Coqui Calderon: A Pantheistic View of Nature: Panamanian Painter and Patron of the Arts, Coqui Calderon Explores the Relationship of Feminine Figures with Nature While Expressing Her Own Personal Experiences

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There's no longer any question that women have made an important contribution to the world of painting in Latin America. From Frida Kahlo's power of expression to Marta Minujin's bold creations, women have expressed their visions and have been part of the region's artistic movements.

The painter Coqui Calderon is a precursor of women's growing involvement in the plastic arts and is a sponsor of the arts in Panama.

The beautiful Central American country of Panama is a land marked by the crisscrossing and merging of seas, continents, and cultures. Geographically an isthmus, Panama was slated for use as a canal, and its separation into two parts creates an awareness of a "divided land-united world," a concept that all Panamanians carry in their thoughts and their hearts.

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Panama also has an artistic tradition passed down from pre-Hispanic culture and colonial times which, coupled with 20th century movements, has influenced Panamanian art and driven its development.

Calderon studied art at Rosemont College in the United States and pursued advanced studies at the Grande Chaumiere in Paris. Upon her return to Panama in the 1950s, she launched her professional career.

She has developed her own style--short strokes of pastels, like bursts of movement--and is considered one of the Latin American women artists who best masters this technique, a technique that's not very widespread in the hemisphere and that she has reclaimed.

Her semi-figurative and semi-abstract style focuses on color, used primarily to reflect nature. This is evident in her series Paisaje Panama: Las serranias de Cocle (Panamanian Landscape: The Mountains of Cocle) and Etapa magica (Magical Phase).

In her works, nature is a Me-generating force, a symbol of fertility. Pantheistic philosophy, in which we are all part of nature and nature constitutes the whole, infuses her canvases. Thus represented are the symbolic union of man and woman with the natural world; the merger of human figures with nature; and in some paintings, the transformation of women into trees or birds.

She's also an artist with a deep interest in Panama's history, as can be seen in her Serie Panama o rafagas de colera (Panama Series or Bursts of Rage), painted during General Noriega's administration and exhibited at the OAS Art Museum of the Americas, in Washington, DC.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Panama witnessed a veritable artistic boom: art galleries were established, prizes were created, and the Panamanian Art Institute was founded, which Coqui is involved in managing along with other artists.

Her artistic output has gained prominence through exhibitions in Panama and abroad. Her works are showcased in museums and private collections, and recently she was honored with a retrospective at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (MAC) of Panama.

In 1967, she received First Prize at the XII National Painting Competition in San Salvador, and in 1983 she was awarded the Order of Vasco Nunez de Balboa for her contributions to Panamanian culture.

We visited her in her studio, with expansive windows overlooking the Canal. Surrounded by paintings, canvases, and brushes, she spoke of her beginnings and various stages as an artist.

"I always admired my father and his knack for drawing. I myself used to draw in secret. When I enrolled in college, I was interested in history, which led me to art history and to trying my hand in an art Workshop. That's where I felt I'd discovered my path. My American mother valued university education and encouraged me to study art in Paris and the United States. When I returned to Panama in the late 1950s, I found an artistic desert, but I already knew what I wanted to do. I began to spend time in a group with Guillermo Trujillo, Alfredo Sinclair, and Alberto Dutary, where I was the only woman artist. Dutary invited me to work in his studio because I didn't have one, and soon he staged an exhibition of my works. …