A Studio conversation
"By mixing painting with something else, it becomes even more painting-like."
Eduardo Arroyo. - I am very interested in everything having to do with the portraits period - one of the periods of yours that I know well - because there was something like an obsession in those portraits; an obsession for an almost-realist or, so-to-speak, hyperrealist representation of the individual. Always accompanied, naturally, by various notions that shattered the simplistic idea of excessive realism. After all these years of not having seen any of your paintings, I can see that you are in the process of getting away from this earlier world. You are coming out of it in a very strange way, with all sorts of possibilities opening up, possibilities in terms of painting. Most of all, I think you have this great desire to break with this system you set up with such success, force and originality. I also think that there is, here, a definition of drawing that I have never seen before. That is to say, by mixing painting with something else, it becomes even more painting-like. The highly pictorial canvases in this recent word strike me as much more open. In a word, I would like to ask you if what I am saying doesn't strike you as irrelevant to your painting now.
Herman Braun Vega. - What you are asking goes directly to the source, to the heart of the matter. You got to know my work at the time when I was reaching a state that took me many years to reach. My earlier painting, wich you may have seen en the small canvases of the 1950s and even more recently...
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, that is the question I wanted to ask you.
Herman Braun Vega. - Even after the 1960s it was more gestural, freer. Towards 1967-1968, I experienced a crisis, and started wondering why it was that I painted as I did. It was confidential painting for experts. The general public had no access to it. I noticed that people would just "walk by" my paintings, looking at them with a certain irritation or indifference. That was the origin of my need for formal and conceptual clarity, which, gradually, led me to the portraits you know.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes that's it.
Herman Braun Vega. - I subitted to the strict discipline of the most orthodox visual language there is, with, of course, breaks coming from the various developments of the twentieth century. But, the portraits are a special case, they have to be recognizable.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Exactitude throughout, including in the objects.
Herman Braun Vega. - That's it.
Eduardo Arroyo. - I think what you wanted to do was make an authentic object. I mean, you wanted the portrait to be accompanied not by a simulacrum, but by a very specific object.
Herman Braun Vega. - With the active participation of the model.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes active, exactly.
Herman Braun Vega. - Some of them intervened directly. Velickovic, for example, came along and painted the graphic parts on the ground in his particular way. I mean that there were outside interventions which could lead to accidents, to a bread whithin the painting. Some people think that they are realistic portraits. The only realistic thing - the reality I would say - is an accident from outside.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes.
Herman Braun Vega. - I mean, what I did not do myself.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, I understand.
Herman Braun Vega. - From then on I continued doing portraits, but only very occasionally, because when I did your portrait and during two further years that was all I did.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, I understand.
Herman Braun Vega. - After this series of portraits, I became interested in the theme of mestizaje. I have been working on cultural mixing for more than twelve years. The fact of being able to make combinations or extrapolations of the different forms of contemporary or traditional pictorial languages, led me from propositions that are highly synthetic and abstract, to highly figurative, almost realist propositions. What interests me in the pictorial exercises that I've done recently is this range of possibilities. Generally speaking, when I make a painting, I don't start by preparing it with a drawing or sketch. I have a mental picture of it. I jokingly say that I use my prospective memory because I have to "see" the picture before I paint it. It is already painted; I have seen it. That is why I don't make preparatory drawings, why I paint directly without sketches. A drawing is a work in itself and for me the point of a drawing is not to be a sketch for a painting.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, that's clear, the drawings are not drawings in the sense one gives to that word. Almost always what one means by a drawing is a sketch or preparation for a painting. while these drawings are indeed works in their own right. They are based on the particular texture produced by charcoal or pencil on canvas. That is to say, they are works in their own right. They are not drawings adapted to...
Herman Braun Vega. - That's right.
Jorge Semprún. - Personally, I would like you to say something more about the idea of mestizaje. Because I think... I cannot compare with the kind of memory Eduardo Arroyo might have of what he has seen of your work. Perhaps I have seen more of your recent work by you than Eduardo has, things that came after the portraits period.
Herman Braun Vega. - That's right.
