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"What is important is the spirit of the Earth. It is above all nationalism and all tribalism"

Fernando Montes (1930 – 2007)

How did a Bolivian painter come to settle in London and paint the Andean world from England?

Fernando Montes Peñaranda arrived in London in 1960, after studying at the Real Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. He had been a professional artist since 1953.

Montes came for two weeks to visit Marcela de Villegas, but never left. They married and settled in London, and he enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art. Working in oils, he painted portraits, nudes, still lifes and London cityscapes. He exhibited these works, and pub scenes, in London and New York.

In 1965, after six years in Europe, he returned to Bolivia on a visit. At El Alto airport, above La Paz, he descended the airplane steps to the runway and was struck by the intense light of the Andes and the magnificent mountain landscape.

Women and Land, 1972 (tempera on board),

poster of the exhibition ‘Contemporary Bolivian Painters’,

Museum of Modern Art, Paris, 1973.

At this moment he found himself as an artist. Montes later said that he would not have seen Bolivia in this way had he not left. He would draw in the Andes; in his London studio these drawings would enable him to sense ‘the presence of the absent’.

His theme became the relationship between the human being and the land: the indigenous people sitting, contemplating the Earth and horizon but also, stone-like, part of the Earth itself.

By now he was working in the ancient technique of egg tempera. He chose it because its matt surface enabled him to give his figures the quality of primeval stone, and its luminosity the light of the Andes. The vivid colour of earlier years was replaced by earth colours.

Mother, 2000 (tempera on canvas)

“I started making these figures which emerged from the Earth with the force of telluric water. And then it turned out that what I was doing was the spirit of Pachamama, of Mother Earth.”

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