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Oswaldo Vigas

Oswaldo Isaias Vigas Linares

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Oswaldo Vigas was born in Valencia, Venezuela in 1923.

Predominantly recognized as a self-taught painter, he also worked in architectural murals, sculptures, ceramics, prints and drawings. Vigas is one of Venezuela’s best-known painters and a seminal figure that validated the cultural heritage of the Americas, affirming the importance of revising his own Latin American roots along with a global perspective in the arts. From a very young age, Vigas had already begun showcasing his paintings and illustrations and had participated in several painting salons and exhibitions. He graduated from the School of Medicine in 1951, although he never practiced. He devoted himself exclusively to his artistic career for the rest of his life.

While studying, he continued painting and took several art classes at the Taller Libre de Artes, and attended the Escuela de Artes Plásticas Cristóbal Rojas, where he became acquainted with painters like Manuel Cabré and Pedro Ángel González, among others. His early paintings focus on the human figure – mostly a female figure – pre-announcing the theme that would remain a constant throughout his career: the witches. His works became quite gestural and he took an interest in pre-Columbian cultures and pottery. Progressively, he departed from conventional depictions as his line became visceral and concerned with pre-Columbian representation, which would mark a milestone in his works. In 1952 he received the National Visual Arts Award, and had a major solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Caracas. In 1952 he relocated to Paris, where he lived for twelve years and met Janine, his life-long companion. He studied engraving and lithography at the École des Beaux-Arts and took open courses at the Sorbonne. While in Paris, he was commissioned to produce five mosaic murals that were to become part of the Universidad Central de Venezuela, declared a World Heritage Cultural Site by UNESCO in 2000, a great example of the total integration of art and architecture, conceived by Architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva, with the participation of national and international artists such as Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Wifredo Lam, Fernand Léger, Mateo Manaure, Alejandro Otero, Víctor Valera, and Victor Vasarely, among others. During most of the 1950s, his works shifted away from the human figure towards constructivism and abstraction. In 1953, he participated in the II São Paulo Biennial and in a group show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, among other exhibitions. Between 1953 and 1958, the artist exhibited regularly in France and Venezuela. In 1954, he represented Venezuela at the XXVII Venice Biennale, and was part of the Painters of Venezuela traveling exhibition at the Pan-American Union, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

During the late 50’s to mid 60’s, while still living in France, Vigas was invited to participate at an important survey about Latin American art in which he was awarded first prize: the Gulf-Caribbean Art Exhibition, curated by Lee Malone at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This exhibition traveled later to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, The institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; The Munson-Williams Proctor Institute, Utica, The Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, and the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. Also, he had exhibitions at the Slater Memorial Museum of Norwich, Connecticut and the University of Nebraska Art Gallery, and participated in the Contemporary Drawings from Latin America show at the Pan-American Union in Washington, D.C. He was included in another large survey exhibition, South American Art Today, curated by José Gómez Sicre at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Well versed in anthropology and primitive cultures, influenced by a visit to Picasso in 1955, Vigas channeled his works of the 1950s into a search for an authentic language, combining gestural, geometric and figurative paintings that led him progressively to reveal his connection with early cultures, and for the notion of a personal identity marked by telluric, magical and personal imaginative resources found in his works from the 1960s onward.

In 1964 he moved back to Valencia, Venezuela, along with Janine, his French wife and life companion, and continued to exhibit his work thoroughly throughout the country. In 1967, his son Lorenzo was born, and in 1970, he relocated to Caracas.

The 1960s marked the artist’s informalist period; his thick black lines dissolved the figure into abstract volumes and shapes. Soon after his arrival in Venezuela, he was named Cultural Director of the Universidad de Los Andes. Without relinquishing his unstoppable work as an artist, he accepted an appointment as Artistic Director of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura y Bellas Artes (INCIBA), promoting the work of artists and exhibitions, as well as contributing to the creation of national Salons and awards to help artists from around the country. He remained in office until 1972.

