Visions of Quito by Oswaldo Guayasamín

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Source: Colección Pacar
Since my arrival in Quito two years ago, one of my most exciting discoveries has been Oswaldo Guayasamín. This iconic Latin American painter was born in Quito in 1919 and died there 80 years later.

Besides being Ecuador's most famous artist, he was also a politically active intellectual who supported the causes of the poor and victims of slavery, exploitation, wars, famine and other tragedies on the continent. He was a close friend of Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Marquez, Fidel and Raúl Castro, François Mitterrand and Rigoberta Menchu, among other important progressive figures from the second half of the 20th century. Most of his pieces express a profound sense of sorrow, which can be interpreted as a condemnation of the suffering that millions bore because of social injustices and wars. Despite this, his art is strikingly beautiful.

"Quito en Rojo" (1968). Source: Christie's

Among the most important themes in Guayasamín's art is the city of Quito. In most paintings, the city appears under a dramatic mountainscape and rainy clouds, a scene that is common in Quito. Most of these works show the city climbing the volcano slopes; indeed, Guayasamín's house and workshop are situated on a high slope from which a large part of the city can be seen. It is also the best spot from which to see the sun set behind Quito and its major volcano, the Pichincha.

Two versions of "Quito de la Nube Negra" (1987). Sources: El Poder de la Palabra and Todo es Posible en Ecuador

Although Quito has multiplied in size since Guayasamín started to paint it, he managed to capture the city's essence, with informal neighborhoods settling on the climbing slopes and creating a sort of carpet covering the valley from one slope to the other.

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  1. THe city and the neighborhoods look like a patchwork quilt. It seems as if they're all melding together but each square or neighborhood is so distinct. This is a very different way of looking at a city. It's very beautiful.

  2. Beautiful paintings. But Jordi I am not sure if many Latin Americans would consider Raul and Fidel Castro as “progressive" figures. Isn’t this a bit nostalgic? Perhaps at the eve of the 1959 Cuban Revolution they were. Fidel and Raul are certainly not the emancipatory figures they once symbolized, at least not for so many Cubans who can’t leave the island of Cuba given the current political conditions of totalitarianism (and other Latin Americans who have chosen a different ideological path towards emancipation).

  3. Thanks Jimena and Fernando for your comments.
    Fernando, I agree that Fidel and Raul today cannot be considered "progressive" figures. Although they were when Guayasamín became a famous painter in the 1960's. I agree that today Cuba has a regime ruled by a group of old conservative men, including the Castro brothers. So, I'd like to apologize to those Cubans who would like their country to be progressive and many others who have suffered unjust actions by the regime.

    1. Jordi Please no need to apologize. I think I may have mis-interpreted your post. Indeed the Cuban revolution brought many hopes and inspirations to Latin Americans and progressives all over the world in its beginnings. Unfortunately, what has developed thereafter has left the Cuban people trapped in an absurd ideological labyrinth walled by a cult of personality and the ravages of an economic embargo.