Tilsa Tsuchiya (1929-1984)
Tilsa Tsuchiya (1929-1984)
Tilsa Tsuchiya (1929-1984)
Tilsa Tsuchiya (1929-1984)
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Tilsa Tsuchiya (1929-1984)

Ser mítico

Tilsa Tsuchiya (1929-1984)
Ser mítico
signed and dated 'TILSA 71' (lower left)
oil on canvas
31 x 23 in. (78.7 x 58.4 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
Galería Carlos Rodríguez Saavedra, Lima (acquired from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Lima, Galería Carlos Rodríguez Saavedra, 1972.
Further details
1 Tilsa Tsuchiya, quoted in Arturo Corcuera, “Tilsa Tsuchiya en dos tiempos,” in Los imperios del sol: una historia de los japoneses en el Perú, ed. Guillermo Thorndike (Lima: Editorial BRASA, 1996), 220.
2 Tsuchiya, quoted in Eduardo Moll, Tilsa Tsuchiya, 1929-1984 (Lima: Editorial Navarrete, 1991), 90.
3 Tsuchiya, quoted in Holliday T. Day and Hollister Sturges, Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-1987 (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1987), 131.
4 José Watanabe, “Elogio del refrenamiento,” quoted in Ignacio López-Calvo, The Affinity of the Eye: Writing Nikkei in Peru (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013), 207.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Luis Eduardo Wuffarden, Lima, dated 3 February, 2020.
“And in that moment,” Tsuchiya recalled of her early vocation for painting, “I assumed art as a way to tell the truth, to express people’s suffering. Those were the postwar days and the times when they used to throw rocks at me in the street were ingrained in my memory.”1 Born to a Japanese father and Sino-Peruvian mother in Supe, on the north-central coast, Tsuchiya took art classes as a girl in Lima and later attended the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (1954-59). Among her teachers and influences were the muralist Carlos Quízpez Asín, the abstract painters Fernando de Szyszlo and Ricardo Grau, and the realist Manuel Zapata Orihuela; through them, she became exposed to contemporary expressions of indigenismo, figuration, and gestural and geometric abstraction. Awarded the school’s Gran Premio in 1959, Tsuchiya traveled to Paris the following year and continued her studies, enrolling in art history classes at the Sorbonne and in studio courses (engraving) at the École des Beaux-Arts. “The issue was no longer whether to make a painting,” she quickly realized, following an initial crisis of self-doubt. “It was something more transcendent: to sink or save myself. And I opted to save myself.”2 Invigorated by a key encounter with Surrealism, Tsuchiya soon found her artistic bearings, and she evolved an original style that commingled indigenism and neo-figuration, often with mythico-erotic and feminine overtones. She returned to Lima in 1964 and exhibited consistently in Peru and abroad over the remainder of her career, notably representing her country at the XV Bienal de São Paulo in 1979.
Like her contemporaries Szyszlo and the Bolivian painter María Luisa Pacheco, Tsuchiya began to plumb the mythos of the Andean landscape and its indigenist cosmogony in her painting as she resettled in Peru. The telluric power of the mountains, characteristically distilled into a series of slender, rounded cylinders—as in Ser mítico—evokes ancient resonances of stone, held sacred within Inka culture. To the Inka, stones possessed inherent social agency—the potential to transform into human form, to think and to express emotion—and they served as the fulcrum of ritual practice and spiritual life. Tsuchiya channeled this material vitality of stone through a revisionist mountain-body metaphor, countering the suggestively phallic mountainscape with the powerful figure of a woman, almost always astride magical fish or fowl. In Ser mítico, the anthropomorphism of the stone inflects the fish, outsized and seemingly floating in air, and the five snakes that spout, Medusa-like, from the top of the figure’s body. Her serpentine hair has iconographic precedents in major Chavín (900-300 BCE) monoliths—the Lanzón and the Raimundi Stela—associated with pilgrimage, duality, and transformation. The shape formed by the vertical orientation of the mythical woman and the crescent-shaped fish further recalls the design of the tumi, a ceremonial knife used by ancient Andean peoples for ritual sacrifice and as a symbol of rank and authority.
Yet the centering of a woman’s body, among the stones and as an emblem of power, marks the eponymous subject of Ser mítico as a modern, and even feminist deity. Typically illuminated, as here, within a soft, atmospheric glow, Tsuchiya’s female figures convey extraordinary self-possession, their divinity emanating through elongated, columnar torsos—headless and armless—in which the human and the supernatural converge. Their stocky trunks bear some resemblance to ceramic figurines made by the Chancay people (1000-1500 CE), whose arms sometimes fold inward, becoming fully subsumed into the sculptural body. But inasmuch as Tsuchiya’s mythical beings assimilate ancient Andean conventions, they also project myriad and universal sensations—love, alienation, pensiveness, serenity—that reflect a common and magical humanity not unlike the kind seen in works by Paul Klee and Xul Solar. “To love you do not need a head or arms,” Tsuchiya once explained of her dysmorphic figures, “because you love with your whole being.”3 José Watanabe, her friend and an esteemed Peruvian poet, traced the sublimity of her figures to classical Japanese aesthetics:
All her beings, including the objects in her still lives, have the majesty of restraint. Perhaps we must look for the true Japanese trait in her painting in Chikamatsu’s poetics, whose essence explains all the traditional art of Japan: a creation that is calm, intimate, sometimes imposing, but always without boasting. Tilsa expressed herself through characters that, in their hieratic postures, recast, in their chests, dramas, intensities, abysses. Of all those that populate her opus, almost none of them have arms, perhaps to avoid their expansion. However, they are not mutilated characters; they are fine the way they are, and they do not miss—and neither do we—their limbs.4
The phenomenal subject of Ser mítico turns toward the viewer with cool composure, her asymmetrical gaze intense and mysterious. Aloft and seemingly at altitude, floating high among the Andes, her pale body gleams against a numinous background, its ruddy color suggestive of life and fertility. A formidable and erotic expression of womanhood, she personifies ancient powers of animism, her hybridized body a sacred site of transformation and renewal.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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