Jorge Semprún. - But one thing that attracts my attention... Let's leave the drawings aside for the moment, because the drawings are totally new. Yes, those big drawings, which technically are drawings, are not pictures in the strict sense of the word because they are not sketches or plans for something, but already the finished black-and-white work, a drawing. Bur, let's leave that aside. What I see at first glance, before getting into the subject of mestizaje, is more like a synthesis of all past. Leaving the very first part of your work aside, since, as you said, perhaps the exhibition in Madrid will give me an opportunity to see these more gestual paintings - a kind of synthesis of all the techniques, procedures and methods used so far. Wich is where the problem of mestizaje comes in, Let's say, up to now, this "mixing" was between Braun and Poussin, or Braun and any of those painters who...
Herman Braun Vega. - Velasquez.
Jorge Semprún. - Velasquez, whom you worked on, both constructing and deconstructing him, to use the faschionable language. And here we come to a phase that is not only that, but also the theme of cultural mestizaje, wich wu are considering this afternoon. So let's look at this theme.
Herman Braun Vega. - That's exactly where I am today. To sum up, two years ago I thought it was time I took up my own heritage, in other words, that I put to use all the "baggage" I had spent twenty to twenty-five years acquiring. I am talking here about what I mentionned before : this highly worked-out technique that allows you to be as clear as possible for viewers on every cultural level. This obligation that I set for myself not to be obscure, so as to be accessible to all: from children to uneducated adults and not just to connoisseurs, so that my work could be present at every level. Two years ago, I said to myself, "It's time to stop all the fine-tuning, now I am the "heir" to a series of techniques that I have used in the past". For example, the frames I had developped as an integrated part of the paintings in the Ingres series done in New-York in 1972, which I abandonned because, although the experience was an interesting one, it was holding me back in my work on clarity of language. I have since gone back to them, and that is exactly what I used for the series on mestizaje that I am showing in Madrid. I am aware that I can take things both from myself and from others, for I have never had any prejudices against appropriating other people's propositions. If I find something that suits me in Arroyo's work, I can take it and put it in my own without any complexes - make it my own, we might say. Making other people's work my own is the great lesson I learnt from Picasso. In this sense, the term "cultural mestizaje" is just right, because I can integrate elements that were made at different periods, with different techniques and cultural ideas. My only concern is that, once finished, the painting make up a coherent work, that there be no break-in form, that it is balanced, aesthetically resolved, that it should be pleasing, because I think that... Eduardo, I don't know if that's what you're after, too, but your work - or at least what I've seen of it - is also seductive. My great fear is that no one would look at the painting, because a painting only exists when you look at it. But let's come back to mestizaje, not culturally but ethnically. The theme interests me with regard to the handling of the image and the narration and iconography in my paintings. My two great masters, Velasquez and Picasso, who - what a coincidence! - both happen to be Spanish, taught me elegance and clarity - that was Velasquez; and, for Picasso, the possibilities of all kinds and types of formal mestizaje.
"Making other people's work my own is the great lesson I learnt from Picasso."
Jorge Semprún. - Yes, but then let's take this a little further, for in this case formal mestizaje is not the same for any aspect of art, for any form or technique, as the formal and cultural mestizaje involved in the relation between Spain and Latin America. It's not the same thing; and at the moment, I am - either by chance, fortunatly or unfortunately - forgetting the quincentenary of the discovery of America. I am not arguing or getting into a polemic about that, because it was like that two years ago, and it will be the same ten years from now.
Herman Braun Vega. - It will be the same.
Jorge Semprún. - It will be different but it will be the same. It is not the same thing to introduce figures belonging, let's say, to Velasquez or Goya, into a Latin-American context, in the full sense of the term, that refers to the relationship between the Americas and Spain, rather than merely to the Latin America that lies across the Atlantic. It is not the same thing as introducing figures into a Franco-Italian context, for instance. Moreover, there are transcriptions from present-day newspaper, that may well not be seen, not be read, but that can also be seen as an integral part of the painting - it depends on the person, on the interpretation they are ready to make - but that refer to the problems...
Herman Braun Vega. - Everyday problems and...
