ART AND LIFE
“… I found that a stone carver and a philosopher look for the same thing, just that they do so through different routes.”
This book aims to describe and offer a critical assessment of some of the more relevant and characteristic works of Francisco Gazitúa.
Based on documents, reflections and testimonies by the artist, the book also provides an overview of the theoretical underpinnings of his renowned sculptural work, within the framework of the various moments of his life, including his travels and sojourns in various countries.
Undoubtedly one of the foremost and most highly regarded artists in Latin America and the world today, in his own country, Chile, the sculptor Francisco Gazitúa is at the peak of critical esteem –primum inter pares, the first among equals: the most outstanding practitioners of three-dimensional art. This is due to the high aesthetic qualities of his work but also to the excellence and rich diversity of craftsmanship there is in each one of his pieces, including, also, the relevance and importance of his opulent and varied heritage of a broad range of subject matter.
Applying multiple techniques, he has worked primarily in stone, wood and steel –although he has also used paper, ice and even water and wind-, all of this covering a period of close to half a century of continuous work.
This also includes a prolific teaching activity and, as part of this activity, drafting and editing of a number of texts related to his sculptural practice.
He is also co-founder of a functional circuit of Latin American sculpture, which is the result of years of work in symposia, meetings, residencies, with other sculptors (Irineu Garcia, Hernán Dompe, Dolores Ortiz, Ted Carrasco, among others), a project that has, as he puts it, “transformed Latin America into a ‘Worthy House’ in which to receive our peers.”
A good example of this was the recent encounter (early 2009) during the exhibition The strategy of form at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Monterrey (MARCO), in Monterrey, N.L., Mexico. On that occasion, he met up with, among others, his friends and former UK teachers: Anthony Caro, Tim Scott, Michael Lyons, Carlos Lizariturry, Piotr Twardowski, etc. Over sixty steel sculptures were shown, most of them very large.
Creation, reflection and pedagogy
Like an essential triad, closely interwoven and presiding over his professional activity from the time of its earliest fruit, creation, reflection and pedagogy have been the three means for a deeply rooted brand of expression, flowing in parallel throughout his professional career, from the beginning.
This is why the reference to them in our speech also runs in parallel, as the reader may corroborate in the development of this panoramic view of his life and work, because having starting from the common source of his talent and creativity, our comments on the results of his artistic practice will also focus on these personal qualities, which manifested alternatively or simultaneously, have been a constant and uninterrupted factor throughout his career and have, moreover, increased to this day.
Francisco Gazitúa has been ready to display such versatility from very early in life. He boldly studied two careers; Philosophy at the Pontifical Catholic University and Sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Chile. Subsequently he did postgraduate studies in England.
Thus, two of his varied capabilities have received wide recognition. Of course, these are not often found in one and the same artist, perhaps with the exception of the valuable ethical substrate of his characteristic style, with a decided inclination toward Chilean themes, without this lessening his international acceptance.
There is, on the one hand, the technical skill and craftsmanship required to see through the execution and fabrication of the work of art in its various stages up to the final product; and then, on the other hand, there is the theoretical knowledge and reflexive capacity to delimit (or define the boundaries of, as our Alfonso Reyes might say) the unique conception of his creativity, contextualizing it within the process of three-dimensional production and also its geographic surroundings.
Concerning the latter, the environment from which this creator launches and realizes his gigantic urban sculptures is definitely very important. The location of the splendid site, like the artist himself, is in the south. A workshop outfitted with cutting edge equipment. This fact is relevant not only because it is in his homeland with the spiritually nurturing environment that this implies, because he works, lives and feels in his place of origin. “In the past, this was impossible. We sculptors travelled and built our works on-site, at the place where they would remain on view to the public. Today, for the first time in the history of sculpture, thanks to globalization, all aspects of a sculpture can be fully executed at the workshop of origin.”
For him –in fact for anyone- it is a privilege to work in the space of his workshop, immersed in the awesome landscape of the mountainous immensity of the Andes. Among these mountains that, to quote the teacher of America, Gabriela Mistral, who lived in Mexico for a time: “make us die in their absence.”
