Friday, March 19, 2010

Violeta Parra's Visual Art

Today I found out about another aspect of Violeta Parra's art. This seems to make the connection to our show even stronger.

Violeta color
By Rosario Mena

Since 1954, the most important of our folk singers started developing her extraordinary talent in craftsmanship and visual arts. Violeta Parra would end up making paintings, ceramics, sculptures and masks, but her most famous work is the one she did over colorful tapestries, full of shapes and colors connected to specific feelings. These creations are now part of what soon will become the first Violeta Parra Museum.

The weaving of life
In the year 1958, Violeta Parra suffered from hepatitis that sent her to bed for several months. There, in her house of La Reina, she started with the work of the "arpilleras". This was an art that she developed having no previous formal lessons, and that grew spontaneously, like her songs. One time, she explained this natural talent like this:

"Things are simple. I do not know how to design, so I invent everything. Anyone can do it. I do not know how to draw, and I make no drawing before starting with my embroidery. I just go little by little, seeing what could fit. I fill the spaces… it's the same with my paintings: they're all in my head, just like my songs. When I see that there is a sensitive person who gets some kind of feeling with what I do, then I feel at peace. I just make things in which I can put an emotion".

Familiar and historical events, popular costumes and beliefs, her passion for music; all these were the topics for her textiles. "I make an effort to show in my artwork Chile's songs, legends, people's lives. The ideas I have seem to me indispensable to express", she said.

The children funeral ceremony known in Latin America as "the angel's wake", was part of her artwork as well, the same as the struggle of Chile's peasants, who are shown in desolate laid shapes, just about to fall. Her admiration of Chilean Navy captain Arturo Prat is registered in two textiles focused on Iquique's Combat.

The several colors she used expressed each one of her feelings. There's an arpillera entitled "Against the war", of which Violeta said: "In my country there's always some kind of political turmoil, and I don't like that. In this textile you find all the people that love peace. The first one is me, in violet color, since that is the color of my name".

Her textile "The circus", for instance, recreates a scene of Violeta singing and playing guitar in a circus, with just eleven years of age (a remembrance of her own childhood). Her figure is in light green, and not violet, as usual. "This goes to express that I felt so happy singing", she explained.

"Sometimes I have the color of my name, or the green color, of happiness, or red if I'm mad and I want to make a denounce. I always use the Arauco colors as a base: yellow, black, violet, red and pink from the copihue flower".

Another one of her creations is "The man". "This one is green because of hope. His soul is music, but it tries endlessly to escape, just like a bird".

But it's not just colors which involve some kind of meaning in Violeta Parra's textiles. They are also full of symbols. Late writer Waldemar Verdugo once said that "it's surprising how Violeta uses two symbols again and again: the search for God and men. The former is represented by the repeated image of Jesus Christ, and the latter by the embroidery of eyes that can be seen in several places".

This may be the spying eyes that are also in her paintings. Violeta gave some kind of explanation, even though enigmatic: "I take advantage of the moment when I can make eyes, because it would be a complete different thing for me to jump from the head to the feet. I concentrate on eyes, and leave the feet for another time".

An autonomous artist

It was the year 1964 and Violeta Parra was living in Paris with two of her children. One morning, she gathered all her tapestries and took them to the Louvre Museum, hoping to speak with its director to propose him an exhibition of her plastic work (all handmade and self-taught). This drive was typical of Violeta, and almost always brought good results. Violeta became the first Latin-American artist to exhibit individually at the Louvre. At the time, visitors were able to see 26 paintings, 22 tapestries, some small sculptures made of wire and masks covered with grains of rice, lentils and seeds, as in a mosaic. The exhibit was announced by a poster made by Violeta herself, who embroidered over a black cloth a big eye and the letters with the information.

Only in two previous occasions, 1959 and 1960 (in an Arts fair in Santiago's Parque Forestal), had the artist shown publicly her naive, colorful and expressive plastic work. After Paris, these same pieces traveled to Switzerland, Cuba, and the Louvre again. Then came Madrid, Naples, Stockholm, The Hague, several Argentinean cities and Washington D.C. Despite such an impressive tour and the exhibit of her work in Chile, Violeta was never truly valued as a plastic artist in her native country. Or not until 1992, when, for the first time, a retrospective of her work was exhibited in a massive show of her paintings and textiles in Santiago. In the year 2000, Chile's Fine Arts Museum exhibited her paintings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gracias a la vida (Thanks to Life)

Paintings, drawings, textile and mixed media inspired by Violeta Parra's iconic song
Participating artists: Cristina Acosta, Reetika Agarwal, Mabel Astarloa Haley, Heidi Marie Balmaceda, Serena Barton, Marisa Bevington, Alli Bratt, Sidonie Caron, Sofia Chimaras, Gretchen Echols, Anne John, Meg Kaczyk, Rogene Mañas, Angelina Marino, Deborah Spanton, Elaine Spence, Maite Tobon, Nancy Watterson Scharf

For the first show after the Vernal Equinox, we have invited a group of women artists to respond to the lyrics of Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra's "Gracias a la vida" (see text below). The song has inspired vocal artists such as Joan Baez and Placido Domingo for nearly 50 years, and most particularly Mercedes Sosa, beloved Argentinian singer who died last October. The interpretations by the visual artists are equally personal and moving. Sidonie Caron, for example is " . . . a European and a Holocaust Surivor so this poem resonates rather profoundly for me." The recent Chilean earthquake has made these expressions even more timely and poignant.

Gracias a La Vida (Thanks to Life)

Poem by Violeta Parra

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two bright eyes, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
From the multitude, the man I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its breadth
Records— night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light which illuminates
The path of the soul I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I look into the depths of your blue eyes…

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me tears.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone’s song, which is my own song.

March 25-April 27, 2010
Opening and artists' reception: March 25, 6-9 PM
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11-6, Sunday 12-4

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Latino cultural intersection

Last week a woman came into the gallery and was looking at the current show of paintings by Blanca Santander. She pointed to one which had a depiction of the Cordillera de los Andes. I asked if she'd spent time in that part of the world and she said mainly in Santiago de Chile. When I mentioned that I had just been playing music by Inti-Illimani, she said that she was completing her dissertation on "La nueva canción chilena". I asked where she was doing her work and she replied UC Davis. "That's interesting," I said. "About four years ago I was in Santiago and, taking the shuttle to the airport, I talked to a woman who was researching the same topic. In fact, she recommended the musical group Illapu which has became one of my favorites after I bought a CD of their music at the Santiago airport." "That was probably me," she said.