by Kevin Vaughn
I had quietly been admiring the work of painter Paulo Duró for months without ever realizing it. When you walk into the kitchen at the WUBA office the first thing that you will notice is an enormous print of Duró´s “Kilometro Cero”, which is also the cover of Chancha Vía Circuito´s “Rio Arriba”. I always set my computer up so I sit facing the print, the act is unconscious, and catch myself staring off into the imaginary world that the painting creates.
The painting is stuck in time and space, the sky is pitch black but the small boy that sits on a rock in the middle of a small pond is illuminated by a mid-afternoon light. The boy is an ambiguous figure, his age undistinguishable, his dark black hair, bowl cut, identifies him as a boy from a distant land, probably from the Northern Andes. I assume North Andean not only for his face but also for the quena (wooden flute) that he plays. He is surrounded by an enormous landscape. There is a triangular mountain in the background that centers the painting, it´s white snow-capped tip immediately draws your attention. Tall trees and wild green bushes encircle the young boy. He is sitting comfortably on a rock in the middle of a translucent turquoise pond. The rocks serve more as an extension of the boy’s body as they are perfectly arranged to seat him. He is playing a wooden flute, the quena, his cheeks are full and blushing. From the end of the instrument shoots out a rainbow of colors that fly upwards like an upside down stream. His music is so potent that not even the canvas can control it.
I have another flyer by Duró taped on the bathroom door in my apartment for Chancha’s mixtape “Al Pastor”. I see it every morning. The flyer contains the upper half of a small boy floating in space. He´s wearing a multi-color beanie with protruding horns that flash images of ¨Where the Wild Things Are¨ into my brain. The small boy (also of some North Andean ethnicity) is holding a zampoña, a wind instrument made up of a series of hollowed out canes tied together in a line.
It’s this mixture of music, folklore and Andean culture paired with fluorescent colors and dreamlike neverlands that only exist deep in one’s imagination that makes the spectator want to escape, just for a moment, the metropolitan chaos that is our beloved Buenos Aires and jump head first into the world of Duró.
Could you tell me a little bit about the art collective you belong to “no definitivo” ? How did you meet them ?
We all met around the time that we began studying at the IUNA, the public art university here in Buenos Aires. The idea was to make a website where the threads that connected everything were friendship and cooperation. This friendship and cooperation grew and today, in a sense, is trans-Andean, a lot of the artists who participate are Chilean – they are incredible artists and friends that we have made during different trips to the capital Santiago de Chile.
What do you think the role of collective art spaces are in emerging art in Buenos Aires? Why do you think that art collectives have become such a phenomenon here ?
I think that the value of collective knowledge and practice is applicable to all human relations, implementing collective spaces strengthens the connections and notions of what it means to be a community. It’s vital for us [in Latin America] to stick together; resources are not always readily available, but if there is a strong desire to create something, then everyone brings together whatever they can. What were originally individual ideas are shared and materialized.
Do you think that your involvement in the collective directly influences your work ?
Well as an example right now, for one reason or another, we are all fascinated by the night, the stars, and I think that the fascination perhaps is beyond our own will. There is something that we want to manifest and the collective is a channel for that.
You’ve done work with ZIZEK, how did you meet them ? When you do work for them, like the covers you’ve worked on for Chancha, how much does the music inspire your work ?
I’ve known the guys at ZIZEK for the last few years just from cruising the same social scene, running into them at parties and art shows. By coincidence once I ran into Grant [zzk manager] during a trip to Chile and we ended up traveling back together. I feel really close to music, my father was a painter and musician, he was involved with anything that had to do with percussion, and so music is something I’ve been exposed to since I was in the belly. The story behind the cover I did for Chancha Via Circuito was that I asked him to do a set at one of my shows and he really liked one of the paintings I was showing, so we used it for the cover of his cd, a reversal of the original that I made with little pieces of cardboard.
I was struck by the idea of a city girl from Buenos Aires who focused so strongly on folklore – really evident in “Del Gusano más allá”, “Kilometro” or “Semilla Amarilla”, where does that interest in folklore come from ?
Well the reality is that I´m not much of a ´city girl´, I live about two hours outside of Capital Federal, and actually in my neighborhood a well-known bottle collector still rides on a horse and wagon! My approach to my painting is completely intuitive, I am interested in the primitive and healing aspect of every art, it is my tool to build a bridge to the other side.
The majority of your paintings are portraits, what is it that attracts you to portraiture?
I like to think that every face contains a journey.
What is it that you see in a face ?
In a face you can examine and guess the combinations of people that each generation has passed on to the next to create this one unique face.
Speaking of the idea of the ‘journey’, you mentioned that you’ve taken a few trips to Chile, have you done any other big trips ? How important do you think travel is to your growth as an artist ?
My trip to Chile was the longest I’ve ever traveled, I was there for nearly five months, painting, learning everything I could and meeting lots of new people. Not too long ago I returned from a trip in Santiago where I had a show at a small gallery that a friend of mine runs, he is someone I met through the collective. Right now I’m planning a trip to Perú, my idea is to put together a show in the city and then go explore the jungle, it´s an idea that I´ve just started developing. Traveling is incredible, it expands the frontiers of your thinking, and you come back with lots of beautiful images to paint.
Recently we published a little write-up of an exhibit by the Uruguayan artist Agustin Sabella. His work was made up of salvaged techniques from Warhol and American pop art with this idea that the human thought process is constructed by references of references of references and so on, and that ultimately it is nearly impossible to be truly authentic. Would you agree with that theory ? Do you think it’s difficult to create original work ?
Well, everyone is attracted to different things, something that interests one person has a different meaning to the next, you just have to be true to your own nature. I really value the artists that work with an open heart, I think that authenticity is when an artist is able to separate the notions of the artist and spectator, the work should function as journey between the artist and the spectator where both can adventure and explore.
I ask because when I saw “Caliventura” I was immediately reminded of Frida Kahlo. Am I reading that wrong, or was that intentional ?
Yeah, I get that comment often, I´ve heard that from a lot of different people. I like her work but I´m not a crazy admirer, there must be some strange link that binds me to her that is beyond my understanding. I don´t even have a book of hers to look at her paintings ! The thing about “Caliventura” is that it´s actually a portrait of a man, although I can see now that he is sort of an ambiguous character. I think that if you really look at him, he has a lot of fear. At the time of that painting I was waiting to have a pretty serious operation and was really fearful about it.
While we are on the topic of references, what are some of your influences ?
The painter and architect Hundertwasser, the Chilean painters Nicólas Manning Mora and Michael Yaikel, Bolivian and Peruvian artisans, the show by the Peruvian painting collective Poder Verde that was at the C.C. España, and also Cotelito and Ana Montecucco, who are both Argentinean artists.
The thing that is immediately noticeable in your paintings are the colors. How do you choose your color palette ?
My selection is intuitive, one color chooses the next and so on. One color asks for another that will compliment it or make it stronger. This selection is completely intuitive, I don’t make outlines or sketches.
Is there a relationship between the colors and what you´d like to express in each painting ?
I like to treat the colors like musical notes that will affect different points of the body and the spirit.
Can you take me through the process of creating a painting ? What emotions do you feel ? Do you paint freely or are you more structured ?
Usually if I’m working on a painting, I jump out of bed in the morning, make myself a tea and spend the entire day painting, my body and mind go into a state like no other. Everything around me works as a stimulant, the windowsill is full of cactuses that I love to look at, and lots of colors on the walls that motivate me to work, sometimes I have my own music, sometimes I just listen to the neighbors music, there is almost always cumbia or conversations in the background, I have very noisy neighbors.
How do you choose a subject ?
I choose the subject and the theme of the painting. After getting into a painting, it usually turns out that the painting can be read in two ways. On the one hand they tell a personal story, and on the other, they express universal themes – the history of the world and all the others.
What was the inspiration behind the series of fishes that you painted ?
I think that the inspiration was a sensation of wanting to push the old structures out with new ones, the very first fish was the one in “Les Traje mi Caliventura”, you could say that it was more aggressive than my previous work because [the fish] was in charge of getting rid of the old tradition to give rise to the new landscape.
You also design purses, how did you start with that ? Do you do that for a business, or is it a personal project ?
Yeah, I design purses, crews and t-shirts. Each design is a unique one. I had been selling them in stores but now they are only for sale on the internet.
Not to close on a cheesy note, but what do you see in your future ?
When I think of my future I imagine myself climbing up a giant pea pod.
Paula Duró is exhibiting her first solo show at the CC Recoleta from the 2nd of September until the 4th of October. For more of Paula’s work, click here.