Like Proteus, the classical character who drew his strength from the earth, the artist confesses to us:
“My story is here, my roots, my landscape. I dream here every night, in the same geography where I work, forging and welding. I owe it all to these mountains: the stones I work with, the quarry I inhabit and the culture in which I sail, between the Andes Mountains and the Southern Seas.”
In more specifically intellectual pursuits, as the notable fruit of in-depth research and well-informed critical views, we find the enlightening essay on the history and critique of art that was included in the book Contemporary Chilean Sculpture (1). In it, its author starts with the study and interpretation of the life and work of Virgilio Arias, in its European cultural context as well as the value of his legacy at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Chile, of which he was founder and director during its first ten years.
In the aforesaid publication, Francisco Gazitúa also analyzes the artistic production of other sculptors, including those who participated as teachers (as he himself would be, years later) in the same Faculty during this pioneering period.
The corpus of the essay contains, for the first time in a compendium of the history of sculpture in Chile, contemporary tools of criticism, Such tools are used to study and vindicate the wood sculptures of the Mapuche and Rapa-Nui, native tridimensional sculptural forms that so far had been obliterated or buried under careless forgetfulness and racist ill will.
In his contribution to the book of the reference the author also outlines different trips from which he has brought –and shared with his readers- an anecdotic background (firsthand knowledge belonging to a long oral tradition that is now being written) and of artistic knowledge that he accurately located within the context of Chilean culture, by the breakdown of the means and causes of its assimilation.
Therefore he is being merely objective and not metaphoric when, in one part of his writings, he says that… “I also travel toward the European masters, especially the French and some English, against which the history of sculpture in Chile bounces like an echo, sometimes close and sometimes far. In this period the European masters were also powerful promoters of a fundamental part of the history of sculpture in Chile: Rodin, Bourdelle, Brancusi and Moore.”
And may the latter serve as an example, one that certainly influenced the way of seeing and doing sculpture in this southern country. Moore did not do this directly, but through one of his most outstanding pupils, Marta Colvin, teacher to several generations of visual artists doing three-dimensional work in Chile, including among them, Francisco Gazitúa himself.
This stubborn pedagogic will to participate, to share and to teach the knowledge acquired is evident throughout his entire written work and also in his daily work as a sculptor. An essential feature of Gazitúa’s personality as a master sculptor is what writers and intellectuals of the generation of the centennial (1810) in Mexico used to call “Eros didacticus.”
Matter itself as model and object of study
“If I could define my life as a sculptor,
I would say that
it has been one harmonious relationship with the material.”
In some modern aesthetic theories, especially those of Benedetto Croce, interest in the material aspect of things (“material” as the term is used in the field of sculpture and painting) is minimized.
This illustrious Italian thinker believed that the only thing that mattered in the creative act was the expression. The only thing of interest was the artist’s intuition and not the shaping of this intuition in a specific material. For him the latter is of a merely technical and not aesthetic importance.
Croce emphasizes the exclusively spiritual nature of the work of art. In his view, all the spiritual energy is contained and is projected towards its finishing or dissipation in the development of artistic intuition. For him, once this process has ended, artistic creation has finished because its fruit is nothing but an external reproduction that is necessary to communicate intuition, but which means little or nothing with regard to its essence.
In this sense, exactly the opposite occurs with the creative behaviour of Francisco Gazitúa. Before even proposing to insufflate the artist’s spirit in the work of art, our sculptor advises his students to concentrate closely on the observation and study of living matter (which later, dead, among other procedures, they will have to manipulate, split, break into pieces, stick, assembly and polish to give it the shape that their concept of the work has dictated), by means of an in-depth and insidious contemplation of the raw material chosen to make the object of their art, until an intense, we could say absolute mutual understanding is reached.
Thus he warned his English students during the fruitful eight-year period he spent in Anglo-Saxon lands, where, in the beginning, he too also received PhD. level classes (from, among others, Sir Anthony Caro and Tim Scott):
“If they had already seen a chestnut in action, they could already have taken advantage of its wood using it to execute the same actions that it executes. (I know that this sounds very difficult, but you will never be able to use the wood in a manner opposed to that in which it works in the forests).”
Through his own work, the Master also taught by example. In this respect, please see his extraordinary series of sculptures called Steel Willows. Then compare each sculpture with the photograph of each one of the eight trees there is in San Juan de Pirque, Chile, where the sculptor has his home and his workshop and in whose neighbouring canals these long living trees, which in Mexico we call ahuehuetes (old men of the water, in náhuatl), were taken as models.
