“Diversity can increase dialogue among peoples and promote the expansion of the common culture, or it can lead to the fragmentation of society.”
“Art can mirror the conscience of humanity. It can also provide solace and insight. Art is the most powerful affirmation of life.” –Gregorio Luke
I never much thought of Art in exactly these terms until I recently spent the evening with Gregorio Luke and his monumental outdoor multimedia presentation of “Murals Under the Stars,” featuring Rufino Tamayo at our John Anson Ford Theatre. The Ford Amphitheatre is another one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets. It’s a little nugget nestled in the hillside directly across the Hollywood Freeway from the Hollywood Bowl.
It’s unpretentious in size but formidable in program choices.
Our host for the evening, Gregorio Luke, has presented over 1,000 lectures in museums and universities throughout the world, including the Library of Congress and The Smithsonian Institution. He was formerly the Director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, former Consul of Cultural Affairs of Mexico in Los Angeles, and the First Secretary of the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, D.C. All of this has been the inspiration for the career he’s now successfully pursuing of giving cultural lectures with the fervor and reverence of a missionary hungry for converts. Mr. Luke speaks as if he’s seen a vision, and his listeners can’t help but see it too. He has made it his personal mission to make his lectures on art accessible.
His “Life Size Murals” series uses state-of-the-art technology to project life-size images of the murals of such artists as Miguel Covarrubias, Diego Rivera, and Tamayo, whom we were to “experience” this evening. This blending together of art, technology, the atmosphere of a summer evening outdoors, and Mr. Luke’s own truly engaging personality and presentation made this event obviously enjoyable for an extraordinarily broad audience, with the festivities beginning even before the show. Everyone in the audience seemed to be related or at least knew one another, and with a mixed audience from children to grandparents, the tone was set for the evening.
This evening’s program opened with special musical guest Mexican soprano Maribel Salazar, who had flown in from Paris especially for the evening. She established a wonderful sense of cultural pride with an audience who, at her request, joined in singing the folk songs she sang.
When Mr. Luke took the stage, I was more than prepared. Earlier in the week, I had participated in a live Q & A webcast produced and provided by Confergence, a very savvy and hi-tech organization that works to bring the work of great artists to a wider audience. This evening, I had recognized Mr. Luke as I was going to my seat, and stopped to introduce myself in person. Upon introducing myself and offering my hand, he took it and gently raised it to his lips, and while maintaining eye contact with me, he gently kissed it. After that, he could have shown family pictures using an old sheet for a screen and it would have been fine by me. But he didn’t. He presented a wonderfully cosmopolitan view of the world of Rufino Tamayo’s art.
Tamayo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1899. Over the course of his lengthy and productive career, Tamayo came to be regarded not only as one of Mexico’s greatest painters but as one of modern art’s major international masters.
The paintings and graphics of Rufino Tamayo have acquired a decisive importance in contemporary art, in terms both of its high quality, maintained throughout a long, intense life, and its special significance. He was very clearly one of the greatest of American creators and, at the same time, one of the artists who managed to penetrate deepest into the reality of today’s Man, going beyond his historical dimension. His knowledge of the great pre-Columbian cultures allowed him to make an extraordinary synthesis which forms part of a universalist conception of art. Tamayo sought the essential, which he expressed through a deliberately limited range of colors in order to give the freest possible rein to tonal interplay. His subject matter tends to be simple — figures of men and women, animals — almost sketchy, although charged with content.
Tamayo occupied a privileged situation. He was a modern man — one who had a complete knowledge of a cultural environment, our cultural environment, which he had helped to shape, and at the same time, he had a past which in him was present. In that other world of his, there were none of the usual clear-cut distinctions between time left behind, present and future (in all the ancient cultures, the community was composed of the living and the dead), nor was there the modern categorical break between men, animals and trees or plants.
“One might say,” writes Jacques Lassaigne, “that in the same way as pre-Columbian art, Tamayo’s painting is at the same time metaphor, geometry and transfiguration.” Octavio Paz comments: “This is painting as a double of the universe: not its symbol but its projection on the canvas. The picture is not a representation or an ensemble of signs: it is a constellation of forces.” Through this double approach — that of the prestigious French critic and that of the great Mexican poet and essayist — the viewer is better able to unravel the mysteries of one of the great artistic creations of our era.
Throughout his lifetime, Tamayo remained fiercely committed to painting as a spiritual activity. He also defended his pursuit of what he called the Mexican Tradition, which he felt was rooted in Pre-Hispanic art. He resisted the pressure of fellow artists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros to follow the politically based nationalistic themes that dominated Mexico’s art after the revolution.
The contents of this evening were presented to us in an almost classical form of didacticism: to teach engagingly. Although Tamayo may have resisted incorporating the Revolution into his art, Mr. Luke has fully developed his own revolutionary thought: to bring the work of great artists to a wider audience which includes non-experts and would-be museum-goers. Then, by intriguing them with eloquent and passionate talk about art, show them the possibilities one can experience with just the love and faith in the power of art and art alone.
What a unique concept…and his audience was a full house.