* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
In its spectacle and ritual the Carnival procession in Oururo bears an intriguing resemblance to the description given by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega of the great Inca festival of Inti Raymi, dedicated to the Sun. Even if Oururo’s festival did not develop directly from that of the Inca, the 16th-century text offers a perspective from the Andean tradition:
“The curacas (high dignitaries) came to their ceremony in their finest array, with garments and head-dresses richly ornamented with gold and silver.
Others, who claimed to descend from a lion, appeared, like Hercules himself, wearing the skin of this animal, including its head.
Others, still, came dressed as one imagines angels with the great wings of the bird called condor, which they considered to be their original ancestor. This bird is black and white in color, so large that the span of its wing can attain 14 or 15 feet, and so strong that many a Spaniard met death in contest with it.
Others wore masks that gave them the most horrible faces imaginable, and these were he Yuncas (people from the tropics), who came to the feast with the heads and gestures of madmen or idiots. To complete the picture, they carried appropriate instruments such as out-of-tune flutes and drums, with which they accompanied the antics.
Other curacas in the region came as well decorated or made up to symbolize their armorial bearings. Each nation presented its weapons: bows and arrows, lances, darts, slings, maces and hatchets, both short and long, depending upon whether they used them with one hand or two.
They also carried paintings, representing feats they had accomplished in the service of the Sun and of the Inca, and a whole retinue of musicians played on the timpani and trumpets they had brought with them. In other words, it may be said that each nation came to the feast with everything that could serve to enhance its renown and distinction, and if possible, its precedence over the others.”
El Carnaval de Oruro by Manuel Vargas in Mascaras de los Andes Bolivianos, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil
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A: The Black Paintings series of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings grew directly from an earlier series, Domestic Threats. While both use cultural objects as surrogates for human beings acting in mysterious, highly-charged narratives, in the Black Paintings I replaced all background details of my actual setup (furniture, rugs, etc.) with lush black pastel. In this work the ‘actors’ are front and center.
While traveling in Bolivia two years ago, 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. I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift. So far I have completed nine pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series. One is awaiting finishing touches, one is in progress now, and I am planning the next one.
All of my pastel paintings are an example of a style called “contemporary conceptual realism” in which things are not quite as innocent as they seem. In this sense each painting is a kind of Trojan horse. There is plenty of backstory to my images, although I usually prefer not to over-explain them. Some mystery must always remain in art.
The world I depict is that of the imagination and this realm owes little debt to the natural world. I recently gave an art talk where I was reminded how fascinating it is to learn how others respond to my work. As New York art critic Gerrit Henry once remarked, “What we bring to a Rachko… we get back, bountifully.”
Comments are welcome!