Cultural Radio Station of Caracas 97.7FM
Laura Montilla. Aire Libre Program
How do you manage, as a creator, vanity, power and fame?
I know that exists, I also have vanity. I am someone who likes to be recognized, I do not consider it as wrong. Now if that is more important than anything else, then I consider it something bad, as everything exaggerated. It's like it has no content, "you already saw me and there is nothing left." Vanity and the show are part of our world and Western culture at this time, and that has also plagued some of the more educated and more artistic media.
What influence do fashion and that magical world exercise on art?
It influences appearance. There are many who sacrifice their life and career for appearance. I think this is one of the things that cause a lot of damage because at the times when one should put every effort on creation, one only thinks about recognition. Many times people are more concerned on buying what I make, even copies of other works, to pretend that I'm on the crest of the wave and let the moment pass.
That is why I often say that the older you get the younger you are. I mean more powerful in creation and more demanding, because you are no longer a slave of appearance.
Is living for living what makes one less slave of appearance?
It is that you do not care much about making more money because you do not know what to do with it, besides you do not care about fame because you already have it, rather you want to get rid of it to go unnoticed and be quieter. When you're young you want everyone to know you that is an obstacle that sometimes hinders the performing of the work of an artist with creative power but does not use it due to being aware of vanity.
What was the state of Venezuelan art in the twentieth century?
Good and bad because in Venezuela there has been given great importance to the ornamental part of a certain type of art that is not major art, but minor art. Anything that is decoration or ornamentation, no matter how big, it is minor art.
When you say big what do you mean?
The size. For example when a work is very large, the size of a floor or a ceiling that does not mean it's good. Major art is not always big. It can be a small engraving by Rembrandt 10 x 5 centimeters that is hung in a corner of the wall. The major art does not refer to size but to the transcendent, that which transcends the human condition, that which transcends death is a major problem, that is major art. What sticks to our present and our eyes, to beautify the environment and make it look nice, that is minor art.
Master, at some point you said: "If a work does not reflect any aspect of the soul, its anxieties, its desires, its hopes, its imponderable wishes, if it does not reflect any of that, then it is not art."
It is true, it is not art. As I just said, minor art is also called ornamental or decorative art. In Venezuela, there has been given more importance to ornamentation than the contents of the works.
Why is that?
It is due to the superficiality of Venezuelan people and its leaders. The Venezuelan people have been led by incompetent people from the cultural point of view. What we are seeing now and what we had seen in recent years in those that have governed us are not qualified persons. And these are the people who monopolize the power to decide on what works shall be exhibited and what works will be purchased by the state. Then it is exceptional the presence of qualified people in those places where decisions are made.
Master, previously you mentioned the word death. One of your works, called "The rooster of passion," where you plays with life and death but not as Manaure or Abreu did, who were conceived as animals ready for the sacrifice of religious syncretism, but as an act of reconstruction towards a permanent reality, to describe it in some way. I do not know if I'm right, but I would like you to tell us your views on life and death.
The function of art is to transcend the great enigma of the human being that is death. Before the great work of art death disappears, that is the reason major arts remain in time and leap over time. Let’s take for example the hieroglyphics of the Caves of Altamira, with thousands of years and are as modern as the "Guernica" by Picasso, that is, for great art time does not exist, for minor art it does exist. That is because minor art is perishable because it is closely linked to what is currently fashionable; it changes and disappears with fashion. Major art does not disappear because it never took fashion into account.
What effects does it produce you seeing your work around the world in museums, private or individual exhibitions?
When I have the opportunity to meet one of my paintings in an exhibition somewhere I feel very flattered and pleased, that is something normal. I am not saying that is I am not sensitive to flattery, of course I am, I love to be told "how interesting is your painting" or "how good your work is."
Has it ever happened to you not recognizing yourself when you look at a work you did 20 or 30 years ago?
Of course it has happened to me. I have been painting for 60 years and there are works 45 or 50 years old that I did not see anymore, one of these works is shown to me again and generally I do not recognize it. At first sight it seems alien to me, then I say leave it me to study it a little, sometimes the work is fake, many times it is authentic but I had forgotten it. Sometimes I have forgotten something because I did not like when I did it, one tends to forget things that hurt you. That sometimes happens with the persons, friends one had as a child, and sometimes you do not recognize them unless you have seen them often.
What is the value of memory for you?
There is a famous film called “Last Year at Marienbad," about several characters who lived a very pleasant stay at some hot springs that were called Mariembad and each one tells its memories there neither coincide. Each had a different memory; you can do several readings about it.
To remember, people have a mechanism of consciousness that nears one fact to another, I associate an unknown or forgotten fact with a known one and that is how I remember it.
What value has for you Luciano's statement according to which the work of art requires an intelligent spectator?
I would not say that it requires an intelligent spectator, but a sensible one. It could be that a person is not very intelligent, even an uneducated person is very sensitive to a work of art. Sensitivity is not a manifestation of intelligence, that is another chapter of the mind. Sensitivity is different is from intelligence and memory. You can recognize things because you have good memory but you are not able to appreciate them because you have no sensitivity. And sensitivity to plastic arts is different that the sensitivity to music or poetry. Not everyone has sensitivity, that depends on education and the environment in which you grew up, on the things you have read, of the trips you have taken, all that enriches the spirit and allow access to important works.