Jorge Semprún. - In the present. In other words, the integration is not innocent. It's another reading. So, we move forward by one step, we come closer, if only indirectly, to the problem of the relation between us. You have spoken of heirs. But wasn't this called a relation between a motherland and its daughterlands?
Herman Braun Vega. - In this context, I can tell you that you referred to Franco-Italian mestizaje, but that is not the same as Spanish-Latin American mestizaje. Franco-Italian produces more the "wop" kind; in other words, the foreigner in the city, and not the métis.
Jorge Semprún. - Exactly, the "wop" and not the métis. In this case, it is the métis that is characteristic.
Herman Braun Vega. - In this case, the mestizaje comes from radically different cultures and races that came together five hundred years ago. Today's Peru has about twenty-two million inhabitants. The minority has a Western education, a hundrer percent Western, like me and like those who govern us. The great majority of the people live inland, in the virgin forest, in the sierra, and speak Castilian like foreigners, with difficulty. They speak their own languages, and culturally they are very close to pre-Hispanic culture. All this gives you a mestizaje in which the aboriginal element is preponderant. The originality of the Andean countries, and of Peru in particular is that they are polycultural: they combine Amerinidian, European, African and Asian. But, to come back to the question of the relation between Spain and Latin America: in the Peru/España, memorias al desnudo series of paintings, I don't paint the arrival of the Spaniards. That does not interest me. As far as I'm concerned, it's a good thing they came, otherwise I would not be here whith you now. My mother is of Spanish origin, with Indian blood; my father is Austrian, Judeo-Austro-Hungarian. And all this means that the coming of the Europeans was necessary to the fact of my exixtence. That's why I am interested in the métis part which manifests itself culturally for the first time with Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and Guamán Poma de Ayala. Yes, I start when the Spaniards leave...
Jorge Semprún. - They left? Are you sure they left ?
Herman Braun Vega. - ... and at that moment we ourselves become responsible for our future. That is what I claim to show in my paintings.
Jorge Semprún. - Right.
Eduardo Arroyo. - I think you've explained it very well. Moreover, in this last part of the conversation about the idea of mestizaje, there is an aspect of the conversation about the idea of mestizaje, there is an aspect, an element of mestizaje which can be understood, and which is embodied in thought. I am not trying to separate the literary and the pictorial aspects è the two always go together. In a sense, I would say that we are in a sense dealing with polluted paintings. And that interests me a great deal because they are not paintings of quotations, they are paintings of recreations. And besides, quotation and pastiche are things we have all practiced, people have done this ever since the nineteenth century. And as for Picasso, say no more. I repeat, everybody - Bacon, Miró, etc. Lots of them used pastiche because it's a way of learning. I would even say that to pillage other people's work - to take possession, as you said, of other people's work - is very positive. But, what most attracts me in those paintings is that they are a long way from pastiche and also a long way from quotation. I think they are polluted paintings, in the sense that they are steeped in recreated situations; they are ensembles of things, breathable or suffocating atmospheres that are in the painting, and not only in the concept of what is being shown. All that I find particularly interesting and I think it needs to be brought out. It is as if they were a pictorical pollution or mestizaje, but one not contaminated by quotations
Herman Braun Vega. - That's it.
Jorge Semprún. - The starting point is painting. It is not the idea of mestizaje. It starts with the painting.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes. I use the word pollution because it's a word that's going around. Miasmas of positive pollution, maybe, if it's not too contradictory to say that pollution can be positive. In this instance, it strikes me as very positive. Being a painter means hopping from one thing to another, going all the way to a kind of, let's say, realist exacerbation, and then breaking that exacerbation through realism so as to go beyond that, to the confrontation of the portrait and its model. I know that some painters whose portraits you have done played a role in your painting. The phenomenon is a rare one. Kandinsky did it in his way, Hélion in his. To make a success of that exacerbated realism and then to break with this process and, ultimately, open up new perspectives... that, I think, is what we are talking about here.
"Picasso is my father, he made me what I am.
Velasquez is my master, he educated me as a painter."
