Conducted by: Alejandro Vetrini
Program: En Voz Baja
Radio Station: 101.1FM
When studying the Renaissance and the organic nature of the arts, literature, painting, and the artistic manifestations in general, you are a vivid example of integration. Besides being a master of arts you are also a master of poetry. Could you introduce us to the world of letters, instruct us about your work in general?
These are things in which one is involved as the events happen, not that one has a preset program but things are happening. Naturally, I start the painting fact, I have bet my life on painting that always offers me new opportunities, new challenges and opens up new projects and different fields in itself, therefore, I will never say that painting is finished, as some claim.
For me, it never ends, because every day it presents me with new possibilities, it is like something you chase and when you think you have reached it, it furthers away. It is vital continuity that always places you on the starting point; hence one can keep mental and spiritual youth from these incentives. I do not feel I am on the culmination of a process already completed, so when they call me master it is very uplifting and satisfying, but I do not know.... because for master George Braque was so called he used to say: "I am not a master, the last master was Cezanne, he always had something to teach. After Cezanne painting became an 'every man for himself'. " This means that there were no established rules, only the imagination and the creativity of each artist based on their talent, his intelligence or his studies, because painting is a process of continuous study .... Although thank you very much for calling me master.
There is also an anecdote of the Zen philosophy in which the student asks one of his teachers, Master how I will know when I will be a teacher, and he replies: when you become a master you will know it, and you will not have to ask anyone.
A person qualifies himself, it is one’s obligation to know its strengths, weaknesses and accept them.
What has happened to me is that, that from one thing another one has come out and I have assumed and I accepted them, I have no reason to mutilate myself. I started, of course, with painting. Since I was young I received most of the major awards that were given in the country, the Otero Vizcarrondo, the Boulton, the Planchart, I won the D'Empaire Hall Prize, and that would give me new incentives and commitments.
Likewise, I began writing about art because painting taught me not only to paint but also to think.
For me painting is total creativity in the sense that it forced me to other cultural incentives, I it brought me closer to music, philosophy and I tried to express and communicate that, it does not mean that I, in a preconceived way, had qualified myself as a writer or a painter.
You are what you have and the qualities they have, they emerge exist, they are realities and they are cultivated.
I have been consistent with my qualities and they have forced me to study other things, I have always been a lifelong student of art, which I naturally advise young people, to become self-conscious and not be manipulated.
In fact, there were those who got mad at me because I wrote. A friend architect use to tell me: "Manuel, but why do you write. Devote yourself to painting paints and nothing else, "I would say: 'well, it is inevitable."
While writing, I thinking, I am clarifying ideas and communicating them, besides, I cannot castrate myself, or be inhibited, I have to let things emerge because one has them inside. The fact that Picasso or Reverón did not write it does not mean it is a general rule, they did not do it because they did not want to or because they did not like to.
At one point it was wrong what is called a cult artist, because it was assumed that a painter should handle painting and be a little rustic. Jorge Luis Borges said: "A painter should be something innocent," but he was not innocent at all, he was guilty because the lack of innocence is a form of guilt. The judges always ask the defendants: Do you plead guilty or innocent? Usually they say innocent, but they could say ignorant or they could say "I know nothing" because the one that ignores is not responsible.
I once wrote a humorous article, which was published in the newspaper “El Nacional”, in the Literary Paper column, called The Praise of Ignorance.
We could get a point where the people would be so educated, trained and educated that some, perhaps the one that have fallen behind or the most spiritually ambitious would ask the government for only two rights: the right to solitude and the right to ignorance.
Some say that Leonardo Da Vinci recommended it...
Yes, he recommended it but he did not practice it. He got into too many things, I think the great Leonardo wasted a lot of time time making machines and trying to prove he was a scientist and that is the reason he painted so little.
I think it took him about twenty years to paint the Mona Lisa, of course because he only painted for five minutes, the rest of the time he was devoted to devise ingenious machines and beautiful drawings, most than what he said because after all ... Copernicus or Galileo were true scientists and he showed his brilliance in activities that adorned his status as a painter.
Now, if Da Vinci would have painted more paintings he would have had more works.
Probably, Da Vinci had that need to venture into other things...
Of course, that is what I have been telling you, he probably had that desire to do things that were within him. He wanted to discover aviation, but he did not realize that for that is you needed fuel, then he would prepare manual about wings and stuff like that ... science is a thing based on an another existing one, for example, to send ships to the moon fuel has exist, metals, etc.., which emerged over time.
Leonardo had those concerns; he was a man who foresaw wisdom. Do you know what is called topus uranus? An area of the infinite divine where all the souls and wisdom are. The souls when they embody some have memories of that great wisdom and that is the reason great illuminations are produced.
When those illuminations are produced, when you do something- and I am not including myself in it- you ask: but did I really do this? Now, teaching to do them is very difficult because the student would have had to gone through the same things as that person. Picasso said: it is very difficult for someone to paint that painting, he would have to live what I have lived, to have what I have had, possess what I have and lack what I lack.... a unique situation for that to occur, it is unrepeatable.
That is the uniqueness of art, it is a single act, transferable in some way, and is not quantitative but rather a problem of everyone.
I remember one of your very emblematic works within Venezuelan art, which also marked your beginnings; I am talking about Cúpira...
Critics, the fine public considered Cúpira an emblematic work of my work, because with that painting I officially entered into painting.
Although I had been painting since adolescence, I had a low-profile process, deliberately; I thought that until I did not have something important I would keep living not from painting, but for painting.
I did not mind having to work in many things, provided I did not have to compromise painting on any labor or domestic issue, it was a form of freedom. Then that painting was made as an illumination, eventually it was done on its own and I was only an instrument for it to manifest.