Do you have sensitivity to other arts?
I love music; I think it is the queen of arts.
How can we approach the work of Oswaldo Vigas? Do you require strong sensitivity?
The best way to approach it is seeing it, knowing it, seeing the works of the past, the most recent ones... Painting is seen with the eyes but it is appreciated with the totality of the psyche, the eyes are just intermediaries. The psyche may be sensitive or not, it may be educated or in a raw state.
How do you educate the psyche?
As for the plastic arts education, psyche is educated seeing painting, visiting galleries, museums, hart books and leafing through them. Also learning to distinguish between what is good what is bad.
What can buyers do to be forewarned?
If the author of the work is alive it is best to consult the artist.
You are surrounded by people who know about art? Have you received a spontaneous criticism, genuine, that you remember in a special way from a person who has had no artistic training but nevertheless hi simplicity has marked him a special way?
Yes, many times. I remember once in an exhibition I was doing at the Museum of Fine Arts in Caracas, I think it was a retrospective of 52, I was alone with the writer Oswaldo Trejo and we saw a man enter with a hat on and a ragged suit. Trejo says: but look, he has not even taken his hat off, and suddenly the man approaches us and asks: Who is the artist? I answer: I am. Then the man says: I wonder what the price of those paintings is, I ask him: Which one? And he says all those on that wall, and I buy them all. I was wrong about this man because his appearance had deceived me. I thought he knew nothing about art, and on the contrary he knew a lot and was especially interested in painting, he was an editor of textbooks. He was highly educated. One is not always right because "the clothes do not make the man," sometimes it tells him apart (laughs).
Master, at the last FIA I had the opportunity to approach some of your excellent works made with a new technique called giclee. Could you explain what this technique is?
It is a technique made in a limited edition, it is as expensive as silk screening or etching and it is used to make giants things. In silk screening one is limited by the size of the silk, in giclee that limitation does not exist. Giclee allows working in much larger paper sheets.
Respecting the dimensions of the original work?
It does not have to be the size of the original work; on the contrary, one seeks to make something other than the original, that the work is not a copy of the original. Then one reinforces the colors, that is chosen at the discretion of the artist and very attractive things can be made, very colorful and have the value of a silk screen. They are originals in twenty copies
Is the technique through the computer?
You start with the computer to have color tones and play with them. With giclee can play with colors and drawing, but more than with silk screening or engraving and one can also make much larger proportions.
There is a giclee work I saw at the FIA and that caught my attention: "Ride through the field”...
Yes, that work is very different from the one that served as a theme is another thing. The one that served as the theme is a very little work that has nothing to do; it does not even have those colors.
That is, can lines be modified?
Yes, you can modify the lines and colors, giclee transforms into something original. Twenty copies are made, not one hundred as in silk screening.
What do you think was the work that established you? Any special piece ...
That's a question that people ask in a very naïve way, as if that might be a guarantee seal of the best. There is a gentleman whom I gave him a work 40 years ago and every time he sees me he says: Oswaldo, the best painting that you have painted your life is the one I have, and it is a painting I gave him as a present but I do not remotely consider it to be the best nor the worst. It is very difficult for an artist to say which one is the best; it is as if you were asked which of your children is the best, or which of your friends is the best. If one has many friends, one loves them all, for example, I collect friends as I collect paintings of both mine and of other artists. I collect friends not with a collector’s criterion, but I do not like losing any, I make terrible efforts to understand a friend even though there are differences. Losing a friend is like having a wound, what I want is to have more.
Regarding the paintings, there are many that I love you very much and do not sell them, but I cannot say that they are masterpieces or the best I have made. This often involves the emotional and that makes difficult the rational judgments about things, people and works.
Generally, the last thing I am making seems to be the best because I am finishing it but after some time it is no longer the best. All the things you do have value, there are people whom you know or great artists like the great French painter Fernand Leger, who judged the price of his works by the time it had taken him to make them. That was his approach, as he was a communist and his idea was to be a worker, he considered the price of his works as the ones the workers made, as factory hours.
For an artist, is it easy or difficult to put a price on a work?
For me the price of a work is related to the price of another similar work. If you ask me the price of a painting I made a year ago, I look in a notebook the works I have sold roughly of the same proportion and of the same time and this new work will be sold for the same price or for more, but never at a lower price. I never lower the price of a work for less it had already been sold, because the one that buys a work should know that he is not going to get it cheaper anywhere else, unless you it is bought from an ignorant who does not know what he is selling.
Have you donated works to public institutions?
Many times, I have donated to institutions of all kinds, because that is one of the things for which they ask the artists. During a month I can give two or three works to several charities, to which often tell, as a condition that they cannot sell the work cheaper than it is sold in a gallery or in my studio, not to harm myself. Usually I demand them to tell me the price for which they will sell it, or I do not donate the work because they can take the work and try to find the best customer and sell it at any price, and that can damage the artist.
If heaven exists, what would you like to tell Saint Peter when he receives you there?
You did very well! I think that would be the highest praise. You behaved well.