It is not often that we can talk to a Latin-American art icon that has personally lived the art evolution, from the European avant-garde art movements to the present. Intellectually with one foot in Latin America and the other one in Europe, the artist Fernando de Szyszlo has been a pioneer and key actor in the development of Latin American abstract art during the 50s and now he is considered a bona fide art legend.
As a brief but meaningful introduction of the artist to our art readers, it is worth to mention that Szyszlo valued art pieces are exhibited around the world in prestigious museums as the Museum of the Americas in Washington, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rio de Janeiro and so forth.
Throughout his life, this artist has collected meaningful decorations as “Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’, granted by the French Republic or ‘Grand Officer Bernardo O’Higgins for the Arts and Letters’, awarded by the Republic of Chile, among other important ones. As a matter of course, Szyszlo is considered one of the ten most influential Peruvians in the world, sharing the acclaim with the world-renowned photographer Mario Testino and the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, a family friend of the artist.
Certainly, Szyszlo has always been surrounded by best-known intellectuals like Andre Breton, founder of the Surrealism Movement in France and whose philosophy greatly influenced him.
Fernando de Szyszlo welcomes us today at his house and studio in San Isidro, a quiet and traditional district in Lima. His large geometrical-abstract style house anticipates his artistic preferences, while his classical library and living-room surrounded by high-ceiling wood bookshelves holding hundreds of books; the diversity of paintings and sculptures and so many pictures from his family and close friends, tells about his sensitive personality.
In this context and scenario, Szyszlo openly shares with us his memories, anecdotes, and dreams, revealing us a cheerful young spirit, nuanced by the wisdom of an artist that has experienced different cultural realities and periods of time.
(Photo: Marco Simola)
Mr. Szyszlo, almost all Latin-American artists admire you and aspire to succeed in the art world with the continuity and freedom of interpretation that you have achieved throughout your life. Do you think that your success is mainly due to your deep self-creative process?
That’s right, I have been educated within the parameters of surrealism, not in painting per se but in the surrealism text and content from Breton, that is understanding art as a way to bring out from our unconscious, living things that are untouched by the external world and expressing them out in art pieces. Carl Jung used to say that one’s unconscious has common denominators with the collective unconscious and if a person manages to bring out something from deep in his interior, someone else may be able to interpret it. That is how I have based all my work, using artistic languages from my age and time, nourished by pre-Columbian and autochthonous content.
Once you finished your fine arts studies in Peru, you traveled to France, where besides studying the old masters, you learned and practiced the abstract expressionist style, emerging from the European post-war period. What challenges did you consider when returning back to your country?
Without a doubt, my greatest challenge was to show the world the deep and profound social realities from our continent that have not been totally shown yet, using the language of Western contemporary art. This challenge was also felt by the whole generation of Latin-American artists and writers. We fought to reflect what we were, giving relevance to our culture and portraying our societies, as did García Mí¡rquez, Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo and so many other intellectuals.
At times, there come generations of artists and writers with more intellectual curiosity that group together. My generation was part of a group of Latin-American intellectuals who came forth with a broader and more modern vision and many of us had the chance to visit or live in Europe.
The challenge is to learn from different visions
Your student years in Paris, within the exciting social and cultural context of the 50s, provide you with the precise knowledge and necessary resources for your creative personality. Do you still feel the nostalgia for the amazing years you lived there?
For sure, he says cheerfully. Living in different countries largely broadens your vision and capacities and definitely having lived in Paris marks one forever. In his autobiography, based on the 20s, Ernest Hemingway pointed out that Paris was a moveable feast. As you mentioned, I was in Paris in the 50s and my experiences were similar, the only thing that changed over time was the districts on fashion. In Hemingway’s time the fashion district was the Montparnasse; in Picasso’s time it was Montmartre and in mine, Saint Germaine. For me reading that book was like reading my biography, even though I did not have money by then.
Sometimes as you get older and stay much time in a place, you become like a plant growing roots. For me now it is impossible to think about moving there because of my sentimental bonds and the personal things I may need to take with me, such as my precious books.
It comes to my mind a book from Thomas Wolfe, titled ‘You can’t go home again’ that suggests that the time and place where you have been is irrecoverable.
(Photo: Marco Simola)
(Photo: Marco Simola)
Besides having the gratifying experience of living significant periods of the modern art history in Europe, you have also established solid bonds of friendship with icons from the intellectual sphere. What does friendship mean to you and how it has influenced your personal vision of the world?
True friendship is a natural subject for the human being. I have always been lucky enough to cultivate solid bonds with wonderful persons and all my experiences have been rewarding and enriching. A friend means new horizons, a new perspective or a different glance and if we want to evolve the challenge is to learn from different visions.
Octavio Paz meant so much to me and I owe him many of my discoveries, as well as Luis Mirí³ Quesada, pioneer of modern architecture in Lima, who actually designed my house and studio. Mario Vargas Llosa is also a good friend that influenced me considerably, as so many other friends so valued and beloved by me.
(Photo: Marco Simola)
Fernando de Szyszlo was born in Lima, on 5th July 1925. He was the son of the Polish physician Vitold de Szyszlo and María Valdelomar, sister of the writer Abraham Valdelomar. He studied Architecture at the National Engineering University, but he did not graduate and, in 1944, he was admitted to the Fine Arts Academy of the Catholic University of Peru. At the age of 24, he traveled to the European continent, where he studied Fine Arts. His interesting autobiography ‘La vida sin Dueño’, has been released in Lima, Perú in December 2016.
Jessica de Pomar is an Art Consultant for art institutions, having worked internationally for The Art Newspaper (UK), The Museum of Art of Fort Lauderdale (USA) and the Museum of America (Spain), as well as La Molina Borough (Perú). As collaborator for The Art Newspaper, she participated in ARCO Madrid and Art Bassel Miami Beach on several occasions and she is an Art Writer for Living in Peru.
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