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Carlos Jacanamijoy - The Artist

Carlos Jacanamijoy was born in 1964 and lived with his family in the Department of Putumayo in southern Colombia until 1982, when, at the age of 18, he decided to go to Bogotá to study at the National University of Colombia. By this time, as is to be expected, the artist had already assimilated the the values, the vision and the cosmogony of the Ingas. He had become impregnated with the myths and legends that teach the difference between good and evil; integrated himself into the customs and the particular social organization of the Inga society, adapting the singular cultural and religious syncretism of his community; and entered into the spirit of a system of ethical and esthetic values that do not always agree with those of the dominant culture in Colombian society.

As may be expected, once Jacanamijoy moved to Bogotá to study art, he became more familiar with the daily happenings, customs and values that mark the mainstream society of Colombia, which is what we might call a Europeanized “mestizo” one. Nevertheless, from his earliest pictorial efforts the artist made it clear that, while the medium of expression he had chosen to communicate the life he had lived and the visions he had seen to the contemporary world was of European origin, he would not deny his roots. He has continued to express the experience and knowledge he has acquired since his childhood, and the values and meanings that marked his physical and spiritual growth.

In his early works – paintings produced between 1992 and 1994 – the pictorial space, the illusory depth that characterizes painting, is more recognizable and better defined than in his more recent ones, as are the forms of nature, the sun and moon, the leaves and fruits, the vines and flowers. Erudite studies note that: “on the very border of the footpaths of Sibundoy creepers cling to the bases of trees, and Heliconias and herbaceous Calatheas yield to aerial plants with broad leaves that climb up in the shade of the forest”. Although what is depicted in his paintings is simply a matter of formal and chromatic suggestions of vegetal life, it is evident that they produce the same sensation of fertility and exuberance.

From 1995 onwards the paintings of Jacanamijoy tend, first, to grow dark and later, to become crowded with colors, gradually approaching a type of abstraction which, in contrast to those of the majority of artists with similar aims, is not based on the stylization of forms nor exclusively derives from the mind of the painter. The brush strokes become less and less evident and the new elements become more and more blurred, so that color itself becomes the protagonist, the most important component, the device responsible for filling the spectator with that cultural and spiritual content we have referred to: the content which has a mythological basis, gives rise to ethical reflections and provides a hitherto unknown perspective on the universe.

Small and sporadic forms that suggest the pincers of crustaceans, butterfly wings, leaves and mollusks are the only vestiges of representation that remain in his paintings of this period. In some cases repeated points intensify the sensation of animal life, of swarms of insects, and with this, the impression of jungle, of light which filters through the foliage, of the biological development not affected by mankind. But none of this is represented in a direct form: everything has turned more diffuse, as it were, including the idea of space, which by now has become difficult to measure, although a sensation of thickness, of phytomorphic superposition, leaves the observer with the unequivocal feeling of finding himself before a tangle of vegetation that has become interwoven over eons of time.

The jungles near the Valley of Sibundoy, especially their vegetation and atmosphere, continue to be the protagonists – or, rather, the initial resources – of his canvases, but from this moment onwards his work begins to approach them from a different angle, giving priority to their mysterious character, their vibrant chromatic quality, their shining appeal. We might say that his paintings represent an entelechy of the jungle instead of being centered on a description of its components or details, but it is clear that we are dealing with a hallucinatory fiction, which comes from experiences and presentiments, passes through illusions and intuitions and finally forms images of vertigo.

His works give the impression that the vegetation in them may be appreciated from several points of view simultaneously; not because of a rational intention to illustrate the many facets of what is represented – as was done by the artists of the Cubist movement at the beginning of the 20th century – but rather for magical purposes, somewhat in the manner in which the facets of a crystal of quartz reproduce different aspects of the world it reflects and make its colors sparkle. However, the most obvious influence of such artifacts on the work of Jacanamijoy is the chromatic intensity of the feathers and their harmonic contrasts.

But even more than the objects of the ritual it is the visions yagé provokes which explain the rich and accentuated color of his paintings: visions in which “bursts of colors which merge into one another” are one of the most insistent fantasies.9 Indecipherable backgrounds of a green or violent luminosity, bright reds that fly out of the vegetation, yellow reflections that seem to have their origin in the stars and deep blues that evoke water and the sky – all of these tonalities bear the poetic stamp of hallucinations that seem to conspire against the spectator; that tempt him to be carried away, to lose himself in the labyrinths, disturbing and pleasurable at the same time, of a heightened awareness and sensibility.

The rainbow, a phenomenon of color par excellence that is full of varied symbolism in all cultures, also has a special significance for the Ingas.  It is not strange, therefore, that the colors of Jacanamijoy seek to project its iridescence, nor that the rainbow is one of the main suggestions in his images. His paintings also provoke the sensation of effects and phenomena that are not necessarily visual – such as night dew and cold, humidity and wind – or manifestations and presences that are not represented in an explicit way, like silence and the sounds of nature, the growth of plants, the whirring of insects and even the furtive breathing of the crouching jaguar. It is from all this that there emerges that atmosphere of mystery which impregnates them, despite their attractive colors, so that they resemble a metaphorical invitation to penetrate the unknown, to enter into situations or landscapes which seem to suggest an element of risk or danger, even as they beguile us with the ineludible fascination of a prodigal and exotic nature.

In conclusion, if nature is the center of attraction in the work of Jacanamijoy, as it is in the culture he belongs to, color is the element that gives strength to its suggestions. It is evident that the artist knows all of the secrets of color: the ones which affect adjoining tonalities; the ones which blend or clash and advance or recede; the amount of color needed for their effectiveness and balance. But even more important, the painter also knows that tonal variations may be infinite and that none is prohibited to his brush, given that a total chromatic freedom is indispensable to the full expression of the contents of his work.

The originality of Jacanamijoy´s work derives from his willingness to maintain his links with his culture, from the clear and prideful celebration of the heritage of his forefathers, which he has converted into a highly spirited artistic statement. In this process it might be said that Jacanamijoy plays the role of a priest for a world that it is forgotten but not lost. Its principal rites, visions and beliefs are restructured by the artist, who seeks to conserve and project them into the living and powerful fact of his paintings.

Adapted from texts by: Eduardo Serrano
Art historian, curator and art critic.

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