Çev./Trans.: Metin Halis Kaya
Alfredo Da Silva, who was born on February 20th, 1935 in Potosi, Bolivia, graduated from Potosi Fine Arts Academy and Prilidano Pueyrredon Fine Arts Academy. He was awarded with the scholarship of Graphic Arts in New York Pratt Institute in 1962. Alfredo Da Silva is known as an abstract expressionist.
When we look at his first studies, we see geometric shapes that do not have sharp edges and the dominance of pastel colors on the canvas. The colors gradually give their places to sharp geometric shapes. Today, one can feel the effect of illusionism in these monochromatic, three dimensional works.
The artist is inspired by the lands of Bolivia in choosing themes for his watercolor and ink wash figurative works simultaneously with his abstract works. A socialist realist emphasis reflecting the lives of Bolivians attracts the attention in these paintings that include portraits and Bolivian landscapes.
It is clearly seen that the artist successfully combines abstract and figurative in a single canvas through nude elements that he places on abstract backgrounds.
Opening his own individual exhibition at the age of sixteen at La Paz Municipality Gallery, Alfredo Da Silva held exhibitions in many countries in his art life of sixty years. Besides Bolivia La Paz National Museum, his works are located in many public collections such as Guggenheim Museum, New York Metropolitan Museum, Museum Of Modern Art NY and Museum of Modern Arts Rio.
(I would like to thank the curator Lorenzo Da Silva for his contributions to this interview.)
Safak Gunes Gokduman: Could you please talk about yourself a little? How did you become interested in art? Who were you influenced by?
Alfredo da Silva: I was born in the famous town of Potosi in the mountains where silver is mined and Spain that concurred in the 18th century. The colonial master painter Melchor Perez de Holguin in my opinion is one of the best painters that came from the school of art in Potosi. When I was a boy I saw him once in the Art Museum in Potosi for the first time in 1950. He affected me profoundly and I began to seek answers within myself. I also wanted to be a painter and went to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Potosi. At the Academy of Fine Arts in Potosi I had the opportunity to see more wonderful works by masters like Vermeer, Rembrandt and Raphael. In 1957 I travelled to Buenos Aires where I made several very successful exhibitions. Later on the Museum of Modern Art hosted an exposition for foreigner’s where I won first prize. Then In 1961 I was invited to the US by Dr. Jose Gomez Sicre, Art Director of the Pan American Union to have a one man show at the Pan American Union Gallery in Washington D.C organized by the Organization of American States.
S.G.G.: You opened your first exhibition when you were 16 in Bolivia. Could you please tell us about the place of art in that period?
A.D.S.: I had my first show in La Paz, Bolivia. From my perspective in the 1950’s Bolivian art was figurative, subjects were locals and landscapes from the countryside.
S.G.G.: You are regarded as an abstract expressionist in various sources. However, you create both figurative and abstract paintings, and sometimes you even make efforts to bring abstract and figurative together on the same canvas. How do you describe your own art and yourself?
A.D.S.: My paintings are primarily an expression of outer space as the mountains of my home land Potosi emanate wonderful shapes and colors.
My abstract paintings are influenced by the native civilization of the Incas, the beauty of mountains, and of the cosmos. My works are mainly visual poems of my homeland, and the deep richness and wonder of our existence.
“I see mountains in space”
S.G.G.: Artists generally prefer limiting their works both technically and thematically. However, versatility explicitly stands out in your works. A variety in terms of topics, techniques and equipment shines out in your paintings. How do you explain the fact that you are such a versatile artist? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this style?
A.D.S.: I believe I was born to paint beauty in every way, consciously and unconsciously. I don’t have any disadvantages form versatility. Versatility has enriched my life as an artist. For example watercolor has challenged me the most technically. I wake up every morning excited to improve my technique. I also spend a great deal of time on my current technique. On my acrylic works i combined the bold strokes together with glazing technique of the old masters. I take the glazing technique of the old masters where they used a very thin gradual glazing of colors one on top of the other and I applied that to my watercolors to obtain a translucency.
S.G.G.: It is possible to evaluate your paintings under two main categories: abstract and figurative. Although you are known as an abstract expressionist, a socialist-realist approach draws the attention in your figurative works, which are mainly landscapes and portraits. Can we base this attitude in your figurative paintings on the opinion that abstract paintings cannot be as effective as figurative paintings in reflecting the social realities?
A.D.S.: I believe it is possible to reach a level of social reality through abstract work. In my abstract art I focus on shapes that are derived from my conscious and unconscious creativity.
Beautiful mountains surrounded by space inspire me. This beauty uplifts me and enables me to translate my feelings into dynamic abstract forms.
S.G.G.: When I look at your abstract works, I notice that colors are dominant in your early works. The effect of colors decreases as geometric shapes gain importance in time. We see that a three-dimensional influence has recently begun to take effect in your works. What would you like to say about this?
A.D.S.: Yes you are correct. In my early works I used vibrant colors as I was influenced by the “mantas” and “ponchos” that were traditionally worn by the Bolivian Inca Indians. The garments were hand woven and brightly colored. In 1958 I went to Buenos Aires and became very interested in textural expressionism and I explored the use of monochromatic tones. Shape and texture predominated over color. The glazing technique I modified from the old masters gave my work delicate hues and more depth and dimension.
S.G.G.: Another feature that attracted my attention in your works is the connection between the technique, materials and content. You usually prefer oil colors in your abstract works and watercolors in your figurative works, especially in landscapes and portraits. Is there a special reason for this preference?
A.D.S.: At the time that I was interested in painting with oil I was also interested in abstract art. My oil paintings were painted indoors where I could work on them slowly and meticulously. Later on I chose to venture into watercolors I just happened to take an interest in Landscapes and portraits. My landscape water colors were painted outdoors. The portraits I painted indoors. For this preference there was no particular reason I can think of at the moment.
S.G.G.: When I examine your works chronologically, I see that you simultaneously reflect different topics to the canvas with different techniques. However, you seem to be concentrating on figurative paintings recently? Am I wrong?
A.D.S.: Yes you are correct. My abstract works reached the culmination of my creation. Now I’m painting figurative art.
I am painting figurative art and portraits of Bolivian people and emphasize abstract shapes for my background. I paint figuratively because I like to concentrate on people from my country. It is very nostalgic to do so at my age.
S.G.G.: Could you please talk about your techniques?
A.D.S.: For the last 20 years I have been painting watercolor portraits. In the foreground my subjects are female models and in the background I use abstract forms with dynamic color. I use plaster to create textures in movement in my abstract works. I use several transparent color washes to create different tones in my work.
S.G.G.: Will you have an exhibition soon?
A.D.S.: It is very likely that next year I will have exhibition of my current works.
“Uzayda Dağlar Görüyorum…” Alfredo Da Silva, rh+ artmagazine, November, 2012, ıssue: 94, p.66– 69, İstanbul. (Turkish)