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Artist in Profile (Oct ’15): Oswaldo Guayasamin

Artist in Profile (Oct ’15): Oswaldo Guayasamin

Oswaldo Guayasamin

Oswaldo Guayasamin in 1965
Oswaldo Guayasamin in 1965.
Photo from El Templo de las Borracheras

Oswaldo Guayasamin was born in Ecuador on July 6th 1919. His father was a Quechua Indian and his mother was of mixed race. The eldest of ten children, Guayasamin developed an artistic talent very early on. His father was a distant, hardworking father but also abusive from time to time and the relationship between father and son was not one of closeness. The relationship with his mother however, was full of love with a close bond. His mother nurtured and encouraged Guayasamin’s love of art and she gave him support in the early days of his career.

Guayasamin experienced discrimination and racism due to his mixed heritage which later became a theme in his art. Aged 12 years he attended art school, and lost his close friend.

Paco de Lucia by Oswaldo Guayasamin
Paco de Lucia by Oswaldo Guayasamin. Photo by Kuunstkuultur, licensed under CC BY 2.0

This personal loss was another major influence on his artwork and on his growth as a humanitarian and political activist ; as was the 4 day Ecuadorian civil war 1932.

In 1940 aged 21 years, he married Maruja Monteverde also an artist and during their marriage they had two girls and two boys. 1941 saw Oswaldo Guayasamin graduate from art school in top position in his class. He immediately gained success as an artist when a chance viewing of his work saw Nelson Rockefeller purchase five paintings. The following year, Rockefeller arranged a visit to the US for the Ecuadorian artist to exhibit his work to American audiences.

Travel Experiences

Returning to Ecuador, Guayasamin stopped off in Mexico developing relationships with many of the predominant authors and artists of the day including Pablo Neruda and Jose Orozco. This was the beginning of Guayasamin’s travels and he spent months travelling through Latin America experiencing the poverty and war ravages that had marked the people. The impact of this experience led to his wish for justice and peace. He was greatly influenced by this experience, and his desire for peace and justice for the subjugated became a significant theme in his work.

Moving into the 1950s, Guayasamin had developed an international following and received many commissions and accolades. In 1956 however, his marriage broke up although he remained good friends with his wife.

Jewellery and Sculpture

Oswaldo Guayasamin
Photo by Eric Chan, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Guayasamin received an invitation to design jewellery for an international collection. However he was unable to work within the constraints of other people so started his own jewellery company Inti Cori. His designs used precious metals and vibrant gemstones including topaz, aquamarine, turquoise and amber and indigenous stones. All pieces were hand crafted by local crafts people.

Much of Guayasamin’s jewellery was inspired by pre-Columbian art with bold geometric patterns, which interestingly gave a contemporary look to the pieces. Guayasamin also created many arresting sculptures, designing in copper, hand-crafted using various methods. Later he worked in bronze.


Ternura by Guayasamin
Ternura by Guayasamin. Photo by Michael Sandoval, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Oswaldo Guayasamin set up Foundation Guayasamin to house and preserve his art. The museum contains Guayasamin’s personal collection of over 3000 pieces of pre-Colombian artefacts along with antique colonial objects plus of course his art work. Guayasamin’s art captures the poverty, political oppression, racism, and class divided Latin American lifestyle. Although he dedicated himself to his art, he was a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. He received a prize form UNESCO for “an entire life of work for peace”.

Guayasamin died in 1999 in Baltimore while visiting in order to receive medical treatment. The people of Ecuador mourned his passing with a day of strikes to honour his humanitarianism and today he is an iconic national treasure of the Ecuadorian people. His legacy leaves him as one of the greatest Latin American artists. In 2002, three years after his death, Oswaldo Guayasamin’s masterpiece La Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Man) was finally completed and opened up to the public. The purpose of the building is to record the potential for humanitarian greatness and also man’s cruelty to man.

Reunion en el Pentagon by Oswaldo Guayasamin
Reunion en el Pentagon by Oswaldo Guayasamin. Photo by Eric Chan, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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