Herman Braun Vega. - People have defined me - out of bad habit - as a realist or hyper-realist painter, without noticing the formal complexity expressed in each of these paintings. Picasso is my father, he made me what I am. Velasquez is my master, he educated me as a painter. In his work, Picasso showed me that we need not to be afraid of contamination, you simply have to take care that the final object, that is to say the finished work, is coherent. That is the strategy for resolving what you call pollution, this excess in the search for both form and concept. Theses exercises took me many years, and now I paint with the same ease as when I sign my name. In other words, there is no formal difficulty. When I want to do something, I can do it. That is a sublime moment. Do not misunderstand me, I am not claiming to be the best, not at all; but for some time now, when I paint, I do it with the same ease as when I sign my name. I mean that the synthesis of the different manners, the different concepts, is something I have no difficulty with. The hardest thing to control is indeed pollution.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, yes.
Jorge Semprún. - How does the idea emerge? Or, let's say, how is the strategic decision articulated, to use the word that you employed, to reuse it in the context of the exhibition in Madrid, of the quincentenary? How does this pollution occur? How do the two ideas contaminate each other?
Herman Braun Vega. - For a long time now - about eight years - I have been trying to make work which is more complex than what I did before, work that can be shown like a grand opera or a three-ring circus, I mean...
Jorge Semprún. - A circus for the quincentenary - that's not bad.
Herman Braun Vega. - Yes, to present this big opera or circus that the public can enter, where they can take part in the show. On the other hand, my ambition is to one day make "my" Guernica. I mean a masterwork of the kind every artist hopes to make one day. We are makers of artistic objects; we are contantly quoting ourselves. Picasso created thousands of works, but few of them - a dozen at most - had a lasting impact on our culture. On the other hand, the treatment of the "story" - I put the word in quotation marks, because I realized long ago that the narrative part or a painting needs to distance itself from literary form - has to be made using purely pictorial or graphic means. In the Perú/España, memorias al desnudo series I am attempting a language that is as orthodox as possible, so as to make it easier for the public to take part in the show.
Jorge Semprún. - I understand. That's clear.
Eduardo Arroyo. - You speak of this sense of filiation, of emulation, that you have towards Picasso, and it's true that it's not obvious in your works. Still, it does definitly emerge as a concept, and since you mentionned Guernica, we may recall that Picasso while painting Guernica, also painted small paintings; and that while he was tackling the big canvas, he was painting for people who ogled naked women through beach-hut keyholes. So, it is the whole you have talk about, and I think that maybe Jorge could do that better. Let's see, what does all this narrative suggest to you? What appears in the painting, this kind of contamination as we have called it, these strange timeless figures who are living in the same period, this readapting of history? What kind of narrative or literary phenomenon do we have here?
Jorge Semprún. - What attracts my attention in this respect...
Eduardo Arroyo. - I'd be interesting to hear you say...
Jorge Semprún. - It's a way of crystallizing what was inscribed there... I felt it as a kind of vague sensation, one that your question now enables me to make more precise. On top of that, I would bring in something that Braun-Vega said a moment ago. There are two things that attract my attention in this relation of mestizaje - a relation that is sometimes ambivalent, sometimes, sometimes violent and sometimes intolerable - between Spain and Latin America. And it can be intolerable in both directions, from Spain to there and from over there to here. What Braun-Vega said about not being interested in the discovery of America, but more in what came afterward - I think that's there very clearly in his paintings. It's clear that these are not the disasters of evangelization - which, after all, could be one theme, I use these words deliberately- but of the disasters of post-Spanish America. And here I come to the second aspect, which is why I jokingly asked if we had really left. For what remains of that bureaucratic, militarist and oppressive Spanish tradition? This is not only a tradition in the relation with the Americas, but also a tradition in Spain itself. What is left of that? There are things in these paintings that we share. All of a sudden we are on the same level because these Goya-like figures and scenes, right out of the war of independance against Napoleon, recur in Latin-American contexts. That is what we have in common.
Herman Braun Vega. - And that is still true today...
