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The celebrated avant-garde artist César Vallejo states that every person has their Ingres violin—a French expression meaning that everyone has a hobby they are passionate about—after having visited a show in Paris featuring “works of madness.” He states that among the sane, “the right hand differs greatly from the left,” while the deranged divide their anxiety “almost half in half.” Contrary to belief, he argues that the insane do not give themselves over completely to madness; that the paintings created by these madmen “are magnificent [and] awful,” as seen in the show at the Vavin-Raspail gallery. He includes some of the critiques garnered by the exhibition, and compares this genre of works to the philosophy of the avant-garde (emphasizing subconscious or primitive actions). He identifies an identical “subconscious inspiration” in the drawings of one of the exhibited artists: his countryman Juan Devéscovi.
This article by César Vallejo was written for an art exhibition by “madmen” presented at the Vavin-Raspail gallery in Paris. By comparing it to the criteria of avant-garde ideas, the poet identifies an identical “subconscious inspiration” in Juan Devéscovi’s exhibition of drawings, which came to be seen as scandalous by his own countrymen in Peru.
Although not widely known, artist Juan Devéscovi was one of the most interesting figures of the Peruvian avant-garde in the 1920s. As of today, his artistic career has not yet been investigated in detail, but it is known that he worked as an illustrator for various magazines in Peru, where he produced graphic works consistent with the modernist style. In 1927, Devéscovi moved to Paris in search of better opportunities in work and art, much like other Peruvian draftsmen who had already emigrated, such as Julio Málaga, César Moro, and Reynaldo Luza, among others. He joined his countrymen who resided in the French capital, where he was exposed to the various aesthetic manifestations of the avant-garde; he established connections with César Vallejo, Xavier Abril, the brothers More and Juan Luis Velásquez. Devéscovi and Abril mounted an exhibition at the Maison de l’Amerique Latine at the end of 1927, which featured drawings by the former and poems by the latter, and a catalogue with a foreword by Jean Cassou and André Warnod. They both related the primitivism of Devéscovi’s works with a latent “indigenous essence” and Surrealist automatism. Devéscovi sought to highlight these ancestral elements by incorporating pre-Hispanic ornamentation into his works, using titles that alluded to an Incan past. Warnod recognized him as one of the first Latin American artists to use elements of pre-Columbian art with a fully modern intent. In fact, the poet Vallejo (who also wrote a foreword for the catalogue) noted affinities between Devéscovi’s drawings and the works of Pierre Marie, which were also exhibited at the Vavin-Raspail gallery, that were then categorized as Art Brut. Upon his return to Lima, he continued to incorporate avant-garde elements (at that time, essentially Cubist elements) into his work as an illustrator.