My painting is of two worlds. From skin inside is a cry against racism and poverty; from skin to the outside is the synthesis of the time that I have had to live.
Oswaldo Guayasamín, of an indigenous father and mestizo mother, was born in Quito, Ecuador, on July 6, 1919, and died in Baltimore, United States, on March 10, 1999. He was an artist who excelled in easel painting and mural, drawing and sculpture. His talent was manifested from an early age, when he made caricatures of teachers and classmates, as well as in the advertisements he made for the small business run by his mother, with whom he had a close relationship since childhood, leaving him with an indelible mark –“She gave me the two lives I have”, he said–, since she, unlike her father, supported his inclination for art and his admission to the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Quito, from where, after 7 years, was graduated with the title of painter and sculptor, in 1940.
In 1942 Guayasamín began his exhibition activity with his first individual show, held in a private space in Quito, which turned out to be very controversial due to its content of social denunciation. Curiously, according to biographical data, this exhibition was attended by politician and collector Nelson Rockefeller, at that time in charge of Inter-American Affairs of the United States Department of State, who, impressed by Guayasamín’s work, acquired some of his works and, later, invited him to exhibit in his country, where the painter stayed for seven months, during which he had the opportunity to visit several museums and see first-hand the works of many artists, including El Greco, Goya, Velázquez, Picasso, Renault and Orozco, who had a significant aesthetic influence on the configuration of his work. He met Orozco, the Mexican muralist, when he was in Mexico, with whom he also worked as his assistant, initiating him in mural painting.
From Mexico, Guayasamín began an anthropological journey through several Latin American countries, which, after two years, ended in Patagonia, responding to his indigenous interest, his humanist and social sensibility and ethnic origin, with the purpose of learning about closely and in detail the social and cultural problems of the inhabitants of that part of the geography of America, particularly that of the indigenous peoples.
His first series entitled Huacayñan, in the Quechua language, was born from that experience, which translates as The Path of Tears (1), in whose theme, in addition to the indigenous, the black and the mestizo are present, with which in 1955 he participated in the III Bienal Hispanoamericana de Arte, in Barcelona, Spain, where he received the Grand Prize for Painting, and then, in 1957, the Grand Prize of the São Paulo Biennial, significant recognition for this artist.
His second series, the most impressive, is Age of Wrath (2), from the 1960s, in which his repertoire of enormous, misshapen, knobby, bony, twitching hands stands out, distinguished by their dramatic expressiveness; hands that protest, that cry, that shout with anger, fear and pain. Through them Guayasamín testifies and denounces the violence, anguish, poverty, and suffering caused by wars, dictatorships, and social injustice during the 20th century; they externalize, in short, the tragic time that humanity had to live in, of which, although it may be ironic, the discriminated indigenous people are also part. With this series Guayasamín held exhibitions in Europe and America, shaking the conscience of human beings.
The age of tenderness (1988–1999) (3), also known as “While I live, I always remember you”, is the third major series that Guayasamín dedicates to his mother, as a form of gratitude for her support in his artistic career, in addition to the mothers from the rest of the world, paintings that represent the love and tenderness between mothers and children, as well as the innocence of children.
Guayasamín’s work is characterized by being expressionist, since he emphasizes the expression of feelings, of emotions, rather than the objective description of reality. His interest in this style began from the moment he came across works by artists who influenced the creators of expressionism at the beginning of the 20th century, a source from which he also drew, as well as cubism, influences that he refines until he achieves the definition of a very personal style or visual language, unmistakable, conjugated with the soul of the indigenous school. His painting, as the artist would say, is made of tears, bones, and tenderness.