Jorge Semprún. - And that is what we have in common, this history. Not only the language, which is perhaps spoken only by a minority in the Americas, but also by a huge and growing minority in the world that is growing. It is one of the few intercontinental languages. There is not just the common language, but also the shared historical references that have been bound together since 1816-1820: freedom in Spain and freedom in the Americas. Riego rebelled because he did not want to have to go and put down the independance movement in the Americas. What interests me is to see how all this background works in the paintings. It may be that this is a totally deliberate or partially involutary decision, because cultural themes do not always come out in paintings just because that is what you have decided. You said earlier that at the present time you were sure you could achieve what you wanted - which does not mean that you willed everything that is coming to light here. It may be because of the light that there emerge...
Herman Braun Vega. - I quite agree with you.
Jorge Semprún. - ... Objectively. One of the supports for this way of coming to light are these figures. I am talking about the Goya-like ones here. There may be others, but here I'm talking about the Goya-like ones.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Because the "borrachos" are there, too.
Jorge Semprún. - The drunkards also. I say Goya-like because they are related more closely to poverty, war, aggression, and oppression, to nightmares and obscurantism. Personally, that is what interests me: that we should have a vision that is not a cliché version of the horrors of the discovery of America, evangelization and colonization, but more a view of the socio-historical horror of what came afterwards. There we come back to the Spanish themes - because they are eternal themes - of the systems of liberation and oppression.
Herman Braun Vega. - In order to avoid any misunderstanding about what I have just said, I would like to emphasize that what interests me is what happened after the Spaniards left the territory of the Americas. But I am sure that someone, some Peruvian or South American living in the most remote, most indigenous areas, will be interested in what happened earlier on once the Spaniards had arrived, because his problems bega earlier on. However, as regards racial and cultural hybridization in South America, it was obvious that I had to use Spanish imagery in that series. I make very little use of El Greco. Above all, I take Velasquez, Picasso, and Goya. In all three cases, these are artists who have been there with me ever since I became a painter. In other words, they are not impositions. There has been a reason for that. As you say, there has to be a reason for this constant cultural interchange. When I was learning, I did not think about other artists, or I was not infuenced by any artists, except by Cézanne - my first master, in the 1950s - other than Velasquez, Picasso and Goya, especially Velasquez and Picasso.
Jorge Semprún. - yes, but this dialogue with Spanish artists that you talk about, is ever present in your work. However, in the series that we see now, it has a new value, an added value.
Herman Braun Vega. - Because I also wanted to center everything on aggression. This is a very sombre series, which is why I refer to Guernica. Maybe that is why I began with drawings in black and white. On one side Goya's etchings and, on the other, the chromatic sobriety of Guernica.
Jorge Semprún. - That is all very clear and I think it works. It works in the sense that it is legible and it is not something that needs a whole lot of explaining.
Herman Braun Vega. - And in the big drawings in which you see the interference resulting from the ink transfert I make of drawings by Guamán Poma, I do these quite outside the story told be the painting, because that is how I perceive it. Guamán was a native, and in this incredible letter he wrote to the king, he told him about the predicament of the indians in the colony. But, at the same time, I view this letter as a modern, contemporary document and, I put it in counterpoint with fragments from contemporary newspapers, like a part of the reality that we live every day. Eduardo, when you talk about the pollution of different images and different contents and the fact that, in spite of all that, I make paintings that are well structured, I have to say that one reason for this achievement is that I change the light in these documents - whether they are contemporary or fragments of masterworks. I do this to create a "realistic" movement of the light, even if there are temporal differences, differences in the clothing or behavior.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, there is a lot to think about there, because where that relation leads - that contamination, that pollution which is a very long way from quotation, far from the opening sentence of a chapter - is to the fact that you make it clear where this game is that pushes things over to the other side; that separates the work from pure clowning or simple quotation. And indeed, you recreate that by laying a film over the painting. You make this uniform, you integrate and you pollute all at the same time, in the same space. I think all this is more manifest in the paintings than in the drawings. The light bathes the characters and in a way puts them in the present. It shows them in today's light. Your light, today.