Strictly speaking, in Steel Willows Francisco Gazitúa is making tridimensional portraits of his models (because the artist’s imagination does not invent their forms). They are the sculptured image of each one of the willow trees represented through form and expressed in a deep and intimate relationship with the raw material in which they have been shaped.
In this series, significantly made not in wood but in steel, a material whose resistance the sculptor/blacksmith overcame at the forge, using red-hot temperatures and the force of the hammer striking against the anvil. Through this treatment the material acquires the adequate and precise flexibility that renders it similar to the intricate foliage of its natural counterpart, and whose metal branches sway in the wind, very much like those of their vegetable referents, when this airy and spatial movement flows through its metallic branches.
For this reason, we dare assume that Francisco Gazitúa might agree with Leonardo da Vinci when he talks about the end-purpose of sculpture and of painting in terms of “knowing how to see”, saper vedere.
According to the great artist and scientist of the Italian renaissance, the sculptor and the painter are the great masters of the visible world, because the perception of pure forms is not an instinctive gift that we all possess for the mere fact of having been born and living in this sub lunar world.
For example, we may have on occasion bumped into the same tree many times without ever having perceived its true form. If asked, we would be unable to describe its structural qualities, or even the memory of its shape in our minds. And so, art fills this vacuum because in the world of art we inhabit the realm of pure forms.
The true artist, like Francisco Gazitúa, is therefore the master in knowing how to see what we call reality. He shows us true form, rendering it visible and recognizable. Granted that he chooses only a specific aspect of reality; but this selection process is, at the same time, one of rendering objective that choice.
Once we find ourselves contemplating the work of art created by his hands, we inevitably see the world through the artist’s eyes.
It is as if we had never seen so-called reality under this peculiar light and yet we are convinced that it is not a momentary or intermittent glimpse, but rather something lasting and permanent. Its contemplation has enriched us, teaching us to see reality with a greater understanding.
In this way, Francisco Gazitúa has taught us to see the imposing beauty of the willow trees of his native land that, fixed and dancing, grow, thrive and sway on the banks of the canals of San Juan de Pirque.
Testimony of the artist’s letters
Because we are friends I did something I don’t ordinarily do. I sent the unfinished draft of this text to Francisco Gazitúa asking him for his opinion on the work in progress, while at the same time requesting some data and a few thoughts on his most recent creations.
By return mail he sent me the following biographical commentary of his formation as an artist. It fits in very well with this text so, despite its length, I thought it would be interesting to transcribe it, after some minor editing and with his authorization, mainly because it was written based on motives that have a bearing on the original intention of this book.
While my entire generation ran away en masse from “doing” abandoning the workshops and moving away from materiality towards post-Dadaist, structuralist and conceptualist currents, I feel that I, together with a small group of sculptors, stubbornly remained practically alone in the workshops, the sacred places where we do our work (for centuries, the sculptor’s natural habitat).
In my case, I was illuminated by the great truths I learned and with which I lived side by side during my studies of Philosophy, in the kingdoms of reason. I tried, in my workshop, to find an answer to the questions that Philosophy could not answer for me. I walked away from the single route established by XVII Century rationalism, one which gradually impregnated all aspects of culture, including the educational systems and art criticism. I walked away from “The Lights”, accompanied, naturally, by my poets, my musicians and my master sculptors.
Thus, among the stones, I stopped thinking in order to exist. I started to dig in order to live, to carve in order to understand. I found an immense empty niche, or rather a lost paradise, an illuminated geode that only required a respectful silence of me. I just needed to work with innocence, to cover my ears with wax, like Ulysses, although after a time I did not need it because the sound of the hammer nearly made me deaf.
For forty years I worked with all possible materials using basic techniques, bringing them face to face with the simplest and best-loved subject matter I could find: willow trees, ships, horses, the bodies of human beings…
In retrospect, my story, which I am trying to explain here, was always one of trying to see under the surface, where one cannot really see because it is dark, under the skin, under the seductive surface that covers everything.
I looked beneath the surface at the structure and bones of reality. Then, with the same slowness and patience I worked to bring about the existence, in specific materials and techniques (which have taken me many fascinating years to learn) the manner of being and operating of the beloved subject of content.
