Honorable members of the Academy, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It’s an honor to belong to this Academy of Arts and to have the opportunity to address a dialogue about art and ideas.
I do not intend to speak about my work, but to express within certain logic the conscious part of an experience which serves as an approach to sculpture, since the important task of a sculptor is the work itself and its reference to language.
Sculpture is a means of expressing the identification, whether with the real or the imaginary, verifying thus the relationship of an individual with the sensitive world.
When I arrived at Mexico in 1936, I had already my own concept of sculpture, formed through my readings and the practice of the direct carving at my father’s workshop. This appears on the sculpture Maternity in stone, which is bigger than natural size, done in 1935. It is a keystone for the later works. Since I didn’t have a real academic training, I was free of many rhetorical tricks. Hence, I needed to increase my knowledge in order to establish a line to follow, avoiding decorative variants and stylistic conventions. I became part of the artistic environment of Mexico, working on the direct carving that I had been practicing since 1932, which consolidated a method of change, related to the traditional forms of sculpture, for example in modeling, or in the scale, consisting of dots in order to transfer the original sample. Bernard, Brancusi and Gaudier-Brzeska had employed the direct carving in 1910, as a massive understanding of the volumes and the surfaces, as a renovation of forms and concepts.
In Mexico, those who worked on these ideas at different stages were Luis Ortíz Monasterio and Carlos Bracho. Guillermo Ruiz and Rómulo Rozo at the school of direct carving 1927-1937. By that time, I worked the sculpture within the material, as a round or closed block, remaining at the front part, turning it afterwards in order to integrate all of its sides in cubic, spherical or virtual cylindrical forms, according to Cézanne. This experience brought me closer to all archaic art, and to the extent, which proves that we are not only participants in the present time as well as the uncertain future, but also are the result of our past. It became evident that the richness of pre-Columbian art played a fermenting role in the birth of an art which belonged to us and which didn’t owe everything to the Renaissance.
At the Museum of Anthropology of Moneda Street, a colonial, dark, inadequate, nevertheless at the same time astonishing building, I learned and drew every piece, attracted by a formal severity, by the intensity originated by its world of symbolic geometry, main principle of all ancient art; but also by the human tremor of the Jaina figures or of the smiling Totonaca small heads. In the pre-Columbian world not all is tenebrous symbolism, as our western culture tends to believe. When traveling through villages and markets, I found those women selling fruits and flowers, contemporary Chicomecóatls, as real as the sculptures of their old pre-Columbian portraits.
At those standards, the abstraction present in every sculpture is more real than reality itself. It is the key of vitality of an art, and perhaps, it is for me the profound motive that guides my work. Sculpture has always been the expression of something that exists in the reality of human nature. My readings were: Abstraction and Nature and Essence of Gothic Style, by Wilhelm Worringer, translation into Spanish from the Revista de Occidente, by Ortega y Gasset, or The Organic Growing of the Natural Elements, by Mathias Ghyka, which I used even later in my lessons at La Esmeralda, as well as the Psychology of Art, by André Malraux. In these texts, I found ideas as well as an analysis of art which served in a determinant way to my training and to my critical confrontation with my colleagues of that time.
For ten years, all was reduced to the detail of the craft, and the sharing at the monumental work of some sculptors who had functionary jobs. There was an intense polemic in the environment with the “compromised art” of the mural painters. We understood that art is not separated from the psychological or sociological preoccupations. After a stage of a muralist sequence and of public art, of the collaboration with artists and architects in teams, of almost anonymity in the ideology of the power, I started to react against all that, understanding that the sources which had nourished us, stayed at the edge, and that sculpture was limited to an ornamental function. Didactic art, contrary to what it is commonly thought, is not effective face to the reality of survival and the good intentioned programs are not what worries us more but something else.
My purpose was to make a sculpture, distinct from the actualized tendencies, that were once revolutionary ruptures within the concepts and forms, even when I was not completely shut off from the cultural information of the world, or to its confrontation. However, sculpture seemed to remain behind other arts. The human figure interests me deeply as a value in itself, and it is the essence of my work. The problem has always existed.
So, how to make a sculpture, commencing with the reference and the live model, making possible that it has an autonomous vitality and not only a well–shaped form? The art critic Carlo Julio Argan says: “At the first half of the twentieth century, the history of art has been characterized by two thesis, the dialectical play of Classicism as a representation, and the Neoclassical as a function”.
The first thesis refers to the formal representation of a global conception of the world, as a historical consequence of space and time, proper to human nature. On the contrary, it defines the Neoclassical, which rejects all historical experience, as that part of nothing, giving more latitude to the experience and tools of that process.
