After more than forty years of living abroad in New York, Paris and London, Armando Morales continues to return to his homeland of Nicaragua in his paintings. Born in Granada, Nicaragua in 1927, Morales evokes this beautiful colonial city in fragments throughout his work. In Three Women at the Beach, the nude figures sit alongside a large waterway recalling the great Lago de Nicaragua bordering Granada. This lake, so vast one cannot see to the other side, is the source of almost all Morales' sea imagery.(1) Used for both industry and recreation, the lake is the epicenter of life in Granada and a vivid childhood memory for Morales. In addition to the lake, animals, such as the dogs seen here, are another recurrent subject in Morales's work deriving from Nicaragua. When asked in an interview about the significance of these animals, Morales explained:
In underdeveloped countries, animals are, we say, socially integrated to be human in the most natural manner...stray dogs walk everywhere and every time there is a group of people for a procession, a political protest, a traffic accident or a party, they naturally integrate with the human group as if it were their own, there is an imperative or social solidarity in this. (2)
Morales mixes fantasy along with these concrete recollections of home, creating a pictorial place neither wholly real nor imagined. In Three Women at the Beach, a disproportional small green couple appears as a dream-like aberration floating above Lago de Nicaragua. Distortions of scale and perspective abound, abstracting Morales's meticulously rendered figures from reality. Within this mysterious montage of Granada, Morales also incorporates foreign references. The three nude bathers recall those found in the work of French artists Edgar Degas and Jean Auguste-Dominique Ingres--seminal influences for Morales. The figures at left and center are reminiscent of Degas's many pastel drawings of bathers brushing their hair. In particular, the nude at left shares a similar pose with Degas's Woman Combing Her Hair, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while the figure on the right evokes Ingres's famous La Baigneuse de Valpingon.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Morales's work, however, is the textural surface of his canvases. Each of Morales's paintings is the result of a painstaking process often involving months of uninterrupted concentration. In terms of artistic method, Morales is a traditionalist. He begins every work with a detailed sketch which is then squared and transferred to a larger sheet of paper. After multiple translations, a squared canvas is prepared and the final image is created from layers paint. The canvas is then scraped at uneven angles with a razor blade revealing what Morales describes as "a play of colors like a geological emergence with an infinity of points in ordered disorder which gives a punctuation to the painting." (3) Finally, the work is varnished with beeswax imparting a patina to the surface.
1) As stated by Armando Morales in: E. J. Sullivan, "Armando Morales: Southern Visions of the Mind," Arts Magazine, 62:3 (November 1987), p. 63.
2) Author's translation. Celia S. De Birbragher, "Armando Morales," Arte en Colombia, 45 (October 1990), p. 36.
3) Author's translation. Ibid, 37.