Points of Departure
in Contemporary Colombian Art

 
Ricardo Gómez Campuzano
Street of Cartagena de Indias,
1944
Museo de Antioquia

 

Pedro Nel Gómez
Self-Portrait,
1949
Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango,
Banco de la República de Colombia

 
José Domingo Rodríguez
Horse,
undated
Museo de Antioquia
Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo
Nude, Rear View,
undated
Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango,
Banco de la República de Colombia

Carlos Correa
Still Life in Silence,
c. 1959
Museo de Antioquia
 
 Pedro Nel Gómez
Gold Prospectors,
1955
Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gómez

 
Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo
Portrait of the Greiff Brothers,
1940
Museo de Antioquia

 

 

 

Until mid century, Colombian painting and sculpture encompassed a wide range of figurative styles, but little use of abstraction. While some of the figurative works were modernistic, the few examples of abstraction to be found were relatively simple compared with art in Europe and the United States. It was not until the early 1950s that several Colombian artists of the rising generation-among them Alejandro Obregón, Enrique Grau, Edgar Negret and Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar-began to take new directions.

The late blooming of Colombian art can be partly explained by the region's complex geography. Mountain barriers have always separated Colombia's human settlements. Even after achieving independence from Spain in 1819, the provinces remained quite distinct in culture and economic life. Their lack of communication resulted in a cultural diversity across geographic zones that modern telecommunication still has not erased.

For example, modernization occurred faster in Antioquia than elsewhere. The city of Medellín by the 1920s was Colombia's most important industrial center and home to several outstanding sculptors, notably Marco Tobón Mejía and José Horacio Betancur. Influenced by Mexican art, a group formed in Medellín that has been called the second greatest mural movement in the Americas. Its leader was Pedro Nel Gómez, a Renaissance figure who practiced not only drawing, oil painting, fresco, watercolor, sculpture in wood and stone, and bronze-casting, but also architecture and engineering.

Particularly through his teaching, Gómez was able to introduce new ideas to Colombian art. With much patience, he began to influence the antiquated, academic tastes of the new commercial and industrial class taking shape in opposition to Antioquia's farming and stock-raising society. Eventually he succeeded in penetrating into official spheres and the economic elite, and received many important commissions throughout his long career. Gomez' 1941 Self-Portrait in a Hat (a hat he continued wearing until his death in 1984) displays his familiarity with work of Gauguin and Van Gogh. His later Self-Portrait (1949) reflects his admiration for Cézanne, and his lengthy series of Barequeras (female gold prospectors) recalls the work of José Clemente Orozco.

An outstanding sculptor of the 1930s was Rómulo Rozo, who lived in Mexico for many years. Second in importance in the same generation was José Domingo Rodríguez, whose bronze Horse is included in this exhibition. (Sculpture for purposes of patriotic allegory continued into the 1970s, as attested by the monumental work of Rodrigo Arenas Betancur, another native of Antioquia.)

Artists of an older generation, such as the landscapist Ricardo Gómez Campuzano, remained faithful to their early training. His highly proficient Street in Cartagena, painted in 1944, shows the influence of the Post-Impressionists and of the French academic style. Printmaking was practiced by artists of great skill, such as Pedro Hanné Gallo. A few artists engaged in irreverent forms of expressionism and were rebelliously critical of religion, morality, and politics. Examples of these are Carlos Correa, the author of Nature in Silence, and particularly, Débora Arango. Their works resulted in social ostracism, which in Arango's case persisted for decades.

One successful painter who could be called a modernist is Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, whose works Portrait of the Greiff Brothers and Nude (Rear View) are included in this exhibit. Early in his career Gómez Jaramillo achieved high aesthetic standards. A sincere love of his native land is reflected in his identification with Colombia's themes.

Another group of Colombian artists followed the techniques of Mexican muralism, a style that carried over into Art Déco illustration, as exemplified by the work of Santiago Martínez Delgado and the advertising designs of Sergio Trujillo Magnenat. European artistic influences extended as far as Cézanne (sometimes transmitted through the Mexicans, particularly Rivera), Braque and Picasso.

While few European artists came to Colombia out of the wartime diaspora, an exception to this was the German-born Wilhelm (Guillermo) Wiedemann (1910-1969). The painter of Rowers arrived at Buenaventura harbor in 1939, on Colombia's Pacific coast. During a career of three decades in his adopted country, Wiedemann remained untouched by changing fashions. Even when he abandoned figuration to engage in lyrical geometric abstraction, the Colombian tropics exerted a strong influence on Wiedemann, revealing his naturally expressionistic temperament.

Prior to World War II, Colombia had enjoyed one of the strongest democratic traditions in Latin America. Early in the 1940s, however, social instability began to increase throughout the country. The unrest was fanned by political parties, particularly in strategic rural areas. The traditional parties were unable to deal with the country's problems, leading to a severe political crisis. A particularly violent stage was initiated by the assassination of the Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, followed by the 1948 riots in the capital known as the "Bogotazo." The crisis was prolonged by the proclamation in 1953 of the dictatorship of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. The main political parties supported the dictatorship with the intention of stabilizing the country, but things went from bad to worse, and came to a disastrous end with the general's fall in 1957.

It is not surprising that artists of the period alternated residence in Colombia with intervals of foreign study and exhibition whenever circumstances permitted. Despite this situation, Colombian artists and intellectuals took pride in a conscious effort to define a national ethos. As in the writings of Fernando González and the poet León de Greiff, there was a marked feeling of personal creative power.

 

Pedro Nel Gómez
Self-Portrait with Hat,
1941
Museo de Antioquia