From the mid 60’s onwards, Vigas work progressively shifted back from informalism to a new figurative phase, in which abstract shapes began to look like figures once again. In 1976, he was part of the group show Latin Excellence Contemporary Hispanic Art, Xerox Corporation Center, New York, along with Matta, Canogar, Orozco, and others. In the 1980s, he participated in the Chicago International Art Exhibition, Navy Pier, Chicago; Venezuelan Art Today, 350 Years, traveling to Boston, Washington and New York; 30 artistas andinos latinoamericanos, at the Pittsburgh Museum, and The Latin American Graphic Arts Biennial, at the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art in New York. Also during the 1980s, Vigas produced a series of tapestries and ceramic works, and his first bronze-cast sculptures.

In 1990, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas Sofía Imber organized a major retrospective of his works, showcasing not only paintings and sculptures but also tapestries, ceramics and jewelry. Lagoven, the oil company, produced a documentary film about his work. In 1992 the city of Monte Carlo honored him with the Prince Rainier Grand Prize, and the Monnaie de Paris, organized a large retrospective, Oswaldo Vigas, from 1952 to 1993, showcasing one hundred and thirty two works comprising paintings, ceramics and sculptures. During his later years, Vigas continued to work and exhibit worldwide, gaining further international recognition.

He received a Doctor Honoris Causa degree from the Universidad de Los Andes in 1999, and from the Universidad Nororiental Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho, in Barcelona, Venezuela, in 2012. He was invited to participate in the Un Coeur, un monde group show that traveled through France, the United States, Vietnam, Australia, Brazil and Japan. He was also invited to exhibit at The Latin American & Caribbean Contemporary Art Today survey at the Miura Museum of Art, Tokyo. Oswaldo Vigas was one of the most prominent and prolific artists of his generation in Venezuela. In 2008, he was designated Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France.

Vigas received the AICA (International Art Critics Association) Award twice, in 2008 and 2014; in 2004, he was the recipient of the Latin Union Award in Washington, DC. His last solo shows Oswaldo Vigas: Transfigurations at Dillon Gallery in New York, and Vigas Constructivist: 1953-1957 (2013) and the posthumous exhibition Vigas Informalist, Paris 1959-1964 (November 2014-February 2015) at Ascaso Gallery in Miami, paved the way for a second dissemination of his work in the United States. With hundreds of solo and group exhibitions, Vigas was indeed one of Venezuela’s most relevant artists, whose works derived from the consolidation of art in the modernist age, marking a pivotal path for understanding contemporary art from Latin America.

As described in his own words: “I was never rigorously abstract or rigorously figurative. I’ve really tried to be rigorously Oswaldo Vigas”.

Vigas died in Caracas in 2014 at age 90. His wife Janine and his son Lorenzo survive him.

The Fundación Oswaldo Vigas was created to continue to expand his legacy worldwide. A major anthological exhibition is traveling throughout the Americas. The first installment of Oswaldo Vigas Anthological: 1943- 2013 was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lima, Peru; the show then traveled to the National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago de Chile early this year, and it will open in Bogotá in July 2015. Its confirmed itinerary includes São Paulo, Mexico DF, and (TBA) other cities in the US. This traveling exhibition, curated by Bélgica Rodríguez, covers a large selection of Vigas’ most outstanding works, including 70 paintings and 5 sculptures, and it will travel around the globe over the next three years.

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Oswaldo Vigas (Valencia, Carabobo, 4 de agosto de 1926 - Caracas, 22 de abril de 2014)​ fue un pintor y muralista venezolano. Su obra, fue realizada entre Francia y Venezuela, es una síntesis original entre las raíces culturales del continente latinoamericano y las corrientes plásticas más actuales de la modernidad. Estudió Medicina en la ULA de Mérida y culminó su carrera en la Universidad Central de Venezuela en Caracas. Su trabajo abarca la pintura, la escultura, el grabado, la cerámica y la tapicería. Ha realizado más de cien exposiciones individuales y está representado en numerosas instituciones y colecciones públicas y privadas de todo el mundo. ​