After this slow but passionate process, I discovered that sculpture, the material dimension of sculpture, began to be invested with an image, the sculpture itself produced a completely new image, one that for me was unexpected, because it had not been planned or drawn before.
I learned a great deal from Auguste Rodin, Michelangelo and Leonardo, whom I venerate as the pioneers of “looking under the skin.”
After them, the XX century was the century of the image. Brancusi, while being a great sculptor, in the direct carving starts off in the opposite direction, from a drawing on the surface of the sketching block, which becomes a sculpture. Then came cubism, a graphic-pictorial movement. As you say, matter (supra) is recovered by the Russians and those who came later, Gonzalez in particular. I came into contact with “Construction” at St. Martin’s, with Caro, who showed me a world of absolute liberty, an anti-academic way of working.
From the beginning the Construction or Collage is limited by the fact that it moves in realm of the trompe d’oeil, in the quick assembly; the sculptor thus becomes a collector…
I worked differently during my 8 years in London as a professor in charge of the wood and stone projects-workshops.
But… Dear Lily, perhaps I am boring you with the story. I still believe today that that way of looking and doing IN DEPTH could have had tremendous consequences on the academic world of the time… The history of art followed another route but I still feel –and this is the first time that I dare say it, against my natural instinct of modesty-, that we could have saved sculpture. I dare say this, 25 years after I was shown the results. I did not save anything and I returned to Chile (the end of the line). “I’ll run this race alone,” I told myself. At this point, handcraft was not only a matter of discipline or a display of virtuosity, but rather a reason for survival. I had to show that it could be done.
Handcrafting would thus become the only way in which to know the words of my language (something that a poet or a musician does on a daily basis). Therefore, in large scale sculpture, handcrafting and engineering became the means to learn and study the material… The possibility of manipulating its hardness, its flexibility, its life governed by the force of gravity.
Taken from the Report on the “Wood Group” on occasion of the end of the spring term and in the middle of the summer term at St. Martin’s School of Arts, England (its author, Francisco Gazitúa, received a doctorate and was a professor at this art school and, among other tasks, from 1979 to 1985 was in charge of the Wood and Stone Project of the program of classes at said institution), the following transcript, full of a characteristic playful and sarcastic sense of humour, illustrates the above comprehensively and with insight, the fundamental leaning toward material qualities of sculptor revealed at an early age by the Chilean sculptor.
The following is the fragment of the mentioned text, in which the professor gives his students advice:
Go and see the material in action (I suggest a trip to Kew Gardens). Walk through the park and try to understand these creatures that, before being visited by you, have been standing there for 100, 200, 300 years (…) According to my experience you should spend at least half an hour walking, looking, touching, smelling (even biting the twigs or shaking the larger branches, which will give you a clue about their hardness, elasticity, etc.). Only then will you start to understand wood’s attitude to life. It is this attitude, the tree’s way of existing and operating, that you will use later in the workshops in benefit of your sculptures. In the words of Tim Scott, “you must think what it feels to be a fir or a willow tree”. Because if one is born an osier, it is natural to end up being a basket. Wood is not born in the store, but rather in these individuals: the trees, which are a great deal more than a round, vertical and brown thing (the trunk), that occasionally has a green thing at the top (the leaves). So, go to Kew Gardens and spend a few hours of your life soaking up wood, like a pickle in vinegar.
“Soaking up… like a pickle in vinegar”. A very accurate and cunning bit of advice that, nevertheless, is similar to a very serious declaration by one of his most beloved masters, who has shared with him the secrets of the trade, the extraordinary sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. Written by the top English sculptor of our times, at the specific request of his Chilean student, he says, I quote: “the artist has to be obsessive: live sculpture, think sculpture, dream sculpture”.
And we say “one of his best loved masters” because Francisco Gazitúa, who has never been ungrateful, recalls in his texts on this subject, with respect and a deep-felt affection, those professors who, in his homeland, guided his first steps in the art during his younger years: Lily Garafulic, Samuel Román and Marta Colvin, to whom he renders a deserved and eulogistic homage in the above-quoted historical essay (2), among other publications.
