lunes, 2 de noviembre de 2009

"Cándido López - Fragments and details", NYU, 1993

The research done by Patricio Lóizaga reveals a new view of the aesthetic discourse of one of the exemplary painters of Latin American art. Cándido López, as Jorge Glusberg points out, is one of the most outstanding and interesting artists of Latin America.
This revisionism is accomplished through photography, more precisely through macro-photography. The process allows for the accumulation of the multiple fragments that, when put together and made to interact, determine the work. The true-to-life-pictures created by López are printed with details enlarged up to fifty times. This undertaking shows the potential for research and reinterpretation of a nineteenth-century work that was, up until now, insufficiently known and is now in the process of being reivindicated. Photography once more is reconciled to painting, amplifying but never subordinating its horizon.

Dr. Angiola Churchill
ICASA – International Center for Advanced Studies in Art
Department of Art
New York University

Artist, painter, chronicler

By Patricio Lóizaga

When he was 25 years-old, Cándido López, professional photographer and traveling daguerrotypist, taught by the teachers who could be found in those days in such a far away place as the Río de la Plata, joined the army that was preparing to fight alongside Uruguayans and Brazilians against the Paraguayan forces led by that emboldened marshal, Francisco Solano López.
Because of his patriotism and thanks to the desperation born of not being able to make a decent living with his profession, Cándido López became a witness to one of those many fabulous South American wars in which the leaders, some of them uncounth and some very refined and worthy, led troops dressed in unpractical European-style uniforms through marshy jungles, deserts and malarial swamps to fight bloody battles, win disproportionate victories, or suffer absurd defeats. A year and a half later, at the Battle of Curupaytí, a grenade destroyed his right hand. His arm was amputated to avoid gangrene. The war was over and so was his painting. Perhaps he thought that life was over but he overcame his misfortune and, showing great vitality, married his sweetheart Amalia, with whom he had twelve children. He patiently taught himself to paint with his left hand.
He once again produced portraits and still lives of exceptional academic perfection. But now, besides being a professional painter, he is obsessed with something that he thinks has nothing to do with art. He is obsessed with scenes from the war, the blood and gunpowder, the slow sunsets, the sudden daybreaks, the whistling of the bullets, the grayish, red or blue skies, the mutilated bodies, the frigtened horses, the cold faces and the last glance, the monotonous murmuring of the river that reminds one that human life is short-lived and that everything continues beyond pain and death. In his memory the signs and gestures, the trivial and everyday anecdotes, the heroic and abject actions of war are revived and even echoed. He was impelled by his memories, and with the help of the sketches he had made while in the war he slowly put together a series of pictorial documents about the war with Paraguay. The original project had 90 scenes. In the 30 years before his death, he painted more than 50. In this undertaking the objective is by no means merely artistic.
His goal is to depict history realistically and be scrupulously faithful in his details. To fulfill this objective he had to stop being an artist, in other words he had to forget some of the rules he had learned, rules which he still used in his other paintings. He had to invent new rules and his own artistic judgement because there was nothing to guide him. In his hour of need, the artist took the bull by the horns, left aside his conventionalism and became –through no will of his own, ideed, without knowing it- a great artist. The extra-artistic aesthetics that guided him, really an emergency aesthetics, began with the need to express through painting something that the “artist” López could not express through his solidly limited conventional formation. That was why the “artist” López left the “artist” aside and became López the “chronicler”. But Cándido was not conscious of this fiction –of his double creation: “Chronicler” and “chronicle”. At that moment, his sincere stance as a documentalist, hid, put off, or masked for many years the real value of his pictures. That is why he did not feel misunderstood. He felt, instead, that the critics of the time, who instead of discovering the originality of his aesthetic vision emphasized his qualities as a historian and considered his artistic merits, at best, with benevolent condescendence, had interpreted him well.
Thus, uprooted and alone, supported by an artistic idea of himble craftmanship and with no artistic pretensions, an exceptional and amazing aesthetic product is born. It is only in the middle of this century that the public began to see in a different light these unusual landscapes taht had been gathering dust in museum collections.
Critics in recent years, beginning with Pagano and embracing Fèvre and Glusberg, have made considerable effort to rescue his originality.
Entering López’s world means to face the singular format of the paintings which allow an aerial perspective and a total vision of the scene that is foreign to the human eye. The format is based on the need to embrace everything, to not leave out a single detail. On ther back of the paintings, where López repeated in a few dry words the pictorial chronicle on the front, he often complained that some deed did not fit in the picture, that some detail had been “left out”. It almost seems that the ideal format for López would have been the 360º view of the inside of a cilinder.
There are two protagonists in his pictures: nature and the universe of war; the warriors, their animals, their equipment and their constructions. Nature is a paradox, unfolding in an ambiguous dialectics. At times it looks imposing, exuberant, at other times it is desolate, the protagonist of a more solid, more primitive, more legitimate role. And then suddenly it becomes precarious, fragile, even contrived, like the arrangement of a terrarium, something akin to the landscape or decoration for a large manger scene. The duality that synthesizes this unfolding is its heroism: the heroic role of the untamed, overpowering nature, and the symbolic heroism of palms and laurel leaves. War, on the other hand, seems univocal, markedly without heroism, strangely insignificant and impotent, almost inorganic. The soldiers and horses, in spite of all the detail, seem more like figures of lead and enamel than real life figures: little tin soldiers carefully placed on the set like pathetic and absurd pawns, somewhat like an anthill frozen time.
It is clear in these paintings that the artist, in his unyielding zeal for authenticity and objectivity, goes overboard and implicitly reveals his overt secondary objectives. In a letter, in which with moving humility he offers his paintings to the government, López says that his sole objective is not only to paint “as a service to history but also to honor his country”. At this level both objectives seem irreconcilable and the pictures savagely lay bare this bloody and shameful war. Equally evident are the futility of war and the desolate banality of war rituals on the battle field, acts which are only dignified by the equality of officers and soldiers in death. There are few works in art history that were able to express with so much eloquence and so little rhetoric the definite absurdity of war like “After the battle of Curupaytí”, the same battle in which Cándido lost his hand. This picture depicts a sorrowful scene in which the victors, or better said the survivors, finish killing those defeated, as well as their comrades to steal their last pitiful possessions and leave them naked to rot.
Borges used to say that art is superior to its author, to the author’s intentions. He saw a kind of independence, autonomy or life of its own beyond the author’s objectives. But this does not demean the creator who gives life to the product. What he questions or casts doubt upon is the merit of the artist’s deliberate or original intent
From Cándido López - Fragments and details, New York University, 1993

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