Verdant tropical landscapes are the quintessential subject of Armando Morales' oeuvre. Morales once stated that, "tropical forests are the lungs of the earth."(1) For more than fifty years, the artist has expressed this metaphor in paint, transforming canvases into palpable breathing wilderness. While these forests have their roots in Morales' homeland of Nicaragua, they also grow from the artist's imagination. Morales' fascination with tropical terrain intensified while living abroad in Paris beginning in the 1980s. Living at a distance from the forests of Central and South America, Morales combined memories with fantasy, creating scenes of enigmatic beauty as exemplified in Forêt tropicale.
With its impressive size, Forêt tropicale envelops the viewer yet its thick tangle of trees forms an impenetrable wall barring one's entrance to this imagined world. Formidable foliage covers the entirety of the picture plane; not a single space is left bare in this vast expanse of varying greens with its scintillating flecks of violet, salmon, ocher and gold. The forest's canopy shuts out the sky and only a few rays of sunshine manage to sneak through this crowded confusion of trees highlighting the irregularities of the gnarled and twisted wood. Morales suggests the infinitude of this wild place by extending the trunks and branches beyond the confines of the canvas. Similarly, the artist creates the illusion of an endless recession into space with his dizzying layering of forms. This effect is echoed in Morales' own meticulous working method in which the artist builds up the canvas with paint only to scrape it down again producing a palimpsest of pigments. Usually finished with a varnish of beeswax, Morales' works have a distinct surface texture that suggests a subtle patina. This particular process requires the artist to be completely immersed in a single painting for sometimes months at a time for larger images like Forêt tropicale.
When asked in an interview to explain the significance of the tropical forest, Morales responded:
Don't believe that the tropical forest interests me as a simple picturesque image, they interest me above all for their concavities and convexities that create space, like the spaces in cathedrals that generate naves, arches, crosses, niches...[in the forest] there are cones of light, screens of shadow and an almost infinite plurality of forms yet subject to an order.(2)
The simple and picturesque images that Morales mentions here no doubt refer to the trope of Latin America as fertile paradise, which originated in art with the "discovery" of the New World by European explorers and was developed over the years by artists from all over the Americas. In this statement, Morales distances himself from these often essentialist conceptions asserting instead that the tropical forest is compelling for its formal complexities. In addition to being an investigation of volume and space, the abundant jungle is also the subject Morales most associates with his heritage:
I think that perhaps of all of my themes, that of the jungle is the one that most reflects my roots, my interests in the integrally American-ness of my art...My images of the jungle are linked to the memories I have of trips made to the rain forests of eastern and northern Nicaragua as well as to those of my first trip to the Brazilian Amazon...I will never forget the dense vegetation and the alive-ness of the green forest.(3)
As a consummate example of Morales' multivalent tropical forests, Forêt tropicale embodies the identity, formal experimentations, skillful ability and creative imagination of the artist.
1) As quoted by Armando Morales in: E. J. Sullivan, "Armando Morales: Southern Visions of the Mind," Arts Magazine, 62:3, November 1987, 65.
2) Translated by the author. As quoted by Armando Morales in: C. S. De Birbragher, "Armando Morales," Arte en Colombia, 45, October 1990, 35.
3) As quoted by Armando Morales in: Sullivan, 65.