Herman Braun Vega. - Moreover, if we take the style of clothing, some of the drapes, some of the outfits that you see in paintings of the past are somewhat surprising today. In this painting with the torero, there is a girl sitting at his feet dressed like an Ecuadorian Indian. Morphologically, Ecuadorian Indians are very fine-boned, also the women dress with great elegance. This girl looks like a Vermeer; she is dressed, here today, as in Vermeer's time. In other words, there is an exchange in space and in time. The way Peruvian Indians dress is the way that was imposed by I cannot remember which Spannish king. He imposed the dress style from I do not know wich region of Spain. So, there was a royal decree and the natives had to obey. Wich is how, right down to details such as these, the colonizing culture acted to cancel the native one.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, from Maragatos. We have made that return journey, haven't we ?
"To make my paintings, I have to tell myself a story."
Herman Braun Vega. - If you are not well informed, all these elements may at first glance seem willfully exotic. What do we see in this painting? To make my paintings, I have to tell myself a story. Ultimately, it is not a story that the viewer has to know, but it does give what is in the painting a certain density. In Peru, our leaders have always seen themselves as whites and Spanish, even though they are of mixed blood. Beeing white in Peru is, above all, a matter of social position, of money. It is surprising that Peru is one of the few South American countries that officially and unreservedly accepted the commemoration of the "discovery" of America. Most of the countries immediatly said no to the "discovery". In Peru as well, there was a rejection of this term. Voices rose up from the people, the shantytowns, plus some intellectuals, but as for Peru's official circles... We are the only country whose cathedral houses the mummified corpse of the first colonizer, Francisco Pizarro; and the monument to Pizarro stands on the same square as the government building.
Eduardo Arroyo. - In this respect, there was something very funny like that in Mexico. When I went to Mexico City in 1967 - following in the footsteps of Malcolm Lowry - there was a huge statue of Hernando Cortez donated by a Spaniard, at the entrance to a garden in Cuernavaca, that had been left there like one more folly in that magical land. Pizarro and certainly Hernando Cortez are two unique figures.
Herman Braun Vega. - But in Mexico, the corpse is not in the cathedral, right? I say that, because in this painting I tried to express that, this feeling we have in the governing and culturally Western classes... that very torero, very señorito figure, in gold and blood red, sitting in the middle of a desolate room : Peru.
Jorge Semprún. - Also, it's enough that the public recognize the torero as Arroyo did.
Herman Braun Vega. - Yes, but he's a connoisseur.
Jorge Semprún. - Quite apart from that, the surprise provoked by the torero prompts throughts that may not necessarily go in the direction of the narrative. It's differnet. I mean that the torero figure, the symbolism, the metaphor, will each be read differently in each case, and that afterwards there will be a conjunction; an articulation of things as a result of which something clicks. Please, don't try to explain it, it's not worth it. You explain very well, but it's not worth it.
Herman Braun Vega. - No, of course not.
Eduardo Arroyo. - For me, the idea of talking and storytelling is important because you tell yourself a story in order to be able to paint a picture, and if you don't then you cannot paint it. Some painters love to think up stories and others not at all. As I said before, it's interesting to use this strategy, and I think this word "strategy" that you used need to be emphasized. To sum up, there are a thousand stories like this one that you started to tell. So, in this light, in this kind of circus, this grand opera, this stage setting, there appears this sharp image of what you want to communicate and I think it is all there. And although the titles provide a number of clues, what is certain is that in an exhibition like this one, you have on one side this mestizaje wich is, literary, historical ans cultural and, on the other, a pictorial pollution. I think that gives you a vision of this game of pelota between Latin America and Spain and vice versa. All that can be seen clearly in your work. I think you have made a success of two things that are very difficult to mix and use: painting and drawing. Drawing as drawing and not as sketching, rounds out and fits into this "opera" with the same rightness, with the same power as the painting. The message, the discourse - call it what you will - seems to me to come through the story you are telling. As I see it, there is a special light, not only a pictorial light but also the light of chiaroscuro, in the black and white of the drawings: the conjunction of pencil and charcoal.
Herman Braun Vega. - About the treatment of these drawings, the observation that afforded me this, call it freedom of line, is something I learnt from Rembrandt. Rembrandt who has always been catalogued - or at least in what I have read about him - as the great master of chiaroscuro. I would say that it is a mistake to limit him to that definition. When you see the prints, and in particular certain drawings and inks, his synthesizing capacity is so great that he does not need to fill a plane with black to make darkness. He only has to draw a line in ink to indicate the light. The black is light and suddenly, as in a negative, everything is reversed and the white paper becomes obscurity. I tried working along these lines, with that freedom, with that economy in paper - in this case, the white canvas, we could say. That is the great lesson I learnt from Rembrandt.