Regarding the methodology that he has used in his long career as a teacher, and although he confesses that he is sorry “he never had any type of pedagogical training”, and through the information he himself has provided in numerous writings, we can infer from the background of his teaching experience in this field and dare to infer, in a few words, that this would be the process through which he has been able to share with like-minded people his enthusiasm for the respect, fascination and love of materials and artistic creation.
But nobody can say this as well as the master himself: “I have the impression that in this complex exercise of ours in which hands tangle with intelligence and sensibility with the tools, that is to say, in this trade that little by little transforms us into an alloy of workmen and learned people, only the ‘artist-researcher’ educates, because the art is only learned by the “researcher-apprentice”.
As Director of Sculpture at Finis Terrae University he issued something very similar to a hopeless complaint against the increasingly commercial spirit that has invaded university classrooms in recent years.
“I think that today’s university, which is the only one we have, is fighting against very powerful monsters in my area, and my impression is that we are losing ground. But I am still there, perhaps holding the place for a future sculptor, aware of being alone and unable to transform the universities-enterprises of today into the large ‘spiritual enterprises’ they used to be, and I earnestly believe that universities, inserted in the values of present day Chilean society, will be unable to save and expand culture. If there is some form of cultural life in them, it is thanks to savings, thanks to the fact that the field of culture still has professors trained differently at other universities; but this way of learning and teaching dies with my generation.”
Francisco Gazitúa currently continues to teach, working with postgraduate students at his workshop in El Pirque, Chile.
He also continues to teach as a form of shared learning and enjoyment, through his participation in the workshops and symposia he organizes and/or attends in Chile and in other countries.
Wood and steel
Two of Gazitúa’s favourite materials for making his sculptural creations, wood and metal are well-known to him ever since his childhood, because of his early contact with the rich folk traditions of Spanish/Arab and Indo-American origin. These are still alive in Latin America as forms of survival among the poor and have remained associated to his life or rather, it was he who chose to link his life to these materials forever.
Of vegetable origin and used ancestrally in sculpture the former; and the other, a metal used in tridimensional art only since the first quarter of the XX century by the epigones (Tatlin, Rodchenko, Gabo and Pevsner) of Constructivism, an aesthetic current that flourished in Russia and which was used, practically simultaneously, by Julio Gonzalez and Pablo Picasso in Paris in the making of the latter’s cubist sculptural works. Clearly, we cannot omit to mention the splendid sculptural work of the North American artists David Smith and Alexander Calder, using the same material.
Both materials were used by the Chilean artist in a three-dimensional representation of the nude human body in a seated pose, executed with a double albeit identical intention in sculptures of the same dimensions (35 x 25 x 30), created by the sculptor whilst in a particular search for the “place of the image in sculpture, in 1977”. (3)
Although both are in small format, they are made of different materials but visually, represent the same silhouette when observed through a Chinese shadow screen; that is, they have the same image, but “… Said very different things –as Gazitúa poetically points out, because the wood said yellow and the steel said blue. The wood was warm and the steel was cold. The wood sculpture weighed 800 grams and the one made of steel, 6 kilos.”
The conclusion reached by the artist and researcher, which was based on the results of this investigation, is that “contemporary sculpture will remain in the visual world until it pays the fair price to the material on which it attempts to settle.”
Sculpture cannot lose the streets, because the public space is its final mission and the work of the sculptor is to take sculpture into the street: sculpture is in the street or it isn’t anywhere. It’s final expression and raison d’être is that it must be an art for all spectators.
As we have seen, Francisco Gazitúa’s heritage comes in different formats, from small and medium to monumental proportions. Urban sculpture, also, (although some pieces are in rural and/or landscaped locations) is an outstanding facet of his production, with work of this type disseminated throughout nearly the entire length of his native land.
In the capital, he anchored his 44 meter long ship, “Esmeralda” over the Megacenter there is on Av. Kennedy; in Santiago’s Sculpture Park he has a large steel sculpture including sculptures he carved directly in Travertine marble, grey granite and also a tall steel mast. Outside the Chiletabacos company, a large piece dialogues with the passers-by through thick and thin lines of steel and in other parts of Chile there is: Sauce del Maule, University of Talca; Fuente Arrau, at Plaza El Roble, Chillán; Piedras para Rancagua, at Rancagua’s Alameda; Cristal de Atacama, Radomiro Tomic mining company; El Caleuche, Falabella Puerto Montt; and Dos Caballos, Mall Plaza Los Angeles, among others.
