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“Obregón en contexto” is the title of an essay by the art historian and critic Carmen María Jaramillo, written in 2001, that appeared in the book El mago del Caribe on the artwork of Alejandro Obregón. The essay includes a text by the writer and reproductions of the artist’s most representative works. Jaramillo presents the key turning points in the construction of Obregón’s pictorial language in the format of six sections: Starting Point; Change of Paradigm; The Pictorial Space; Nature, Geography, Landscape; A Look at the Cultural Milieu: Mito and the Barranquilla Group; and Context. These sections are based on three elements the critic sets forth as basic to the artist’s visual arts approach: (1) “An analysis of the specific way Obregón reformulates the pictorial space predominant in the national art of the 1940s.” (2) “An examination of the way the artist brings back the idea of landscape prevalent in the first half [of the twentieth century], which leads Colombian painting to renew its ties to nature.” (3) A change in “the way the painter approaches the political side of Colombian life—guided by principles from the visual arts sphere.” El mago del Caribe was the book presented at the opening of the Obregón exhibition, held at the Museo Nacional de Bogotá in October 2001, curated by the art historian who authored this essay.
Alejandro Obregón (1920–92) is one of the best known Colombian artists and was a member of the group that was the most influential in Colombian art in the 1950s. Some of the other important figures included in that group were: Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar (1923–2004), Édgar Negret (1920?2012), Fernando Botero (b. 1932), Guillermo Wiedemann (1905–69), and Judith Márquez (1925–94). Starting from different approaches, they explored the path of abstract art and other art not based on living figures. Their artwork represented a change in the form of representation that prevailed in Colombia until then.
In the specific case of Obregón, landscapes were the point of reference from which he developed his own expressive language. From there, he extracted figures and elements charged with meaning (such as the condor, the bull, and the Andes mountain range…). These motifs repeatedly reveal the artist’s dialogue with his environment, and of course, with his culture of origin. In El mago del Caribe, Obregón is revealed at those points when his work shows a discovery; whenever she mentions one of the paintings, Carmen María Jaramillo describes the milieu in which it was created. This is an exercise in interpretation that enriches the reading of the works while informing us about how the artist absorbed (from where he stood) both the reality of the sociopolitical conflict and the changes going on in the art field in Colombia. Similarly, the selection of comments by the critics (Marta Traba, Walter Engel, Luis Vidales, and Jorge Gaitán Durán), and newspaper articles give us a retrospective view of the transformation of the visual arts in Colombia in the mid-twentieth century.
As Colombia entered the 1950s, there was increasing violence based on the struggle between conservatives and liberals. The impact hit the rural areas hardest, and peasants fled to the city, leading to a typical migration that increased the social problems Colombia had to live through. Obregón was a witness to such events—from his position as an artist. It is impressive how Jaramillo brings back the artist, based on his work, and how she shows the emergence of a unique voice with an original art language that interprets, instead of reproducing, the situation in Colombia. Some specific events are represented in his paintings; one example is his well-known work Violencia (1962). While elements typical of his landscapes are evident, the focal point of the work is the cadaver of a woman who is evidently pregnant.
In short, Jaramillo presents an overview of the art of the 1950s, crisscrossed by historical and cultural events that represented significant changes for Colombia. All this adds up to a reality: that of the artist who cares about the world he lives in.