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, yes for sure. I would say more: the problems with light are not just those of organizing light, but also have to do with possessing an image of chiaroscuro, of sun and shadow, because that sun and shadow are manifest in all the paintings. There, perhaps, we could adopt rather the taurine image of "sol y sombra" than that of chiaroscuro
Herman Braun Vega. - Yes, what we call chiaroscuro is simply the result of conditions at the time: There was no electric light. We do not know any more what that was like. However, when Rembrandt an Velasquez painted, they painted in rooms whose windows were not the bay windows we have... And the duration of daylight in winter... What's more, they could not count on the help of eyeglasses when their sight failed. They lived more in half-shadow, in chiaroscuro. I do not think that today we could paint space the way they did, the way they treated space. We can imitate it but we cannot imagine it.
Jorge Semprún. - To end, to make a provisional conclusion, I would say, for my part, that I sometimes talk about painting - that can happen to me from time to time - but from a deliberately non-pictorial viewpoint. I am not a painter, but I could try to talk about painting. Now, at this specific moment, I do not want to talk about painting. After all we said, what interests me is actually not to talk about the message, which is an absurd word. But I do want to talk about content, discourse or morality. It's also very complicated to talk about morality in painting, because when people look for morality in painting - sometimes, always - they do so in order to impose certain moralities that we dislike. Anyway, to talk about moral discourse, what interests me is the fact the reference to disaster is not the disaster of the conquest, but to what came afterwards. And, that the reference to Spain should be made through cultural themes, through painting - permanent themes that endure both here and over there, holding out the possibility of adapting our visions - that, I find very interesting becanse it is obvious that, beyond the discussion of what happened in the fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth centuries, what interests us is what went on in parallel in our two societies.
Herman Braun Vega. - The disasters of war, as you were saying a moment ago, are directly linked to independence in the Americas. At the same moment, there was a war...
Jorge Semprún. - I am very interested in that cultural moment. Perhaps because it is still in shadow, or in darkness, speaking in term of chiaroscuro and sun and shade: the reference to original sin or to the original disaster remains in the shade. We today are in the disasters of today. We are dealing with how Hispanic cultural values work - as symbolized here by a series of pictorial references - in societies that have been autonomous for a long time now but are at the moment facing identical problems. And that is an opera, a circus.
Herman Braun Vega. - They find themselves with some very bad habits, which have remained.
Jorge Semprún. - Talking about heirs, there were these delightful words spoken by Borges in a debate with a Spanish academician who reproached him for not speaking and writing proper Castitian. The academy member mentionned the descendants of the conquistadors and Borges answered, "We are the descendants. You Mister Academician, you are no doubt a nephew of the conquistadors, but I am the direct granson. So, the Castilian I speak is as original and as authentic as yours." So, the problems that people deal with, that you people deal with, that you are dealing with now, are just as original al ours. I am not saying that this is essential - the light is the essential thing. Painting, the moment of your painting, that after all is the key thing because that is how, afterwards, it is all read. But, that aside, what interests me is the desire to view things historically, in a way that I find very interesting.
Eduardo Arroyo. - I think that what has always interested you is narative, the literary element and, in some cases, symbolism - not symbolism in the sens of Symbolist painting. I think that not only have you never denied this, but you have even emphasized it. We know that this has always been considered as a sigh of infamy: to insist on the idea that in a painting everything can happen and everything must happen. The thing is that lots of people had decided that only a very select series of things - very surprising, rare things and as you were saying, very shortsighted things - should happen.
Herman Braun Vega. - And the contents...
Eduardo Arroyo. - Yes, the contents. I think that these paintings are full of content. I think we need to talk about painting, but we also have to talk about what you want to say and I think that, fortunately, we have talked about both.
(From the catalogue for the exhibition "Perú/España, memorias al desnudo", 1992, Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, Madrid, put on as part of the program of events celebrating the quincentenary of the disovery of America.)