July 2010

Contemporary Art in Central America

Contemporary art of Central America has only recently become the subject of serious research. Known for their political problems, most of the countries that comprise Central America have not been able to voice adequately their cultural developments.

Guatamala, the Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama share natural beauty and diverse ecosystems. They have indigenous treasures, religious artifacts, and colonial works of art. Modern art begins to develop in these countries in the 1920s and 1930s with the return of artists from Europe, the influences of the Mexican social realist art, indigenous influences and literary accomplishments.

The Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida worked with Diego Rivera in Mexico and then in Europe with Klee and Miro. He creates an abstract language and geometric form in his interpretations of the themes and colors of Mayan art and Guatemalan culture.

Modernism comes to El Salvador in the 1940s under the teaching of Carlos Cañas and the forming of a group of independent painters combining social causes with new aesthetics.

Modern art in Nicaragua begins in 1948 when Rodrigo Peñalba returns from Europe and trains several generations of artists as director of the National School of the Fine Arts. Peñalba’s student, Armando Morales, is Nicaragua’s most acclaimed artist. Morales paints mysterious compositions of his native country’s landscapes, figures and events from history in abstracted metaphysical environments.
Regionalist painters from Costa Rica assimilate the modernist influences and apply them to their landscapes and genre scenes of rural life. Self taught artist, Francisco Amighetti, becomes one of the outstanding printmakers of Latin American art with his dramatic expressionistic compositions. A strong tradition in printmaking and sculpture develops in Costa Rica, more than in any other Central American nation, reinterpreting indigenous art in modern graphic arts and three-dimensional works.

The premier figure in Panamanian art is Roberto Lewis who paints political portraits and post impressionist landscapes in the 1930s. Lewis educates the next generation of artists who break away from traditional themes to introduce new styles to Panama.

It is in the 1940s and 50s that artists of Central America begin to really make use of contemporary languages in their paintings, printmaking and sculptures. Just as it did in other continents, modernism frees Central American artists from the need to use specific recognizable subject matter and employ the fascinating indigenous cultures to create a specific vision of the contemporary art of Middle America.

Article from the information provided by:
Kupfer, Monica. "Central America." Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Edward Sullivan. London: Phaidon Press, Ltd. 1996. 52-74.

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