My conceptual guidance was based undoubtedly on the first thesis of the artistic process, whose formal development can change according to the place and epoch, rather than to the structure. Sculpture is, above all, a sculpture, whatever its plan might be, technical or figurative, thematic or theoretical, to find other values which are precisely its essence, as a will of form and expression. All technique, in this case, sculpture forms a particular way of experimenting reality. From all the intellectual rigor of cubism, there is in Brancusi’s work, above all others, until the pure form of Arp, a formal and logic development.
My guidance takes another way of expression, the volume and intensity in the inner transport of a figure. If in the past, I used to work on a sculpture from the outside to the inside as in direct carving, I risked remaining on the surface. Brancusi said: “It is impossible for somebody to express the real by imitating the exterior surface of things. I work now from the inside to the outside, starting from an assemblage or skeleton, trying to build forms with another structural tension. In a sculpture, it is possible to touch and see the sensitive, which in its totality, in its integral purity, exceeds the visible and the tangible. Such is my purpose. For this reason, abstraction is present in every sculpture, as I said before in relation to pre-Columbian art, it is not easily perceptible and in particular if one is accustomed to the stereotypes of trivial critics. I don’t believe that we should submit ourselves to the art tendencies, but rather to the dialectical contradiction of those tendencies, which can be positive.
A form, as a result of the direct observation of reality, through the sensitive depuration of an organic geometry of the natural forms, submitted to the physical laws of balance, a balance between mind and instinct, between theory and emotion, is enough. There, the psychological spaces and a certain pathos participate and reinforces the afflicted conception of a work. That vitality that comes from the inside of a form, reaching the comprehension of its three-dimensional reality. The dimensions, the reduced subject, the surrounding space, and sculpture have the virtue of generating their own space, and these are essential elements to me.
I do not sculpt nature, but a sculpture of human nature, insisting on this adjectival dimension of building a form of the human figure.
Maybe my world is that of the feminine indigenous representation, and of poses which are related to the old cultures of Middle America, that is an emotional and prevailing motive from which I reaffirm precisely a certain irrational aspect, psychological values; the heritage. I relate all that symbolically to the geological, the terrestrial of origin, even more, to the erotic. Hence, the exaggeration of breasts, the stomachs, the hips. In that sense, nature is inexhaustible, since life grows and dies. I think of those plaster models at the workshop that remain under the rain, which erode and become old. On the other hand, there are forms of a great vitality, and we feel the need to praise their sensuality. Forms in full growth as two facets of the same movement. That extraordinary side which belong to those ancient gods lost in the jungle, broken by a tree searching its way, imposing and consumed gods at the same time. It would be ideal if I could combine and concentrate in the same sculpture those two aspects as an artistic objective, recovering opposite values, enhancing and reasserting them.
The squatting figures are a spherical mass sustained by two supporting points: the inflecting legs. Such is the subject of the daily task, and even the fact of engendering. The reclining figures, drowsy or relaxed with a stressed sensuality of a lying animal. The seated figures like pyramids or absent prayers. I try to capture that entire world out of the time, that resistance which makes of Mexico one of the greatest countries of the world. The standing figures, the verticality, characteristics of man, differentiating him from other species. It is important the case of the hips, sort of shell supported by the columns of the legs, which also support the spine and terminates in that central axis, the head. The shawls or clothes have also a function: to veil part of the figure, to emphasize a form or a salient, to balance or to continue a rhythm within the composition. In the groups, the hips mark a horizontal supporting axis of the whole, the spaces like negative volumes, which in cinematography is called out of frame, the hollows or firm salient, all this construction is thought, calculated. Light is of essential importance; it illuminates or outlines the forms, by defining the hollows and the salient surfaces, the rough or polished textures according to the material.
The direct work in plaster to cast the bronze. The bronzes belong to open forms. The marbles or stones to closed ones. All this, of course, is the workshop, the technique applied to the practice and the invented one, according to the needs. Drawing is essential. It is a rational means to create a contour; to capture a form before approaching the problem created by the sculpture and its material. History teaches us, for example, that the molding of a live model, as in hyperrealist figures, always coincides with the decadent epochs. Grotesque painted grimaces of a new realism between quotation marks, to represent the humane in a deadly mockery.
I adopt once more the human figure as a sort of revenge, after twenty years of devices and diverse materials, the sculpture being as totems of a singular society, distracted or futile. I readopt them as if I was the first one to decipher their sense, rejecting the internationalization of tendencies and programs, to impel my ideas even in the singular particularities of a region, a place, or an origin. A specificity. Sculpture is to me a fight for life, for a humanization that does not come in this slow waiting dance in which sometimes we go through, without perceiving it, trying to get the essential. I would like to conclude by quoting Adorno, who in his Observations of Critical Theory, states:
“A thought possesses a moment of universality: What has been well thought, will be thought necessarily, in another place and by somebody else; this certainty accompanies the loneliest thought…”