There are examples of his work abroad, in Lebanon, Croatia, Slovenia, Oxford, Cherwell Upper School, England; in Humblegarden, Stockholm; in Guadalajara, Mexico, two: one in the Los Colomos Park and the other in the University of Guadalajara; as well as some others that we shall refer to later.
Within the field of urban sculpture, the use of steel in the work of Francisco Gazitúa, finds an expression of imposing size and beauty, which is especially interesting because of its didactic and constructive tendency, within the field of hydraulic engineering, in the context of a form of urban sculpture that is outstanding for various reasons: Rueda de Larmahue, located in the gardens of the Mirador Interactive Museum in Santiago, Chile.
With the following dimensions: 48 x 125 x 15 meters, building it required 48 tons of steel sheets, folded, forged and welded in a process known as metallic carpentry.
The Rueda de Larmahue is based on the form and functions of the hundred year old wheels of the canal of the same name running alongside the road between San Vicente de Tagua Tagua and Pichedehua. In turn, these originate in the wheels used by the ancient Romans to empty water out of underground mines. The wheel teaches visitors to the museum where it has been installed, interesting pedagogic aspects related to a large variety of physical effects of water: from its stillness in the triangular base, then its elevation via the central wheel (with a capacity of eight hundred litres per minute) up to the ten-meter high platform and, from there, the force it has as it descends rapidly, moving the large spiral propeller, which has a diameter of ten meters and also the three rocker arms at the end of the 45-meter long beam-canal.
Through the continuous operation of the kinetic sculpture one can also observe the second wheel causing the water to ascend to a height of 13.5 meters and, when it drops, one can hear musical sounds as it falls from the second platform, producing different rhythms and tonalities as it falls inside the tubes of the large steel musical pipes and down the stair-cascade.
Let us review some of his most recent monumental works, which have been executed in this metallic material, including a few pieces scattered worldwide; to begin with, there are those erected in a plaza in Toronto, Canada that overlook the lake known as City Place: Barca Volante and Rosa Náutica, in which he looks deeper into the knowledge applied in the field of engineering:
As a result of an international competition in which he competed, as he says, with rivals from the “premiership division” because this city owns sculptures by Anish Kapoor, Richard Deacon, Dennis Oppenheimer, the best of his generation –apart from Mark Di Suvero, Anthony Caro, Henry Moore, etc.
The works passed under the scrutiny of two juries, the competition jury itself and the scrutiny of the city’s own curator, both very strict. Barca Volante was his first sculpture in Toronto, then came Rosa Náutica Rose of the Winds or Compass Card. A figure adapted to the dial of the compass card, divided into 32 sections that mark the routes into which the horizon is divided. Located at a distance of 100 meters from each other, in downtown Toronto (Spadina Road, one of the city’s most important streets). During the 4 years of work it took to complete, everything was made at his machine shop in the Chilean mountains, where he also lives with this wife, the brilliant visual artist Angela Leible, painter of the fascinating beauty of the human body and of the strength and movement of horses, as well as their two children.
I quote the artist:
More than a passing mention, a pass for Angela, my travelling companion and formidable artist, she illuminates my daily life with her painting, which, in her own inimitable way, makes us see what is under the skin of reality.
Much of what I write is the fruit of hours of conversation each day and all my modest sense of humour I owe to her and it is like a flock of birds that never seems to stop flying by.
The Maipo River was the first river in which Barca Volante sailed and the “gusty winds” of the Andes were the first to fill its sails.
Then came the transfer in containers to Canada where the sculptor and Canadian engineers set it up on the shores of Lake Ontario, mythical emblem of American culture, and also profoundly ours due to the aquatic elements of its landscape. For Francisco it was thrilling to see, at the end of the installation, how the winds of the northern prairies filled the sails of his “Sailboat”.
The aim of these two sculptures was, among others, to make the large Canadian city more aware of the shores of the lake that surrounds it like an ocean and which can barely be seen through the tall buildings that surround this plaza.
