Bright Visions, Fine Contours

Article excerpt

IT IS DARK AND BROODING or luminous and blithe. It is concertedly conventional or outrageously innovative. It is regional or universal, distinctly feminine or not feminine at all. The work of Latin America's women artists defies classification and generalizations. Stylistically, the creations of Latin American women artists run an enormous gamut, from baroque to impressionist to abstract to minimalist. But one thing is clear. During the past decade Latin America has seen an explosion of painting, sculpture and photography produced by women artists, many of whom are working on the cutting edge of their profession.

At the more traditionalist end of the spectrum is Mexican painter Anamario Hernandez, whose intimate still lifes capture the quiet beauty of familiar objects. Hernandez finds her inspiration in typical Mexican artifacts--ceramics, dried flowers--for which she uses natural pigments. Often she paints interior nooks or windows. A bottle standing on a table, a spike of wheat, a key--these everyday objects take on metaphorical dimensions for Hernandez, who uses them as symbols of life, promise, ruptures, endings and new beginnings. However, she is careful to keep her symbolism simple so that the painting does not become mired in layers of meaning. One of the strengths of her work, she believes, is its accessibility to the untrained viewer.

There is a distinctly architectural quality to the composition of Hernandez's paintings and to her use of line and light. The daughter of Agustin Hernandez, a prominent architect, the painter admits that her father has influenced her work, although he has often been a severe critic. For Hernandez, the greatest challenge is to make art a tool for discovery, rather than a straitjacket. "She must be alert to new ideas and willing to experiment. Otherwise, she will fall into the trap of repeating herself. Then, instead of opening doors, her own personal style will limit her."

Like Hernandez, Chilean painter Ruby Aranguiz experiments with light, but while the former creates a soft luminosity through the use of whites, blacks and pastels. Aranguiz's paintings exude radiance. A lyrical expressionist who has been strong influenced by both the cubists and the impressionists, Aranguiz uses light in landscapes to separate the different elements, thereby producing a cubist pattern. For example, in Ibiza Boulevard, the intense light directed at the buildings seems to blind the viewer to detail, creating the impression of a series of illuminated boxes under a brilliant blue sky. "I achieve the maximum vibrancy of color by means of contrast, separating elements with grays or with intermediate colors that balance the two tones I wish to highlight," she explains.

Although Aranquiz has painted still lifes and landscapes of the different places she has lived--Chile, Spain, Mexico, California--her favorite subject is the human figure. In many of her portraits, the use of small, feather-like brush strokes has the effect of dulcifying the images. In her pastel, Macarena Reading, Aranguiz uses delicate strokes and highlights the flesh tones with blues and purples to create an almost Renoir-like softness. The light is concentrated on the face, which is kept from looking harsh by the girl's sensitive, concentrated expression, the delicateness of the hair, the fragility of the collar, and the subtlety of the surrounding pastels.

In many works Aranguiz depicts a figure--a person, a house, a boat--realistically in bright colors in the foreground, then uses pale, subdues shades to create a contrastive background. In Woman Wearing a Chinese Robe, for example, the redness of the robe is offset by the soothing earth tones of the hills. This technique forces the viewer's eye to focus on the central element in the painting.

While the work of many women artists reveals resentment or range, Aranguiz's brims with joy and warmth. It is for this season that the best-selling Chilean writer Isabel Allende chose several of Aranguiz's paintings to illustrate her book jackets. …