Alejandro OBREGÓN

Publicado

 

 

2nd Floor Gallery
October 18 – November 24, 2018

 

 

Alejandro Obregón, son of a Spanish mother and Colombian father, was born in Barcelona in 1920, where he lived until the age of six, when he moved with his family to Barranquilla. After living in England, Spain, and the United States, he returned to Colombia in 1936 to work in the family textile factory in Barranquilla and then as a lorry driver in the Catatumbo Region. It was then that he decided to study painting and travelled to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Here he painted Winter in Boston (1936), a work that already evidenced the influence of the European avant-garde. From 1940 to 1944 he returned to his native Barcelona as the vice-consul of Colombia. In 1944 he moved to Bogota, the same year in which he participated in the Fifth National Salon of Artists. It was then, and during the following decade, that his work was made up predominantly of still lives such as Still Life of a Skull (1945), Three Glasses (1953) and Marine Fruit (1955), without forgetting the most avant-garde landscapes (Landscape, ca. 1945) that had strong and decisive brush strokes. Breaking with the fashion of traditional representation, Obregón shifted the way of thinking about painting among national artists and opened the way towards modernist painting.

 

 

His early work was influenced by European tradition and the avant-gardes, from the chiaroscuro of Francisco de Goya, to the play on perspectives of Paul Cézanne. In 1945, he presented his first individual exhibition in Bogota and settled in Barranquilla, where he began to distance himself from the European tradition in which he had been rooted. In 1947, creating a play of planes and reflecting on the two-dimensional nature of the fabric in the painting Golden Fish, Obregón gave way to pictorial experimentation; with this piece becoming the first modernist work in the Colombian context. From these static and lightly distortional depictions of still lives in ochre tones produced in his early stage, the artist crossed different periods. In 1947 he began with geometric experimentation, and after the Bogotazo incident his work became entwined with the national reality, with his painting acquiring a condemning dimension, evident in The Massacre of April 10 (1948). In 1949 he travelled to Europe with Sonia Osorio, his second wife. Passing through France, Spain, and Italy, he settled in Alba-la-Romaine, where, through flat representations, he incorporated yet more geometrization and a cubist aesthetic, this time giving greater value to color through strong tones.

 

 

From his stay in France and with the work The Table of Golgotha (ca. 1952), Obregón incorporated a symbolic language that would remain in force in his later paintings. Through the representation of elements such as a crown of thorns, two nails supporting a candle that covers a torn body and a notice read by Jesus, King of the Jews, the artist gave his interpretation of the crucifixion of Christ. Through identifiable symbols and a cubist composition, this painting became a pivot in the artist’s career. In 1955, at the display at the Pan-American Union in Washington, which was very well received and in which works produced in the artist’s French period were exhibited, such as Three Glasses, The Table of Golgotha was acquired by the revered Robert Hunsicker for his private collection in New York, and Alfred Barr, director of the MoMA, bought the Souvenir from Venice (1954) for the museum’s collection. A year later, The Table of Golgotha was awarded for its presentation in the Third Biennial Hispano-American in Barcelona, the year in which Obregón won first place in the Guggenheim Award with his Dead Student (1956) and participated in the First Biennial of Caribbean and Mexican Gulf Art in Houston.

 

 

Upon returning to Barranquilla in 1955, thanks to the influence of Freda Sargent, an English painter whom he met the year before in Paris and who became his third wife, his work took on an air of spontaneity and his strokes became looser. Here he was part of the La Cueva intellectuals. He painted various murals and took up the Colombian socio-political context again as part of his work. At the end of the fifties Obregón reached his artistic maturity, characterized by an Americanist profile and by symbolist representation through fauna and flora. His work began to communicate and center around this new allegoric language: the Spanish bull symbolizes strength, primary instinct and the masculine; the Colombian condor, king of the Andes, shows freedom; the fish speaks of Christianity, the flower of softness, tobacco, and corn of the regional.

 

 

In 1958, with his painting Landscape for a Condor, the master created a rupture in his work. Approaching the interpretation of the Andean landscape for the first time, he left the still lives and line precision to one side to enter into pictorial Informalism. Works appeared such as Iguana (1960), The Barracudas (1962) and The Breams (1959), until arriving at his interest for vulnerable geography with his mangroves, in which he reflected the fragility of the ecosystem and its irreversible deterioration (Mangrove Flower, ca. 1961 and Mangrove, 1962). It was at this time that his idyllic vision of landscape presented itself: nature as a visual and vital force. With The Violence (1962), winner of the Fourteenth National Salon of Artists, Obregón became the most influential artist in Colombia. In this work he did not just denounce the political situation, but also used symbology through chromatic formal situations that come from American Abstract Expressionism, that he incorporated in his later works. Thanks to this recognition, the following year he represented Colombia at the São Paulo Biennial in 1964 and won first prize at the South American Biennial of Art in Córdoba in Argentina.

 

 

From 1965 on, Obregón began to play with acrylics in his paintings. This was because he considered them the pictorial method of the 20th century, thanks to the fact that they dried quickly and allowed him to incorporate transparencies into his paintings; laying to rest the oil colors to open the way to the juxtaposition of planes of strong colors, reflecting yet still around nature. In 1965 he painted Baroque Garden where, through loose and rapid strokes, and with a live chromatic palette coming from the tropical environment, he turned the flower into the protagonist. The fre96edom that acrylics offered him is evident in his Icarus (1967), a series with which he obtained the Great Latin-American Francisco Matarazzo Prize at the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil.

 

 

In 1968, when he moved for good to Cartagena, Obregón’s work suffered a more substantial change with the definite transition from oil to acrylics. Given the challenge that acrylics presented him due to their flat character, his work stood out for more striking colors and more rapid and decisive pencil lines, taking representation to abstraction. The artist returned to still lives (Still life with flowers, 1968), where he also denounced ecological disasters via strong tones and expressive and suggestive pencil lines that give the impression of movement of the abstract proto representation. Here, Obregón consolidated the importance of the everyday in his painting, maintaining the symbology of the Colombian landscape, as well as introducing the firm line that had so inspired him from Cartagena.

 

 

The cusp of his abstraction was presented at the Coltejer Biennial of Art in Medellín in 1970 with his work Witchcraft (1970), where the composition and the gesture of painting prevail over the content. During these years the master took the human figure as a topic, especially that of the woman, with his paintings Bachué (1974) and the painting Taurus-Virgo (1978), in which he reflected on the duality between the feminine and the masculine; the vigor and strength of the bull against the delicateness and shyness of the woman. In the eighties, he took up again the Barracudas and the Condors, and later painted the Winds, showing not only the symbolic liberty of the representation, but also the freedom of the stroke of a consolidated artist.