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In this article, the painter and critic Carlos Contramaestre writes about the Venezuelan folk artist Josefa Sulbarán, explaining how she got her start and describing the environment in which she trained as a painter. The critic explains how Sulbarán composes her landscape paintings of villages in the Trujillo region, blending her visual memories with details she has recorded in her notebook (windows, doors, houses) in an arrangement of urban and natural elements. In addition to her efforts to recall and describe, Contramaestre mentions her painterly sensitivity that seeks to adapt reality to an idyllic, timeless image whose most distant inspiration might well be the primitive designs of the cities built by the Spanish conquistadores.
Outside of his art career and his involvement in the avant-garde group El Techo de la Ballena (Caracas, 1961–65), the Venezuelan painter and art critic Carlos Contramaestre (1933–96) devoted some of his time to discovering and promoting folk artists, such as Emerio Darío Lunar, Antonio José Fernández “el Hombre del Anillo,” Salvador Valero, Gonzalo Eraso, and Josefina Sulbarán (1923?2011). In this essay, he introduces the latter at a retrospective exhibition in Caracas in 1987. In his essay, the critic describes the painter’s family life and domestic environment. In a simple, almost didactic style that is tinged with subtle humanism, he evaluates her work as she fills her canvas with scenes of her own village (Los Cerritos) and neighboring ones in the Trujillo region. She does so with the precision of a surveyor, yet feels no obligation to include every single detail because she adapts any visual elements to her balanced, idyllic composition that seems to be frozen in time. Even when she does include some anecdote or other (a cock fight, a religious festival, or a hunting scene), the beauty of her paintings—according to the critic—can be found in the natural and contrived environments she creates. Out of all her paintings, he selects Retrato de Familia, which he considers her masterpiece, to review in detail. Over and above its references to Andean places and local characters, Contramaestre’s article is valuable for its human approach to an artist like Sulbarán, whose work is “the product of her affection for and spiritual communication with her world rather than an attempt to capture her exact physical surroundings.”
This article complements the one by another critic, Perán Erminy [(Sin título), Retrospectiva de Josefa Sulbarán. Homenaje a sus 20 años en la pintura]. The catalogue includes other, more biographical articles, by María Teresa López, Antonio Luis Cárdenas, and Enrique D’Jesús; it also includes reproductions of some of the painter’s drawings that are used as a guide to her paintings. Contramaestre’s essay was published in his posthumous book, Poética del escalpelo (Caracas: Conac, 2000), pp. 211?216.
To read another critical article about the work of Josefa Sulbarán, see by Perán Erminy “(Untitled) [Catálogo: Retrospectiva de Josefa Sulbarán. Homenaje a sus 20 años en la pintura]” [doc. no. 1158137].