work of art, you need an artist, an object, the work, and the audience. Indeed, where there’s no audience, there’s no artist. Renoir used to say, “No painters in Hamlet.” meaning that on a desert island you wouldn’t paint.
( I confess I am a little surprised. For my part, I find it difficult to believe that the true artist cannot work without hope. It seems to me that art is first and foremost an internal necessity, a need to escape from life. It is true that this is closer to the mystics’ point of view and that the artist, if he does not work directly for his contemporaries, at least looks forward to some future resonance. Nonetheless, I ask the same question again.)
PC: Even a true painter wouldn’t paint on a desert island?
HM: No… Painting is a means of communication, a language. An artist is an exhibitionist. Take away his spectators and the exhibitionist slinks off with his hands in his pockets.
The audience is the material in which you work. You don’t see the face of the audience. It’s huge, an immense mass. The public is – listen, it’s the man you encounter one fine day, who says, “Monsieur Matisse, I can’t tell you how much I love your picture, the one you exhibited at the salon,” and this man is a clerk who could never spend a red cent on painting. The public is not the buyer; the public is the sensitive material on which you hope to leave an imprint.
PC: Through the picture, the audience returns to the source of emotion.
HM: Yes, and the artist is the actor, the fellow with the wheedling voice who won’t rest until he’s told you his life story.
Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller
Comments are welcome!