Conversation with Oswaldo Vigas
Mariela Provenzali

Thursday August 2, 2007

How did your first inclination toward art manifest?
In Elementary school. I was doing theater, and always in the plays- mostly comedies- I was missing the atmosphere, and since they saw me drawing, they asked me to participate in the realization of the backdrops. But my first works were gouaches on paper and I painted my first oil paintings on pieces of canvas of an old cot.

When did you present your first exhibition?
In 1942 I sent illustrations to poems by Arthur Machado, Maria Clemencia Camaran and others, to the First Hall of illustrated Poems at the Ateneo of Valencia. One day they called me to come and receive the first prize. I was sitting in the back row, and when my name was called, I got up. While walking I heard people whispering because I was still wearing short pants.

When did you sell your first work?
Dr. Jorge Lizárraga bought, in 1942, two works. I seem to recall "Flower and Shapes" and "Church of Guacara" semi-abstract paintings with surreal elements.

Which was the most important influence in your creative activity?
The great masters that I learned about later in valuable books at Luis Eduardo Chavez’s library in Valencia. But I had a lot of works done in small formats. The first things I drew and painted were absolutely spontaneous ... People said that I could not paint because what I did resembled nothing.

Having painted for years in an intuitive way, I created my own academy, drawing male and female nudes, faces, bodies, self-portraits, portraits of my mother, brothers and of course, landscapes and still lives. When I arrived in Paris, I enrolled in the School of Fine Arts, in the workshop of lithography and engraving directed by Marcel Jaudon and then at the Stanley William Halter one.

In what media and at what times do you express yourself more freely?
Drawing, and when I'm not overwhelm with responsibilities, which happens especially during my travels. In those moments I do drawings on any media: paper tablecloths, napkins, metro tickets, newspaper ... There is no retention in crumbly materials, the worst material have the advantage of not producing any psychological resistance in the artist. The new papers offer resistance because they are a white and clean surface; one senses that one can spoil it. However, in a piece of newspaper one does not have that problem, one can scrawl it as one pleases , and sometimes one can do good things, and it has the advantage that it does not get moldy thanks to the inks, although it can become yellow. Famous painters have made beautiful oil paintings on newspaper and glue them on canvas later.

From these drawings he made spontaneously, he later took them up again for paintings, engravings, sculptures or ceramics. I do not believe in "evolution" in art, I have never a continuous line, I go forward and then backwards, from one side to the other...

How is a day in the life of Vigas?
I hate routine. I do not believe in discipline and inspiration. I never wait for inspiration to do the things that are to done with work rather than inspiration.

I do not paint every day, only when I can and when I feel like it, and when I am not doing anything else, like cooking, for example.
I get up as late as possible because the problems start when you out of bed ...everything gets complicated when one gets up. I love to sleep; I think that is the best you have. I dream, but not much and I only remember the transcendental dreams. Every day is like the beginning and looks like the end. But there is no rule; the only rule is that there is no rule, no discipline. Work is not unpleasant because it is libidinal, it is the libido which intervenes and gives pleasure even when you suffer. It is pleasant.

I see that you enjoy cooking and preparing bitter orange marmalade, how did you learn to make it?
Like painting, making it, working on it, painting is learned by doing.

How has been the relationship with the artists with whom you have shared?
Arriving in Caracas, in 1948, I looked for a place to live near the School of Fine Arts and the University. I found a boarding house on Fe to Santa Barbara where there lived Humberto Jaimes Sánchez, Angel Hurtado, Omar Carreño, Victor Valera and Genaro Moreno: they were my first friends in Caracas.

I have had very dear friends. We made a trio Angel Hurtado, Jaime Sanchez and I at the Free Art Workshop. Alirio Oramas, who ran it, was the one that took me there. They were also Mario Abreu, Luis Guevara Moreno, Regulo Perez and others.

What have been the most important moments in your artistic life?
In 1951 I obtained a degree as doctor and the following year I received the National Fine Arts Prize the Boulton Prize and the Arturo Michelena Prize.

We know you met with great artists during your stay in Paris. Who are the ones you remember the most?
Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, Jean Arp, Alberto Magnelli, Baltasar Lobo, Alfred Mannessier, Jean Dewasne, Victor Vasarely, some of them, by the way, were presented to me by my dear and admired friend, architect Carlos Raul Villanueva.

As for Picasso, it was the pianist Humberto Castillo Suarez, who took and introduced me to him in 1955 in his house "La Californie" in Cannes. It was a human encounter of remarkable empathy, of more of all artistic and pictorial consideration. He treated me as a colleague; he wanted to learn about my work and asked my opinion on what he was painting and his work. It was an exceptional moment in my life. I saw him for three straight days and when we parted we both cried. He made me promise him that I would come back, which I could never do for reasons too long to explain here.

And Reverón?
I met him before I left Venezuela, when I visited him with the friends of the Free Art Workshop and Rafael Lopez Pedraza. I remember he put his fingers in my ears telling me I had to take out the bugs I could have in the head, which tormented him. Angel Hurtado took pictures of that encounter.

In this conversation we have had during these days I've discovered that you write poetry. When does it start writing?
Since I was a teenager. I've always written: many essays, newspaper articles, poetry and even plays.

Well Master, the only thing you lack is singing or playing a musical instrument ...
But I am a music lover, I like music and joy it a lot. As a child I began to study piano at the Ateneo of Valencia; I had to drop it because I had no instrument. My favorite composer is Chopin, but I love Mozart, Bach. Beethoven, Prokofiev, Moussorgsky, Stravinsky ...

Life has brought me closer to great musicians like Jean Pierre Rampal, Narciso Yepes, Byron Janis, Yoyo Ma, Henryck Szeryng, Maurice Hasson, my buddy, not forgetting Krzysztof Penderecki with whom I keep a great relationship. Krzysztof started a "Quartet for Oswaldo" in my studio in 1987, watching my series of oil paintings on the crucifixion.

This simple and emotional conversation, of spontaneous questions and answers in the artist's home, went on quietly in the fascinating atmosphere of his studio, full of smells and colors, where we selected the works presented in this exhibition.

Author: Mariela Provenzali
©Copyright Oswaldo Vigas