Another important sculpture is Cordillera de los Andes, which he placed in the centre of Stockholm, 200 meters away from the building where the Nobel Prize is awarded every year; it is a large rock carved on the inside like his beloved Andean mountains which, on the outside, look like an impenetrable wall, but which are in fact carved up on the inside by glaciers and winds.
Aeropuerto, made out of forged steel, stands at Pudahuel airport in Santiago, Chile. It measures 12 meters and is the second version of a sculptural navigation instrument; the original piece was 8 metres tall, so it was remade entirely to fit in with the airport’s increased size, three times what it used to be.
Lengas Rojas in Santiago, Chile. The large-scale versions of the outcome of research shown at the exhibition called Tierra del Fuego, árboles sin sombra now stand on Avenida Apoquindo. They create awareness among the people of the capital of the far south, covered with glaciers.
And, finally, the most recent and stupendous news is that he has just won a competition to design a large bridge-sculpture in Toronto, 100 meters long by 7 wide. Therefore, he writes that he is now “working day and night on designing and making models”.
Living “with his entire human wealth”, among water, ice and snow.
In the far south of his homeland, in Antarctica, whose extreme climate is always below freezing point, the sculptor has worked on his artistic work, as is his custom, using the materials that nature has provided.
Because, as he wrote in his youth, in the dissertation he submitted in conclusion of his studies of philosophy, quoted again 36 years later, with a touch of irony: (4)
“In the aesthetic relationship, the subject confronts the object with the totality of his human wealth, not only through his intelligence, but also through his sensibility and effectiveness (phrase by a Lucien Goldman, a structuralist author of that time).”
Likewise, “with the totality of the human wealth” of the sculptor, one who is at the same time a faithful reader and profound admirer of the works of Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, he shares with us deep and sublime emotions and sentiments inherent to artistic creation. He does so in a poem praising the natural elements and his devotion to his art, a poem that is at once a fervent prayer and an entreaty filled with hope:
Sculpture in water
I am on the water. I am on the dark water of the Antarctic seas.
In it floats an iceberg of blue ice that I am working on with an ax.
Water supports my sculpture; it is the support for my shifting sculpture.
But the ice supports my feet
and is the support of my sculptural image.
Water is the material of my sculpture.
This ice that I am carving, half of which remains in the sculpture
And the other half returns to its original water.
This fresh water ice gradually falls into the salty sea water
Like iceberg shavings.
Snow and hail, white water and hard water.
are always falling on my face and my sculpture.
When I leave at night, the ice that falls from the sky remakes my sculpture.
And the frosty water of the sea also remodels my sculpture from below.
The clouds are also water that gives the landscape a grey tone.
Water vapour moving in the sky.
And I finally deliver my water sculpture
to the black waves of Drake’s Sea.
May the southern ice cover and protect it.
The ship and the horse
Having settled mostly and preferably in the fertile valleys that lie between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains, it is not strange that the traditional means of travel of the Chileans has been, par excellence, the ship and the horse. Also, given the historic and telluric roots of the sculptor and his love for his native soil, it is not strange, also, that these elements should be among the most recurrent models of his production.
Ships, vessels, corvettes, brigs, liners, boats, a submarine and an albatross, emblematic sea bird in full flight, form part of the nautical series in monumental format to which we will refer now, a series inspired in both historical landscapes and literary works.
A constant and consistent reader, Francisco Gazitúa uses this sculptural means to pay homage to some of his favourite writers who have had the sea as motivation and scene of their tales, poems and fictions: E. Salgari, J. Verne, H. Melville, P. Neruda, G. Mistral, D.H. Lawrence, and finally, he tells us, “I name the biggest sailor of them all, J. Conrad. Although I did not make him a ship, he helped me perhaps more than anybody else (…) And Typhoon, his best tale of the sea, is inside the rivets of each one of these sculptures.”
Executed in steel, these ships allow their creator (a true Demiurge) to conceive his enormous pieces through a process of increasing abstraction, eliminating what is superfluous and leaving behind in its three-dimensional outline the strict effigy of his seaworthy forms, continuing in the honest and respectful treatment of the material he uses, characteristic of all his production:
“… The adequate interlocking of the parts according to their function, to somehow tell what the steel feels as it becomes the bowsprit, when it becomes as tense as possible in a cable or when it is unfurled in a sail.” (6)
With regard to the other model mentioned in the previous subtitle, emblematic figures, the large-size steel horses of the series Bebedores del viento that the sculptor has made, particularly in recent years, reflect the grace, elegance, excellence, spirit, the proud aspect of these fascinating beasts tamed by man. They are also a homage to the two that he owns, and which accompany him in his travels with his wife into the high Andes: Rey de Bastos (King of Clubs) and Buen Amigo (Good Friend).
