Passageways: The Fourth International Ceramic Tile Triennial

Americas (English Edition), November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Passageways: The Fourth International Ceramic Tile Triennial


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It is not a coincidence that the Ceramic Tile Triennial is held in the Dominican Republic nor that the hemisphere's most outstanding tile artist is from that island. The history of ceramics in the Dominican Republic goes back to the 8th century AID when Taino Indians began to extract the secrets of vegetable dyes like achiote (Bixa orellana) and multi-colored earthen clay (fine white china and black oxides). With their ceremonial objects cooked in fire, the Taino left an indelible mark on history, and their universal spirit--presided over by Yucahu Maorocoti--lives on today in the forms inscribed In Caribbean art.

The fact that tiles can be shown as works of art today is a tribute not only to these ancestral roots--shared by other places like Cuba, Haiti, and the Antilles--but also to the influence of Paul Giudicelli (1921-1965), an abstract painter born in San Pedro de Marcoris. In fact, it was Giudicelli's work that opened up the modern age of Dominican ceramics. Thanks to him, and to the devotion of one of his disciples, Thimo Pimentel, the Elit-tile event, or International Ceramic Tile Triennial has grown since its creation in 1999 to include 357 works from 91 countries. The event has helped to fuel a resurgence of contemporary artistic interest in the Dominican Republic and in the possibilities of a medium that was once considered merely a handicraft.

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In the Caribbean, abstract symbols and geometric designs are as old as amulets, breastplates, vessels, ritual benches (duhos), and triangular sculpted stones; but it is also true that the Triennial has motivated a surprising new production of singular "author's" tiles, unique 15 x 15 centimeter pieces signed by the artists. The square tile has a surprising amount of room for experimentation, and that was clear once again at the Triennial sponsored by Thimo Pimentel's Igneri Art and Archeology Foundation. This year, the event moved from Santo Domingo and took place for the first time in the Centro Leon in Santiago de los Caballeros, one of the cultural epicenters of the Dominican Republic.

Thimo Pimentel, a doctor by training, is an artist capable of nourishing other artists' dreams and projects as well as his own. Lately, he has been filling the garden of his Santo Domingo house with sculptures made by a number of artists that will be exhibited in a museum he is planning to open in Punta Cana. He already has a gallery there, but he has yet to do an individual exhibition of his own work. Instead, he has shown the work of young artists who are exploring the possibilities of ceramics in contemporary art.

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Pimentel can tell you the story of the island's dictator Rafael Trujillo and how in the late 1950s, he decided to create a series of building and decorate them with the works of the country's best muralists. Since not even art could escape his all-powerful shadow, Trujillo wanted to approve the sketches himself. He decided he liked the figurative works, but he rejected the Giudicelli's more abstract proposals. Finally, he was persuaded by his advisers to include Giudicelli, but only on the condition that his works be placed in an exterior space. "He was hoping they would fade with time," Pimentel says.

Giudicelli began to experiment, looking for resistant materials and a medium that would work well for public art. He began by burning the glass from car lights to look for indelible colors. Finally, he discovered how to get iron oxide and decided that he would use ceramics for his murals. Though he died In 1965--poisoned by the toxic materials he was experimenting with, his followers recall--many students like Pimentel passed through his workshop and were inspired by his work. That's why when Pimentel started the Igneri Foundation in 1998, one of his main goals was to "raise and protect the profile of Paul Giudicelli."

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Giudicelli was a Dominican of Corsican descent who spent a good deal of his life in a sugar mill and came to art late in life, but was then widely acclaimed. …

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