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José Sabogal—in homage to the work of Mario Urteaga—recalls his first trip to Mexico (1924), when the revolution had created a favorable environment for artistic creation. At that same time, in Peru, “we likewise undertook the difficult and quixotic enterprise of finding ourselves.” In this auspicious atmosphere, he discovered Urteaga’s work, which was then unknown in Peru. With the help of painter Camilo Blas (Urteaga’s newphew), he organized the first exhibition of this artist in Lima. For Sabogal, “there was a strong bucolic sentiment” throughout his career, manifested through the portrayal of regional topics, farm chores, celebrations, and the religious processions of Cajamarca. He notes that the artist naturally understood the rustic nature of that simple world. Other topics addressed include urban life, wherein vestiges of the colonial era survived up to the beginning of the twentieth century. Urteaga remained unknown for a long time, without recognition of the transcendence of his work. It was only through the indigenist art movement that his work came to be known. He compares it in essence to the work created by nineteenth century watercolorist Pancho Fierro, who portrayed life in the capital.
This document is the speech by José Sabogal, read at the IAC (Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo) as a tribute to honor painter Mario Urteaga in 1955. Although Mario Urteaga did not belong to the indigenist art movement led by Sabogal, his work is generally classified within this trend; he began as a self-taught artist in Cajamarca, the city of his birth. Between 1903 and 1911 he resided in Lima, and when he returned to Cajamarca, he began working as a journalist for El Ferrocarril, a local newspaper that covered science, art, and politics. In 1920 he painted works with indigenist themes; and in 1923, encouraged by his nephew “Camilo Blas” (pseudonym of Alfonso Sánchez Urteaga, a well-known painter from Sabogal’s group), he expressed an interest in vernacular themes. During the 1920s he painted costumbrist works (featuring the people of Cajamarca), and in the following decade his work dispensed with strictly criollo scenes, instead presenting images of indigenous protagonists within an idealized concept of landscape. As a mature painter in 1934, Urteaga held his first exhibition in Lima (at the Academia Nacional de Música Alcedo), which was well-received by critics and the public due to its country scenes representing the ideals of indigenist art: the “classicist” nature of his compositions helped to project the idea of an Andean cultural universe without contradictions and removed from the passage of time [see Gustavo Buntinx and Luis Eduardo Wuffarden, Mario Urteaga: nuevas miradas (Lima: Fundación Telefónica-MALI, 2003)]. His work was also interpreted through the lens of international modernism because of its similarities to naïve art, and was even compared to its chief representative: Henri Rousseau. However, neither interpretation takes into account the complexity of his painting. Within the context of renewal and debate that characterized the introduction of abstract art, the tribute to Urteaga occurred at the IAC (1955), an institution that promoted modern art in Peru and that had been established a short time before. The supporters of abstract art interpreted the artist’s presence in Lima and the recognition of his work in a manner that was radically distinct from the supporters of figurative art. This is shown by the different discourses delivered by Sabogal (who embraced indigenist art), the abstract artist Fernando de Szyzslo, and the mural artist Teodoro Núñez Ureta. However, all these lectures did not take into account the complexity of his painting. As Buntinx notes (2003, p. 49), his is “a peripheral manifestation, but one of his own complexity within which a certain classical inspiration prevails: the colonial, republican and popular traditions that seem to converge in Urteaga’s work are articulated before a European and Renaissance model.”