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"Sol Negro (Black Sun"), diptych, 78” x 78” each panel. 1992.


by Shirle Gottlieb

(Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach) It has been twenty-five years since I fell under the spell of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' award-winning novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Completely enchanted with this Latin American masterpiece (my first heady experience with "magic realism"), I was inspired to read Octavio Paz' Labyrinth of Solitude, Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths, and Alejo Carpentier's The Lost Steps.

All of them deal with the cyclical nature of life and death, dreams and desire, the mysteries of existence, and the transformation of time and matter into spirit and illusion.

Surrounded by the 40 magnificent paintings that comprise Syzszlo in his Labyrinth, the same haunting sensations swept through me again. A quarter-century time-warp whisked me back to Macondo, back in the shadows, back to nether "other" lands, and held me captive. Peruvian artist Fernando de Syzszlo uses mystical imagery, symbolic allusion, abstracted form, dramatic light, foreboding shadow, and mythological reference to express the same spiritual concerns that the Latin American literati explore with words. Life and death are an on-going continuum, secret doors lead from one to another, unknown passages are part of the journey. Time is a dance with no beginning or end. In the grand scheme of things, life goes on; but each of us plays a part for only a spark of a second.

Born in 1925, the 75-year old Szyszlo is one of Latin America's most acclaimed artists. The son of a Polish scientist and a Peruvian mother, he was attracted to abstract art and Surrealism at a very early age. In 1949 he traveled to Europe, became part of the Paris international art scene, met Andre Breton, and became fast friends with Octavio Paz. After studying Venetian colorists and the techniques of chiaroscuro in Italy, the expatriat experimented with Cubism, Surrealism, Latin American regionalism, and Western formalism.

But Szyszlo's heart was rooted in Peru. Upon his return home to Lima in 1958, he forged a personal vocabulary and found a voice of his own. By combining techniques he learned from his European art studies with the indigenous belief system of his native country Szyszlo was able to express his inner soul.

"Anabase," acrylic on paper, 1982.

"Route to Mendieta," acrylic/
charcoal on canvas, 1977.

"Ritual Table," a/c, 1984.

A close scrutiny of his paintings is a visceral experience that defies description. They speak to you subliminally. Shrouded in mysterious abstraction and haunting ambiguity, each work is a dramatically staged composition--executed with consummate chiaroscuro skill--that alludes to pre-Columbian imagery, Incan objects, and the stark Peruvian landscape.

Our innermost hopes and fears are released at the sight of Ritual Table, Abolition of Death, and Sacred Chamber. Without graphic depiction, we sense intuitively that these dark, abstracted scenes allude to life's unanswered questions regarding life and death, sacred and profane, mortality and spirituality.

In the same manner (through our senses), the richly textured surfaces and luminous colors of Sea of Lurin and Route to Mendieta tap into our collective unconscious. We feel the intense heat and hear the wind because we've traveled these roads before. They are timeless and universal.

It's worth the trip to Long Beach just to see the brilliant monumental diptych, Sol Negro. The sun (giver of life) is deeply rooted in Peruvian culture. By painting it black against an electric blue sky, Szyszlo simultaneously makes it the symbol of death. But in every single reference to muerte (regardless of how dark, no matter how intense), he gives us a spark of red, a flicker of life, a germ of rebirth.