Art as a mere search for aesthetic beauty was never sufficient for me. My goal has always been to paint pictures whose content goes beyond the surface of the canvas. I never stop looking for ways to represent the world I live in. To make the unseen seen.
The day I discovered Byzantine Art, I was immediately drawn to it. Especially when I saw its resemblance to El Greco's paintings, an artist I’ve admired since childhood. I noticed that Byzantine art preferred stylized imagery over naturalistic depictions. It aimed at inspiring a sense of wonder and admiration for the church. The church, being an institution, and I, being interested in social structures, Byzantine art caught my attention. I’m not talking about the religious content of Byzantine art here, but the construction of its compositions and their usefulness in making it possible to tell big stories using images. Why not use it to depict today's social structures and even our ideologies?
Arrival to Chile
When I arrived in Chile, I was surprised by how much the country had changed. Thirty-nine years earlier, it had been a country in chaos. Now, Santiago was a radiant city, impeccably tidy, organized, and full of shiny skyscrapers standing tall in every corner. While I walked the streets, reminiscing, I was overtaken by a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand, the sight of its many brand-new shopping malls, restaurants, and cafés filled with cheery people eating, drinking, and lining up at ATMs filled me with joy, yet, at the same time, it brought back memories of the military dictatorship that had claimed so many lives to bring the country to what it was now. The past dictatorship had affected me deeply; it had changed my life and my perception of the world.
I found an apartment for my mother. It was next to the Museum of Fine Arts. I met with the director of the museum to propose to him an exhibition of my work. Having lived most of my life outside of Chile, nobody knew me there, so my idea was to present a retrospective of my work to introduce myself to the Chilean public. The response from the museum was cold.
I then visited all the major art galleries in Santiago, but there was no interest. I had often heard the expression, “No one is a prophet in their own land,” and thought it was pure nonsense. Maybe because I had never lived in my land before. Now that I did, the expression was turning out to be true.
I received a call. It was Alexandre Frenkel, the owner of Galerie de Buci in Paris. I had been in Paris and left a body of work with him. Some large canvases had been sold. He was calling me now to tell me he was organizing an exhibition of my work and needed more paintings. I proposed I travel to Paris and paint them there; that way, we would save on the shipping of the artwork, to which he agreed. I arrived in Paris early in the morning and was put in a spacious apartment with a piano overlooking a lake. It was there that I painted the second part of my series of paintings, Sarcastic Allegories.
Simplicity in art is removing the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
I always strove for simplicity. Yet, the simpler the paintings get, the more difficult they are to paint. They are challenging because, having almost no elements in their composition, no textures, and nearly no colors, every brushstroke you apply sticks out like a brilliant explosion. Even the studio lighting plays an important role in their execution and outcome. If the external light hitting the canvas doesn’t reflect appropriately, it affects the painting's appearance significantly. To modify this reflected light to shine harmoniously, one has to ensure that the paint is applied and distributed in a balanced way. This means combing the surface of the canvas with a feathery brush (fan brush) while continuously maintaining a constant direction in every brush stroke to the angle of the light entering the room, light that can only be seen by tilting one's head and looking at the paintings from its sides. All this has to be done very quickly before the paint dries. I apply this manner of working at every stage and between every layer of the execution of my paintings. These details are extremely labor-consuming compared to a complicated piece, where its elements can be vague and ambiguous. In a minimalist composition, nothing can be hidden; everything is in plain sight.
Flatness is beautiful, and so is volume. But since most things that inhabit the earth are volumetric, seeing the absence of it can bring immense pleasure. Aside from that, being that canvases are two-dimensional, anything flat will feel right at home on the canvas.
After the exhibition in Paris, I returned to Chile. I painted a series of paintings portraying human figures devoid of emotion. Whether this is how I saw humanity at that time or not, these paintings were more about me not wanting to feel anything. I called this series “With Anesthesia.”