Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
Guayasamin: The Chapel Of Man
It can be said that it is a fortunate artist that is born during times of great tribulations. Artists are defined by, and define their times, through their emotional response expressed in bold strokes and violent colors. So it is with Oswaldo Guayasamin, the native born Ecuadorian of Maya/Quechua Indian ancestry.
Born in Quito on July 6, 1919 into a working class family, the eldest son of 10, he took up the brush at age 7, and as the story goes, diluted his paints with milk from his Mother’s breast. True or not, perhaps that is just an indication of the intense passion of the young boy that against all odds and family pressure determined to be an artist. At first he drew caricatures of his teachers which landed him the reputation as a troublemaker but in 1932 he joined the School of Fine Arts where he was forced into learning form and function which ultimately pointed him in the right direction.
His background of poverty and the loss of his mother at a young age; repression of Indians and the killing of a friend; the worldwide depression of the 30’s; the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War; shook his artistic soul into a sharp focus and turned an already antiauthoritarian rebellious boy into a crusader against oppression, cruelty and injustice.
Guayasamin’s paintings scream out as loudly as an orator on a soapbox in the central square rallying the people to demand equality and the end of injustice. His art is visceral and descriptive, representational rather than realistic. Like the Spanish painter Francisco Goya before him, Guayasamin paints his own nightmarish images as a voice speaking out against brutality and tyranny.
His art style, referred to as Indigenous Expressionism, was strongly influenced by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and El Greco (1541-1614) and in his masterwork ‘Manos de la protesta’ (1968) you can clearly see echo’s of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ – the horrific portrayal of the German bombing of the Basque city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War - made even more terrifying painted in black and white. Guayasamin uses color not to make images beautiful but to electrify the starkness of his tortured subject. His elongated figures imitate El Greco but the comparison stops there as Guayasamin is unique unto himself. His work is primal and being surrounded by his bigger than life-size images in ‘The Chapel of Man’ is daunting.
A steeply winding road leading into an upscale neighborhood in the Quito hills -- where the houses precariously cling to the rock-face -- will take you to the hacienda that houses “La Capilla del Hombre” or The Chapel of Man museum.
The building was designed by Guayasamin himself specifically to house his collection of paintings that pay tribute to Latin American peoples and their suffering and accomplishments, from the pre-Columbian world through conquest, colonization and integration. His dramatic architectural detailing of the pyramidal skylight dominating the main entrance hall is a perfect backdrop for his paintings and sculptures of struggle and adversity, but ultimately his triumph.
A word of caution, the works, while monumental, are dark and mostly emotionally draining and should be taken in small doses. The terraced courtyard overlooking the city and the landscaped surrounding gardens lighten the mood upon exiting the building and add balance to visiting the museum.
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