Armando Morales (Nicaraguan 1927-2011)
Armando Morales (Nicaraguan 1927-2011)

Cenote, Yucatán, México

Armando Morales (Nicaraguan 1927-2011)
Cenote, Yucatán, México
signed and dated 'MORALES/95' (lower right) inscribed 'No. 19, CENOTE, YUCATAN, MEXICO, 1990-95' (on the reverse)
oil and beeswax on canvas
63½ x 50½ in. (161.3 x 128.3 cm.)
Painted in 1995.
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
C. Loewer, Armando Morales: Monograph & Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III 1994-2004, Vaumarcus, ArtAcatos, 2010, p. 87, no. 1995.9 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

"I think that perhaps of all of my themes, the jungle is the one that most reflects my roots, my interests in the integrally American-ness of my art," (1) Armando Morales once asserted when asked about the significance of his subject matter. Morales cited not only his intimate knowledge of the lush forests found in his native Nicaragua, but also those of the Amazon that he explored on his extensive travels in Brazil and Peru as seminal sources of inspiration for his work. "I will never forget the dense vegetation and the vibrancy of the green forest," he reminisced. (2)

Morales recalled the forests of Central and South America many times over the course of his career in his paintings of verdant jungle landscapes rendered in seemingly infinite shades of green. Along with these tropical forests, Morales' cenotes particularly reflect the "American-ness" of his art. While found in various parts of the world, cenotes, naturally occurring sinkholes exposing an underground water supply, are most often associated with Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula (fig. 1). With few rivers and lakes in the Yucatán Peninsula, cenotes are an important source for potable water in the region. During the pre-Columbian era, the Maya, searching for access to adequate water supplies, established many of their cities around cenotes. Indeed, the famous city of Chichén Itzá is strategically placed near what is referred to as the Sacred Cenote because of its use in Mayan rituals in addition to its primary purpose as a source for potable water. Today, these unique geological phenomena attract tourists with their crystal clear waters nestled beneath majestic forest canopies.

Cenote, Yucatán, México evokes the seclusion of cenotes tucked within the sumptuous density of the jungle. Formidable foliage envelopes the round pool, creating a ring of tangled roots and trailing lianas crowned by a rich tapestry of green leaves interwoven with threads of violet, salmon, ocher and gold. Closely cropped and pushed to the edge of the picture plane, the composition conveys a sense of the cenote's plunging verticality. With its circular pool and cylinder of shade, the work also suggests Morales' interest in the geometry of nature as he explained, "Don't think that the tropical forests interest me simply as picturesque images, 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." (3) Morales' comments call to mind the often quoted words of Paul Cézanne, "Treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone." (4) The French master was in fact a seminal influence on Morales as Cenote, Yucatán, México demonstrates with its solidity of forms.

While filtered through the visual vocabulary of Cézanne, Morales also clearly drew inspiration from his first-hand knowledge of cenotes. In the early 1990s, with several prominent exhibitions of his work in Mexico, Morales took the opportunity to travel throughout the country, visiting important sites such as Chichén Itzá where he would have seen the Sacred Cenote. Living a peripatetic life between Paris, London, New York and many points in between, Morales may have been nostalgic for what he described as his American roots at the time that he painted Cenote, Yucatán, México. Indeed, the work intimates Morales' belief that "One is never closer to one's origins than when one is physically distant from them."(5)

(1) Armando Morales quoted in E. J. Sullivan, "Armando Morales: Southern Visions of the Mind," Arts Magazine, vol. 62, no. 3, November 1987, 65.
(2) Ibid., 65.
(3) Armando Morales quoted in C. S. De Birbragher, "Armando Morales," Arte en Colombia, 45, October 1990, 35. Author's translation.
(4) Paul Cézanne quoted in J. Gasquet, "What He Told me - The Motif," in Cézanne- a Memoir with Conversations, London: Thames and Hudson, 1991, 163-64.
(5) Armando Morales quoted in C. Loewer, Armando Morales: Catalogue Raisonné, 1974-2004 Vaumarcus: ArtAcatos Sàrl, 2010, 300.

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