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In this article, the art critic Walter Engel, an Austrian based in Colombia, wrote an overview of how various contemporary artists represent the human figure. To Engel, regarding this genre, in concept “no period or country may claim [it] for itself (…) as the special characteristic of its painting.” Engel compares the way it is represented in Europe—which he describes as “aesthetic and soulless”—with the way it began to appear in Mexico, which has emerged in the new Colombian painting. In his opinion, this new painting portrays the figure “tied to the soil, a being that struggles for existence in the hard labor of the field (…), in a word: the human figure.” In this vein, Engel gives the examples of Pedro Nel Gómez, Luis Alberto Acuña, Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, Carlos Correa, Marco Ospina and Guillermo Wiedemann, representatives of this “Latin American” consciousness in their way of representing the human figure. Within this new generation of painters, Engel highlights Alejandro Obregón, because he believes that in Obregón’s work, that consciousness goes to another level, and he points out Alipio Jaramillo as the only true “Latin American” of the entire generation. The article goes on to point out new names on the national art scene at the time, such as Antonio Valencia, Lucy Tejada, Hernando Tejada and some of the artists in the exhibition Salón de los Seis (December 1948). Moreover, the article includes reproductions of some of the works of the artists cited—works that belong to galleries, museums and the writer’s own collection.
The contrast proposed in this article by the art critic Walter Engel (1908-2005) between the human figure in European art and in Latin American art reaffirms a position he has presented before. He espoused this thesis in one of the first articles he published in Espiral, the journal published by the Spanish intellectual exiled in Colombia Clemente Airó, entitled “La pintura moderna tendrá dos polos en la posguerra” [see doc. no. 1134710]. This thesis seeks to reestablish the value and the maturity of the artwork being produced at the time in Latin America, this time in a pictorial genre universal to all cultures. To Engel, what is human is related to the land, the struggle for life, the emotions, a social and tropical consciousness, characteristics present in Latin American art. These are ideas he had previously expressed in his book Problemas sociales en las artes plásticas [see doc. no. 1094220].
In this text, Engel brings together artists from the Latin Americanist generation in Colombia with representatives of a new generation that had distanced itself from Mexican muralism. Alongside the Latin Americanists Pedro Nel Gómez (1899–84), Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo (1910–70) and Luis Alberto Acuña (1904–84), Engel discusses Guillermo Wiedemann (1905–69), Carlos Correa (1912–85), Alejandro Obregón (1920?92) and Enrique Grau Araujo (1920–2004). He identifies the latter group of artists as those who have entered into dialogues with the Abstract art and Abstract Expressionism prevailing in Europe. These were painters whose work he knew and had previously reviewed for Revista de las Indias, a publication of the National Ministry of Education, for which he had been reviewing exhibitions since 1943, grouping them together as Latin American artists. In the opinion of Beatriz González (b. 1938), Engel unquestionably had “a conciliatory spirit that accepted nationalism and aspired to equanimity” [see “Marta Traba” in Pensamiento colombiano del siglo XX (Bogotá: Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2007)].
Son of an Austrian textile manufacturer, Walter Engel reached Colombia in 1938 fleeing the Anschluss (annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany), after taking his art training and art history education in both Vienna and Paris. While working in the import/export industry, he was an active participant in Colombian cultural life, writing for journals and daily newspapers such as El Tiempo, El Espectador, Revista de las Indias, Proa and Plástica. In 1965, he left Colombia permanently and moved to Toronto (Canada), where, in 1968, he founded the Walter Engel Gallery and wrote articles for Art Magazine.