With a broad diversity of attitudes and sources of inspiration (there is even one that is a strict copy, in larger dimensions and in metal, of an origami figure in paper), as well as poses, either fixed or in different actions, Gazitúa’s equine sculptures have been installed in many urban or landscaped locations of his country, as sites of spatial reference and motives of pride that give national identity to his countrymen.
The work of the past twenty years is due largely to the efforts of Rosita Lira and Maria Elena Comandari, directors of Artespacio Gallery, an exhibition space born with the mission of promoting small and large scale sculpture among art collectors and with whom the artist has worked from the very beginning. It would have been impossible for him to work in the quiet of his mountain workshop without the promotion and publicity work of Artespacio.
In addition to the collaboration with the artist’s sculptural work, we must also consider the publication of his numerous writings both in the field of sculptural theory as well as its historiography.
The sculptural stones of the sculptor’s Chilean quarry
“This was my option, to live in the chaos of materiality,
to learn something about it,
to try to represent it with transformed matter,
to represent it until it became
simply what it was,
only in a different way
without imposing any images on it.”
Additionally to craftsmanship as such (of which he is definitely a master), there is also his fine artistic sensibility, his well honed powers of observation, his sharp mind and also his overwhelming understanding of the material, all which he has demonstrated since he first heard the call of his vocation. These are qualities of the artist Francisco Gazitúa that, according to our particular and modest way of seeing, enjoying and understanding his work, are optimally reflected in his large scale pieces, made by direct carving in lithic materials, some of them as hard as granite.
Not only is the beauty of these enormous rocks retouched by his hand or his unusual and unquestionable respect for the raw material something out of the ordinary, but also his capacity and might in this field is so awesome that it seems as if they themselves have told him how and what he has to do to show them in their best light. (5)
Yes, it would seem that as if by divine gift the sculptor (remember the Classic Greek myth of Pygmalion) has been given the power to listen to the authorized aesthetic opinion of a large variety of enormous stones from the rich Chilean quarry that have confided in him in order to become masterpieces of contemporary art. Advice such as: “cut me here, polish me here, leave this part as it is, sharpen the other a bit more, etc.,” or similar.
According to their creator, this is due to a debt that he acquired with nature through his work: “There is a price I must pay to the material where the image attempts to settle”.
And yet he has also used this material in utilitarian pieces, such as furniture. The most outstanding of these are some recent sculptures in granite for City Place in Toronto, Canada. These tables certainly have a maritime referent in the shape of ships that seem to be drawn standing on the flotation line, with their pointed prows, curved port and starboard sections and the stern where the rectangular-shaped propeller drives the piece. About this, the artist comments:
“Urban furniture has been one of the historical fields of sculpture, nobody does it better than we do; it is our duty to reclaim our share of this field, which today is in the hands of architects and designers.”
This opinion of Francisco Gazitúa, with which this essay comes to an end, is a valid and brave claim and also a homage to the work of his fellow craftsmen (“nobody does it better than we do”). It expresses forcefully and with determination features of his particular character: the certainty of a calling that, day by day, is vindicated by the creation of three-dimensional beauty, such as very few currently do so in the world.
Summer of 2009.
1 Gazitúa Francisco, De Virgilio Arias a Lily Garafulic (1850-2004). Editorial Artespacio. Santiago, Chile. 2004.
3 Imagen y materialidad in Francisco Gazitúa, esculturas 1970 – 2003. Editorial Artespacio. Santiago, Chile. 2003.
4 Arte y Ciencia. Text presented at the Art and Science Congress, Mirador Interactive Museum. 2004.
5 Piedras e imágenes en los Andes del Sur. Conversation with Luisa Ulibarry, published in the book Piedras, Editorial Artespacio. Chile, 1998.
6 ¿Cuál es la enseñanza? Published in Francisco Gazitúa, esculturas 1970-2003. Editorial Artespacio. Santiago, Chile. 2003