Monday, January 28, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: New Seeds of Amazonian Art

Alex doesn't have a job. Instead, he makes money hustling tourists in Iquitos, taking them into the jungle to look at animals and birds and anything else the comes up or around, mostly mosquitoes and leeches. For those who've never experienced the jungle before, all of what Alex and the rest of a small army of Iquitos guides provide is pretty excellent. It might cost the tourist some bucks, and a bit pricey at that, but one cannot go into the jungle in any serious way without a (valuable) guide. Not that the guides make much at it. Tourists don't know any better, and most of them assume the guy who takes them out is the guy pocketing the substantial amount of cash involved. Usually not even close to so. The guides usually get ripped off by the organisers who act as middle men for the jungle folks. Such is life. But for Alex and a few others smarter and more experienced in city ways, there is some real money to be made, and those few do OK. But guide work is spotty. Even the best have to do other things to get by. Alex does all kinds of things to get by, and one of those things, to my amazement, is that he paints, comic book style, but he has some great ability. Damn. Who would have thought that of a guy who is constantly on the move looking for quick cash? He's an artist. And not just a con artist.

Alex can paint without looking at the picture.

When I first met Alex he was sort of posing as a part time waiter on the Malecon. His English is excellent, and in a way he's charming enough. But to think of him as a painter? It didn't occur to me he had any talent other than hitting on tourists for chump change. I learn something new every day.

A good picture of Iquitos area in the Amazon.

I've met enough painters in Iquitos by now to see that in a generation or two, as parents pass on their skills to children, and children grow up to see the fallibility of their parents, that those children will want to, and need to, excel, to do far better than their low-rent fathers; and the children will strive and possibly succeed in producing grandchildren of genuine genius.

But is it art?

Iquitos, Peru, I think, will become a centre sometime 40 years of so from now of great Amazonian fine art. It takes those first painters to set the wheel in motion. Alex, not a real artist-- an illustrator at a comic book level-- is one of those who could, and will, set the Amazon ablaze with light and line and colour and theme in time to come, his grandchildren discovering their heritage in fine artists such as Pinasco et al, as seen at the local Cathedral. There was a chance a hundred years ago for the flowering of fine art here, but it died with the Rubber Boom's bust. Now, rather than Aida Calvo and Father Edilberto Américo Pinasco and César Calvo de Araujo setting the scene, it's people like Alex and Lambda and Jhonny Java Nunez and Oswaldo and numerous others, none of them fine artists, who will generate a flood of real artists in the Amazon. Not yet. These men are the forefathers of a brilliant generation to come. When the maturation of Amazonian art takes place, it will be some beautiful flowering indeed. 

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:
And here are some reviews and comments on said book: