by Rodrigo Aguilar Orejuela
I met Jorge Chalco twenty years ago. By then, the artist had shown his paintings in galleries and museums in America and Europe. His artistic trajectory had expanded for over three decades. My first impression of the man was that of a simple person. Secure of himself. In control, and grateful for the rewards life had given him through the years of dedication to his art. Chalco was grateful of having had a premonition about the artistic road he should take for the rest of his life.}
This interview was the first of many held over the years. Chalco was in the final process of an exhibit to take place in Washington, DC, the USA capital. That exhibit’s theme dealt with the dreams, worries, and migratory nightmares of thousands of Ecuadorians during the 1990s. The artist’s own life experiences reflected those of his people. Chalco also had to emigrate. The barrage of emotions he endured during his voluntary period of exile permeated the canvases in that USA exhibit.
The unending corruption, deceit, and carelessness of the Ecuadorian authorities became a pivotal theme in Chalco’s future exhibits. The artist turned into a witness and spokesman of his people’s tribulations, a role he embraced in his next dramatic series entitled, The corrupt. My art against the beast.
For much of his life, Chalco’s art has dealt with the calamities or sweetness of social events. But, the meaning of the artist’s work is not obvious to the viewer. His primary interest is the artistic composition, the color treatment of his visions. It’s up to the canvas viewer to analyze and interpret through personal discovery of the artist’s intent.
Jorge Chalco was a farmer boy in Gapal, at the time a rural area of Cuenca. On his way to school, the boy would encounter students of the school of arts wearing white aprons. They carried canvases, brushes, color tubes, and other occupational instruments. “I used to look at their work,” said Jorge. “The colors and images fascinated me.”
Still, the fledgling farmer wasn’t yet aware of the magical influence those casual encounters were planting in his mind. There was little time in the youngster’s life for playing and drawing, but he made time for mischief while roaming through Cuenca’s nearby city streets. This behavior could have made a hoodlum out of Jorge. Sadly, his parents couldn’t understand his aspirations for a different way of life.
With the passing of time, the artist in his soul grew at the expense of the farmer. Both endeavors are noble, but the first fed his spirit as well as his belly. Chalco moved on to the school of art.
His studies at the art school in the University of Cuenca were decisive in his creative formation, but those were not happy times. His memories of some of the professorial staff are not pleasant. To him, many were not equipped for teaching. He found them egotistic, narrow minded, even envious.
When Chalco was still a student of art, participated and won first prize in a competition organized by the Ecuadorian House of Culture. Jorge did not receive support or congratulations from his professors. Instead, they expressed disapproval of his work, and asked to recant the award. Later, Jorge won First Prize in the Gorivar Gallery of Quito. This was gratifying in the extreme. Soon after, he won another important award from Civil Aviation. It consisted of a month traveling to museums in Spain, France, Holland, Italy, and Germany.
Jorge Chalco was a farmer boy in Gapal, at the time a rural area of Cuenca. On his way to school, the boy would encounter students of the school of arts wearing white aprons.
Six months after returning to Ecuador, the growing star received the National Award Mariano Aguilera. Also, a gold medal as the country’s most important painter of the year. The national and local press media covered this award with great enthusiasm. Professional recognition gave him the opportunity to travel and show his paintings in respected galleries and museums around the world.
The prolific work of Jorge Chalco does not deal only with the dark aspect of the Ecuadorian society. The artist also relishes the traditional vibrancy of the indigenous culture. It includes popular festivities, carnivals, fireworks, costumes, ancestral mythology, and ceremonies that honor ancient gods. Those deities have resisted the inhumane efforts of the Catholic Church to obliterate a glorious past.
He has not forgotten his younger years walking in mountain towns. Subconsciously he absorbed his ancestral spiritual roots. He helped built colorful paper castles, and figurines made from kaolin he collected on the outskirts of the surrounding hills.
Those formative years experiences, combined with his adult social awareness, gave birth to the bulk of Chalco’s pictorial iconography. Jorge is a dreamer, with a never-ending curiosity about his surroundings, insatiable thirst for knowledge, and total dedication to his skill. Over the last half century, all this had melded in his mind and gave rise to the genial master painter he is today.
The press and many books had praised Chalco’s virtuosity for years. The following is a summary of such books:
- Chalco 1968 to 2006 The Itinerary of an Indefatigable Painter. Text written by the Cuencan author Jorge Davila Vázquez. Published by The Municipality of Cuenca in 2006.
- Chalco. A detailed study written by the distinguished art critic from Quito, Hernán Rodríguez Castelo. Published by the Municipality of Quito in 2011.
- Jorge Chalco in Perspective. Written by Rodrigo Villacís Molina in 2018. A collaboration between the University of Azuay, the Catholic University of Ecuador, PUCE, Mutualista Azuay, and Diners Club.
- Beyond Jorge Chalco’s Drawings. By Spanish art critic José Carlos Arias Álvarez. Published by The House of Ecuadorian Culture Matriz of Quito.
The above-mentioned recognition received by the artist reinforce our perception, that Jorge Chalco is without a doubt one of the most important painters of the last 50 years in Ecuador, and his name will forever be an indelible part of our nation plastic arts annals.
(Translated by Eduardo Cerviño)