José Gamarra (born 1934) Tecuarembó, Uruguay. As a child, he loved drawing and painting. Actually, the first exhibition of his paintings was made before he was thirteen years old. In 1959 he obtained a scholarship from the Brazilian government to take engraving lessons in Rio de Janeiro. Subsequently, he moved to Sao Paulo, where he studied at the Museum of Modern Art and participated in the III Biennial of Young Painters held in Paris, where he obtained a scholarship. In 1963, he moved to France together with his wife Dilma. The Gamarras made repeated trips between France and their native country, but they never left Europe. We should note that at that time, a fluent communication and exchange of information existed between France and Latin American countries.
“From Paris, we had a view of all Latin America”, says Gamarra. And Dilma adds: “Artistic life in France was very attractive and, on the other hand, it represented a challenge. For José Gamarra, it was essential to take his own measure against other worldwide painters currently working in Paris – it was a way of estimating his own worth as an artist. (L’Humanité, December 1992). Gamarra’s first two exhibitions in France were held in 1966, at the Galerie Pèron and in 1976, at the Galerie L’œil de Bœf.
At first, in his open-air studio in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, the painter worked in large monochromatic canvases totally made of matter, ornamented with signs and pre-Columbian symbols. Later, when he changed to smooth, flat surfaces, his palette became richer, with varied colors and cameo-like greens, typical of equatorial landscapes.
The most distinctive trait in Gamarra’s works is the precision of his brush stroke. An example of this is his outstanding skill for sumptuously depicting minute details, such as the dented pattern –even the nervures- of a leaf. However, there are no traces of mannerism in his paintings: his works are rendered with a precise and detailed craftsmanship. The artist resorts to oil, mixed with resins, glue and vinyl. His studio is his laboratory, not only because he loves to experiment with new pigment mixtures, but also because of all the items collected and investigations made with regard to the Latin American continent in general. He is like a scientist discovering new species and taxonomies. His research covers zoology and botany, geography and history. His knowledge of the Latin American flora, fauna and history is visible in the striking richness pervading his landscapes and different pictorial subjects. In Gamarra, the landscape evokes a large range of historical periods. The jungle reveals different cultural influences, as well as the clash of civilizations. As if by magic, small characters appear, amid an entanglement of creeping vines, leaves and huge, luxuriant trees. These are the characters/witnesses of past times, but also of a story still signaled by cruelty: Latin America has suffered from many colonizations… The apparition of these small characters gives a magic aspect to his paintings. However, there is no naiveté in them. Gamarra is not an Uruguayan Douanier-Rousseau. On the contrary, his works reflect a strong historical awareness. For Gamarra, the jungle has political connotations. It is “invasive”; it enfolds individuals. Gamarra’s characters are almost miniatures, as if Nature regained its rights and stepped over culture. Each character is charged with a very precise symbolism. Gamarra tries to narrate the story of evolution within a Latin American landscape.
“The structure of [José Gamarra’s] symbolic language is in line with deep-rooted laws: it is the blend of the past with the present; of the organic with the industrial; of the underground with the aerial elements. Thus, we discover the blood-petroleum; the beast-uterus; the angel-helicopter; the ship-gullet; the snake-parachute. All the components of the long, tragic story of the South American continent are present, amid chasing dogs and bombs, deadly as the mineral mines.” (Edouard Glissant, 1985)