Oswaldo Guayasamín (Ecuadorian 1919-1999)
Oswaldo Guayasamín (Ecuadorian 1919-1999)

Quito en rojo

Oswaldo Guayasamín (Ecuadorian 1919-1999)
Quito en rojo
signed 'GUAYASAMIN' (lower right)
oil on wood
47 1/8 x 110 in. (119.7 x 279.4 cm.)
Commissioned from the artist by Ecuatoriana de Mexico (1968).
Joao Tello collection, Mexico City.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to the Fundación Guayasamín for their assistance in confirming the authenticity of this work.

This work is accompanied by a letter signed by the artist and Joao Tello regarding the commission for the work by Ecuatoriana of Mexico dated 2 March 1968.

An expressionist of the first rank, Guayasamín gained international stature during the 1950s and '60s for the insistent and hauntingly visceral emotion of his paintings of an oppressed and tragic humanity. Considered the "Picasso of Latin America," Guayasamín portrayed a sundry cast of indigenous subjects drawn from the working classes of the Americas, channeling leftist outrage at social injustice through powerfully graphic, modernist forms. Guayasamín is best known for two epic, decades-long cycles of paintings--Huacayñán ("Trail of Tears") and La edad de la ira ("The Age of Anger")--that registered the cruelties of the human condition and the universality of rage, unrest, and alienation. His landscape paintings mark a compelling and exceptional departure from the more assertive ideology of his other work, and the present painting numbers among his most outstanding images of the city he adored.

The Spanish scholar José Camón Aznar estimated that Guayasamín painted Quito on fourteen occasions between 1942 and 1981, rendering the city in intense and dramatic colors--red, blue, black, yellow-- reflective of the emotional valence it long retained for its native son. "The artist himself spoke of how these landscapes were both homages to Quito--including Mt. Pichincha that towers over it--and varaderos autoretratos ('self-portrait docks') that register his own personal associations with the cityscapes," David Craven has noted. "At once troubled and emancipatory, these associations emotionally mark his depictions of Quito and its splendid Andean backdrop."(1) Guayasamín believed that Quito could best be approximated from "a more spiritual than physical perspective," and the present painting spectacularly interprets the city's fiery energy and encrusted historical consciousness, intimately personal and emotional touchstones for the artist's work.(2)

Painted on a monumental scale, Quito en rojo portrays the city from a bird's-eye point of view, carving its rocky geography and networks of streets into dynamic geometries that encircle the base of its majestic, volcanic mountain. Guayasamín juxtaposes the gridded, built spaces of the city against the faceted planes of saturated, ruddy colors that define the mountainside, deftly incising the cityscape through Cubist facture and heavy, angular lines. The flattened geometries of the city also nod to the linear patterning of pre-Columbian art and architectural forms, whose precedent informed Guayasamín's paintings at both a formal and a socio-historical level, as he often affirmed. The visual impact of Quito en rojo is perhaps most exquisitely felt, however, in the expressive violence of colors that range from the deepest carmine red to a brilliant range of ochers, punctuated by the brooding clouds that Guayasamn described as "gray stones hovering above the city." The telluric power of the city, movingly evoked through its ancient topography and igneous, explosive color, here becomes a profession of the artist's intense affection for Quito and the primordial emotions instilled within its rocky layers. "I adore Quito, I was born here," Guayasamín once acknowledged. "It is a terrible city, very deep, very profound."(3)

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.
1) D. Craven, "Oswaldo Guayasamín," Blanton Museum of Art: Latin American Collection, Austin: Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, 2006, 231.
2) Guayasamín, quoted in Craven, "Oswaldo Guayasamn," 231.
3) Ibid.

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