Carlos Silva-my friend, may he rest in peace-a very lucid man that approximated to my work, said that this painting was a daemon. A daemon is not a demon, it is an elf, a kind of mystery, of pre-existing things and that are manifested through someone who is like an antenna. Then in that case, I did not express myself through the painting but the painting expressed itself through me with that character because when I was painting it came out in a spontaneous and natural way that later I could not do it anymore.
With that painting, as I was saying, I officially entered into the Venezuelan painting because I won the Enrique Otero Vizcarrondo prize in the Official Hall of 1955. Ah! And I was also a candidate for the National Arts Award that same year, that was a painting I perceived as important.
It was said I was unknown, that I did not win the award, there were even some people who thought I was Spanish or came from abroad for the prejudice that here nothing can be done or made.
The strange thing is that who explained it to me became a teacher of sculpture at the School of Visual Arts, he was a juror at that time he said to me: Look Manuel there is a painting that is driving us crazy because it is very good, whose is it? We thought it was a Spanish painter ... and I told him: teacher, that painting is mine, he responded: yours? Ah! You are that Quintana Castillo! (Laughs).
I consider that it was one of the most important paintings that were in the Hall of 55, and not because it was mine. Sorry if I am being a bit pedantic...
No, quite the contrary ... you are clarifying many things. Adriano González León said about this painting Cúpira: "In painting there blew a hallucinatory breath and the spectators could enter into a kind of sensory dissipation, for even the smell was at stake against certain figures of women that stretched out their arms or inner fire.” What do you think about these words of admired Gonzalez Leon?
I am very proud to have maintained a fraternal friendship from boyhood, from the time of the Sardio group, with the great Venezuelan writer. I think Adriano said, with the lucidity and sensitivity that characterizes him, the scope of the painting, even the smell is compromised.
You mentioned the Sardio group, let’s get closer to it but through the work Cúpira because somehow it became a symbol, an element around which gathered thinkers, writers, Venezuelans plastic artists and led to this meeting of talents through this group. Tell us about that experience, how was it? How did the Sardio group emerge?
Cúpira was a painting that opened doors even within the intellectual world. And I had many intellectual friends from youth, before meeting the Sardio group I had a friendship with Oswaldo Trejo, Omar Salazar Meneses, Mario Torrealba, Alfredo Armas Alfonso, a group of intellectuals, naturally I approached them with great respect...
Excuse me, I have read you were influenced by Mariano Picon Salas, weren’t you?
No, Don Mariano was a very learned man, he was not a creative in the sense of the word, a writer like Oswaldo Trejo, Adriano González or León Garmendia, and he was a great writer, a sort of Venezuelan Alfonso Reyes- a thinker, a scholar-. His essay on Francisco de Miranda was great, they would have to reissue it and distribute it. Don Mariano was one of our great thinkers, the type that would be great to sort of rescue. We must reclaim our history, we must not erase or forget it, I am concerned about history being erased, that the names and the people for a snobbish sense of vanguard and novelty be erased.
We must rescue our cultural heritage and this must be one of the goals of our cultural policy. We cannot afford to ignore or delete anything. If for the Europeans abstract art was a revolution, for us it is an achievement. We because of the appearance of such art could not erase the School of Caracas; we are gathering together, we are making the culture of this country and Latin America, by the way.
Europeans do not have that, and those who are facing a made culture, we have the ability to invent, and we are not tied to an anchor of a tradition that is too heavy. We have to regain some innocence and ignorance and face the world as if it were starting. You have to internalize what exists around and begin from ourselves, not vice versa.
We were talking about Cúpira ... yes, indeed, was an iconic painting for me. In addition, many people approached me; I established friendships that besides giving me pride- they are beneficial and an intellectual encouragement. Then, it is not that I joined Sardio, but it was Sardio that incorporated me into Sardio, because that painting hit the nail on the appearance of fine arts, in what was called Magical Realism, area that also cultivated Oswaldo Vigas and Mario Abreu, then I cultivate it my way and impacted these poets, as did another of my paintings called The Weaver of Clouds.
Through these paintings they approached me. Adriano was someone who was ahead of García Márquez, no comparisons as One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great novel, because he poses the magical realism before him. I even think that Adriano González León’s Higher Bonfires is a much more intimate thing than The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier, because he wrote like a scholar, it is even said that Carpentier had no dialogue. He had a column called Words and Solfa, in the newspaper El Nacional, he would go to the newspaper office, sit at the typewriter and tac, tac, tac ... pin! He wrote fast. Anyway ... Carpentier was in Venezuela, was a great master ... though was not extensive, here magic realism was being done in art, but Don Alejo never came close to one.
How can one define Magic Realism in painting? When maybe no one knew what is was...
The term Magic Realism was invented by a German man, named Roth, to refer to German Expressionism; his complete name is German Roth. It is compiled in a book by Monteavila that when I remember it, I will tell you the author ... what I can tell you is that it was early in the century. Later that term came into the field of literature.
What defines the term magic realism?
This term defines the things that occur in communities that do not participate in rational process or the intellectual process. It is the spontaneous, what belongs to certain communities, villages or individuals.
It is not Surrealism; our magic realism is a different thing. The Sardio group had an allegiance to French surrealism, but I perceived that we had nothing to do with it because it was a movement of French intellectual elite that moved in an atmosphere of practical aestheticism. From it arose the term Cursed Poet which ultimate destiny should be suicide, death and destruction, not happiness. That was the cursed poet syndrome, many of whom for assuming that syndrome were hurt. What I mean is that surrealism has a tragic label and magic realism does not, it is pure imagination, of what we have. In Latin America it flourished naturally and spontaneously, it is not an intellectual but a vital fact, that was what was assumed here with the magic realism in literature and it began with Adriano Gonzalez León.