Maripaz Jaramillo (born 1948, Manizales, Colombia) is a highly successful artist back home in her native Colombia. She has 126 graphic works in the Art Museum of Pereira, filling a room named in her honour; she has painted a grand scale mural on the Museum of Medellin University; and she has painted portraits of two presidents: Alvaró Uribe (2002-2010) and Juan Manuel Santos (2010-now). Despite international exhibitions, she has not returned to London, where she studied for a postgraduate degree in graphic art at Chelsea College of Art in the late 70s, until now. Coinciding with Pinta, the Latin American Art Fair held at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre from 12 – 15 June, Jaramillo is showing a small but succinct series of work, Ellas, at Sandra Higgin’s Art Salon, just down the road in Chelsea. Anna McNay met with her to talk colour, happiness and politics.
Anna McNay: Let’s talk a little bit first about your work, in particular your series Ellas. Where do your colours come from? The yellow in particular, and the greens? What inspired you to use this colour scheme?
Maripaz Jaramillo: For me, the colours are very important. They’re more important than the drawing. I love colour. In Egypt, the woman was always drawn and painted as yellow, and the man was brown, because the women were not meant to go out in the sun. So I took the idea of these colours from Egypt after visiting the country. And then, in South America, there is just so much colour. People dress and fill their homes with colour, and so that is why I work with such strong colours. It’s also a very Pop Art way of depicting things.
The green is nature. We have a lot of green in my country, so I love green. Where I grew up, there is a lot of green, because of the coffee plantations.
Also, yellow and green are not complementary colours – they are next to one another on the colour wheel – and so they stand out vividly against each other.
I think it’s also very Expressionist, my work. The drawing is not as important as the strong image. But it’s still very important to me that the pictures are figurative.
AMc: The women you depict in Ellas are also very sensual.
MJ: Yes, they are sensual. They are happy women, not sad. The first graphic series I made, which was very Expressionist, was very strong and very sad. The women in Ellas are happy and want to live their lives.
AMc: Do you think this represents a change in your own life?
MJ: Yes, I think so. I’ve moved about a lot. I lived in Cali, which is a very hot city, very sensual, and then I came here and then I went to Paris. After that I went back to Bogotá. And my work has changed as I’ve moved. It’s evolution.
AMc: Would you say there is a narrative with your images?
MJ: Yes, I think so. To begin with, the images were very strong and tortured. Now they are still strong but less tortured. And I think this is also true of my life, because I was married, and it wasn’t a good marriage. At the beginning, it was very hard to live with my husband. Now I’m happy. My work is a celebration. Things are going well. It seems to me that my life is reflected in my work. It is very important for artists to work what they live.
AMc: You’ve mentioned sensuality already. Do you think there is also an element of vulnerability in your Ellas series?
MJ: There is sensitivity, yes.
AMc: You also have zoomed in very close on the women’s faces…
MJ: Yes, they are very close up, as if you had zoomed in with a camera. That’s important. It’s important that there is no background. No distraction. Some of the bigger pictures in the series have green backgrounds with flowers. But not the smaller pictures.
AMc: There are also some paintings with men in them…
MJ: Yes, I do a lot of couples. I believe a lot in women, but I am not feminist. I think life is nice with men. I don’t hate men.
AMc: Some of the women seem almost to be in states of ecstasy. They’re not just sensual, but also very sexy.
MJ: Yes, they’re very sexy. But all of the women in Colombia are very sexy. They wear sexy dresses, they move in a sexy way. Our country is full of people dancing. The politicians are killing one another, but the people don’t care. They’re just dancing. If you go to a concert, they get up in the aisles and are all dancing. They’re happy. A recent report showed that Colombia has one of the happiest populations in the world. There is all of this killing, but they are happy. They dance, they eat well, and they are happy. That’s what I take for my work.
AMc: There is a lot of political unrest in Colombia at the moment and there will be a second round of elections on 15 June, while you are in London, in fact.
MJ: Yes. President Santos lost the first round in May. People still believe he will win the second round, on 15 June, but it is a nasty situation, with war and peace in the balance. I have painted both Santos and his wife [Jaramillo was commissioned] and also Uribe, the previous president. When Uribe was in power, Santos was his number two and they were like brothers. Uribe was funded, in part, by the Americans and began a war on the Farc [the Guerrilla army]. He had two terms as president, and, when Santos took his place, he felt his policies were safe. Santos, however, sees himself as a peacemaker and has very controversially embraced Venezuela, where the Farc had been hiding, just over the border, and so he has been criticised for harbouring the Farc. He wants to embrace them and incorporate them into the government with a peace treaty. Uribe is now trying to get back into the government as a senator and is waging a very personal war against Santos. There are too many bad things going on. I want to paint happy things.
AMc: Do you use a model for your painting?
MJ: No, I use the television a lot. There is a Colombian television programme called Bailando por un Sueño (‘Dancing for a Dream’) [something like Strictly Come Dancing], where celebrities have to learn to dance. One painting – Las Estrellas – is of dancers and singers at a fiesta in a small town with horses and cows and music.
AMc: You are also currently producing work for an exhibition at your gallery in Colombia, Alonso Garcés Galería in Bogotá, next year – Abrazos (‘Embraces’). Do you tend to work on a number of series consecutively?
MJ: No, I do about 30 works in each series and then finish it and start another series. I used to complete about one series every three years. My works may look quite easy to make, but they’re not. I spend about two months on each painting. There are layers. First of all I work with the yellow and the other colours and the green always comes last.
AMc: How important is it for you to show your work internationally, and to show a positive side of Colombia?
MJ: It’s wonderful. Especially to be in London for the first time after 30 years. I’ve shown work internationally, but I’ve never been back to London. I’m so happy to be here with Sandra. London has a sentimentality for me. In Colombia, my work is recognised and people like it. In London, I will see what happens, what people say. It’s very important what Sandra is doing, bringing artists here from Colombia and Brazil. She is very brave.
Private View, in the presence of the Colombian Ambassador, Nestor Osorio Tuesday 10 June 2014
Sandra Higgin’s Art Salon Apt. 3, 46 Harcourt Terrace, London SW10 9JR
27 May – 20 June 2014