Merecedor, entre muchas recompensas, del Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas de Venezuela, Premio John Boulton, Premio Arturo Michelena en dos oportunidades, Premio de la Gulf Caribbean Art Exhibition del Museo de Houston, Texas, y del Gran Premio de Arte Contemporáneo de Monte Carlo, ha sido honrado con las Órdenes Francisco de Miranda y Andrés Bello de su país. La Universidad de Los Andes y la Universidad Nororiental Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho le confirieron el título de Doctor Honoris Causa y la Unión Latina, el Premio de la Latinidad. En Francia fue Comendador de las Artes y las Letras; fue honrado con la Médaille Vermeil de la Ville de París, mientras que en España fue Miembro de Mérito de la Fundación Carlos III.

En la actualidad, la Fundación que lleva su nombre sigue el trabajo emprendido por él antes de su muerte, una retrospectiva itinerante por Latinoamérica que dio inicio en octubre del 2014, en el Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima, Perú, y se exhibirá luego en Santiago de Chile, Bogotá y otras importantes ciudades del continente.​

Hijo del doctor José de Jesús Vigas y de Nieves Linares, descendiente de Arturo Michelena. Tenía 10 años cuando su padre murió y Vigas vivió entre Valencia y Tinaquillo. En 1941 se mudó a Guacara, donde hizo sus primeras pinturas. Su primer trabajo importante conocido es la ilustración del Libro de Poesía (1941) en el Ateneo de Valencia. En el mismo Ateneo en 1943 se le otorgó la Medalla de Honor por su obra Hojas Rojas realizando la muestra que lo da a conocer.

En 1945 Oswaldo Vigas ingresó a la Universidad de Los Andes Mérida ULA de Mérida, para estudiar Medicina. En 1946 presenta ¨Oswaldo Vigas¨ en el Ateneo de Valencia. Su pintura continúa motivada por la figura humana, con una creciente deformación, mayor libertad y engrosamiento del trazo en refuerzo de la expresividad general de la obra. En 1947 participa en el V Salón Arturo Michelena, en el Ateneo de Valencia. En 1949 se traslada a Caracas y culmina sus estudios médicos en la UCV, si bien nunca llegó a ejercer como médico. Frecuenta el Taller Libre de Arte y participa activamente en el movimiento artístico de la época, y visita periódicamente la Escuela de Artes Plásticas Cristóbal Rojas donde se relaciona con Manuel Cabré, Martín Durban, Pedro Ángel González, Rafael Ramón González y Rafael Monasterios, entre otros. Además, en el mismo año, obtiene el Primer Premio del Primer Salón de Pintura en el ateneo de Mérida. La figura humana sigue siendo el tema central de su pintura, cada vez más alejada del figurativismo convencional. El trazo se torna más agresivo, comienza a utilizar colores planos, lacerándolos, y descubre la cerámica precolombina. Todo ello marca el preámbulo para "El período de las brujas". En 1952 obtiene el Premio Arturo Michelena, en el Ateneo de Valencia y el Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas, lo que le vale una bolsa de trabajo con la cual se instala en París. En París tomó curso de Historia del Arte en la Sorbona. En 1957 regresa a Venezuela y vuelve a París en 1959, como agregado cultural de la Embajada de Venezuela en Francia. En 1962 participa en la Bienal de Venecia en representación del país. Durante ese período incursiona en el informalismo matérico y realiza una serie de aguafuertes con la técnica del agua de azúcar. En 1964 regresa a Venezuela y la UC edita una monografía sobre el artista escrita por el crítico noruego Karl K. Ringström. Ese año recibe nuevamente el Premio Arturo Michelena con una obra de tendencia informalista, Parameras. Su experiencia informalista enriquece su reencuentro con la figuración y a mediados de los años sesenta retoma las formas esenciales de sus brujas en una serie de "personagrestes", ejecutada con pinceladas violentas y carga matérica, interrumpida brevemente a finales de la década por un retorno a la abstracción. En 1965 es nombrado director de cultura de la ULA y junto a Juan Astorga trabaja en la creación del Mamja.​​

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Oswaldo Vigas Obras de Arte
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