February 2010

In the Studio of Alejandro Arostegui

Smashed shiny cans contrast with the smooth surfaces of the tabletops. The wrinkled commercial objects are adornments on masked men or fit between abstract landscape layers. The brilliant sun is a discarded lid and the moon is manipulated metal. A hand, ink and pen unite in their difference, all contrived of recycled industrial materials.

Alejandro Aróstegui is without a doubt one of the great activists of all time for Nicaraguan painting and a compelling reference in Central American contemporary art. For decades, his crushed cans and collaged objects are the focus of his imagery and are included in many private and public collections. He used trash in his art long before the trend for being green existed, not as endorsement for recycling, but as indignation.

The smashed cans did not appear as his personal signature until the earthquake of December 23, 1972, that destroyed most of Managua, the capital of his country. He was annoyed that then Dictator Anastasio Samoza did not bother to clean up the city. Bright and wrinkled, the crushed cans were an emotional, elegant show of the waste. The incredible textures became symbols for anonymous junk and plastic values. For Aróstegui it was a time of rediscovery of the landscape and the subhuman conditions of marginalized neighborhoods… a landscape of trash.

Aróstegui was born in Bluefields, Nicaragua in the mid 30s. He returned to his native country after attending Tulane University in the States for architecture and studying art in Italy and France. In 1963, with other artists and intellectuals, he introduced new techniques and concepts that expressed the Nicaraguan reality and Central American art forms. Grupo Praxis became the protagonists of the democratic process before and after the revolution.

Paisaje Azul I
Mixed media on canvas
51" x 43"

Mixed media on paper
10" x 14"
Little by little, they framed a society that would value cultural works. They spotlighted the nature and character of their country, the brilliant lake landscapes, the volcanoes, the atmosphere obscured by dust, the heat, urban scenes, and ways of living. They pictured the underdevelopment of Nicaragua, the repressive and reactionary state that characterized one of the largest Latin-American dictatorships.

Aróstegui works in series. One series was the human body, whole and separate, sometimes like cuts of meat on a table. In 1974, he painted the petro glyphs of pre-Hispanic cultures and then the ceramics of his country. Currently, working in his studio in Managua, he creates the lake and volcano landscapes. He is an energetic and gracious host. The long white studio is clean and inviting; the piles of recyclables are organized. Alejandro’s private collection symbolizes a complete representation of work and growth. He uses strange materials (sand, cans, bones, textiles) and he adheres them to the canvas with glues, varnishes, cement and asphalt. The predominant colors are monochromatic in the background and metallic finishes darken the rubbed and veiled areas. Sometimes he uses a pure white against a dirty black, fire red, sienna and ochre, the limited spectrum of colors used in pre-Columbian potteries. Other times blue, green and gray create the backdrop for the metallic illuminations.

Ford Fine Art in Delray Beach, Florida currently represents him in the United States. Occasionally a painting will show at auction, although recently two small works credited to Alejandro Aróstegui were not of his hand. Distinctions and honors start in 1971 and continue through 2008, for the support of Nicaraguan culture and in recognition for his work for the Institute of Hispanic Culture. Aróstegui is exhibited and collected worldwide: Museum of Latin American Art and the International Bank of Development in Washington DC, East Tennessee State University and Caroll Reece Museum in Tennessee, First National City Bank in New York, Museo Reyo in Columbia, Museo de Arte Costariccense, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo in Panama, Museo de Jose Luis Cuevas in Mexico, Instituto Israel-Ibero American in Jerusalem, and several museums and banks in Nicaragua.

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