I began thinking about the term “primitive” recently while viewing the extraordinary paintings of the Peruvian artist Ernesto Gutierrez. Ernesto was born in Lima in 1939. His father was Spanish and his mother a descendant of the Incas. He was trained in Lima (Peru) at the Escuela de Bellas Artes del Peru and at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and was awarded a fullbright scholarship in 1972 and studied at the University of Wisconsin (United States).
Gutierrez’ life hardly describes an artist who could be a true primate. But he is a virtuoso. The paintings of Ernesto Gutierrez reflect the local traditions, images and folklore of provincial Peru. Much like the art of Paul Gauguin, whose work in Tahiti attracted attention to another aspect of the primitive, Gutierrez pays homage to the venerable heritage of his homeland through a pictorial mixture of monumental human forms and the application of intense color schemes.
The voluminous sculptural presence of his rural folk reveals a knowledge of Pre-Columbian carvings. Gutierrez odds faces as stoic and serene as an ancient Inca. His use of joltings pinks, oranges, purples, greens and sandy ochres are arranged in pinwheeling effects that seem to acknowledge the designs on Peruvian weavings. His work could simply be considered as decorative if he wasn’t so talented.
The costumes ore the important forms in the art of Gutierrez. Curious pointed hats, small capes and billowing skirts (Each county in Peru has a different hat and dress, explains Gutierrez) are amplified into blocks of color, shaped by a pure white light which provides sharp edges to folds, brims and aquiline noses.
Added to this “primitive spirit”, is the contradiction of a well-handled European inflection. The painter often assumes a cubistic simplification (after all, Cubism has a basic in African carvings) and volumes are registered through a knitting of paint strokes. The impasto of oils is meticulous, recalling a wood grain running in parallel striations.
Gutierrez professes a knowledge of European art; namely the works of Cezanne and especially the color juxtapositions used by Gaugin. Certain elements of his linear style are indebted to the study of Matisse’ drawings. Gutierrez’ art, in a strict primitive sense, is hardly the result of a deficient technique. Rather, his art is guided by a sensitivity to subject matter and a spontaneous charm. The point resounds in each figure which carries water, cradles an infant, dances or makes music. Underlying the figures is an Incan sobriety. His color makes the most sound.
As a special primitive, Ernesto Gutierrez has mastered an idiosyncratic naivety in interpreting his subjects. The remote visions retain a foothold in another culture, and his technical strength and use enforce an eloquence.
Art Critic for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel