PACHAMAMA name meaning in quechua language originating from the pre-Columbian cultures of america: Mother Earth.
This work is one of the watercolors bigger world in a piece of paper and its dimensions are: 12 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. It is the biggest challenge in the artistic of its author and is the search for harmony between man and nature.
Bertel believes in the plastic possibilities of watercolor, in the long run, in the contemporary and is an important element of visual persuasion in ecological, educational and cultural.
PACHAMAMA’S HISTORY, TOLD BY THE ARTIST
Since I began to develop myself professionally in the world of art, I had the dream of painting a major watercolor so that I could convey the goodness and versatility of this pictorial technique, so beautiful and with such prestige and history in our country, as well as in first world countries, to make it more contemporary, more competitive, more durable, and thus refute the misconception that it is facile. I always figured it as an overview of the jungle, encompassing everything an observer could cover in 180 degrees view of the jungle landscape that is far from the imagination of people worldwide, especially in big cities. I had intended to bring the actual rainforest to people living in concrete jungles, making it breathtakingly beautiful, fresh, green, wet, frightful, poetic, emotional, gestural, tactile and striking.
Juan Gossaín, in my opinion one of the most important Colombian journalists, who is very sensitive, an art lover in all its forms, a writer and language academic, who led by that time the largest radio network’ in the country, invited me to a live interview at the Cartagena radio station, due to an exhibition of my watercolors at Santo Domingo Cloister. The dialogue that we held allowed me to speak to the audience of my large format watercolors, of the scrim technique, of my pictorial theme concerning forests and not related to the Caribbean landscape and, above all, I confessed that my main project was to create the Western Hemisphere’s largest watercolor. It was there where I made a public commitment on such madness. Then nobody believed that I was going to be able to undertake such challenge; I even doubted myself. But dreams and aspirations were larger than my words.
A few days after this interview, I went to the Modern Art Museum in Cartagena de Indias to propose to Yolanda Pupo Mogollon, its director emeritus, an exhibition of my pictorial works, including this watercolor, whose size arose from the need to cover the largest wall of the Republican Hall of the museum: twelve meters long, which at first sight seemed unattainable and that would be a huge challenge for any artist. I got her immediate approval and it was decided that in November 2008 the exhibition would take place. Only now I realize that this was another of my hidden and sacred dreams, the realization of an old dream of seeing my works exhibited in this temple of art that was the home and birthplace of great painters from Cartagena as Alejandro Obregón, Enrique Grau, Dario Morales, Alfredo Guerrero and Heriberto Cogollo.
After Yolanda approved the exhibition, I told her that the Colombian Beauty Pageant’s President, Mr. Raimundo Angulo, had included in the cultural agenda of this event, which brings together the most beautiful women of our country, a visit of the contestants to the watercolors exhibition of Maestro Bertel, including among them the Pachamama. She replied with some challenging air: “If you can get Raimundo to bring his queens to your exhibition at the museum, I will order a bronze statue in your honor”.
Days passed and I found many problems, one of them was to get the materials, especially the paper, since none of the manufacturers in France, Italy, USA, Holland and Japan could produce it in the size I required. Finally, in New York, at the study of my friend and colleague, painter Dario Ortiz, I mentioned these setbacks and he became interested in helping me. In a gesture for which I shall always be grateful, he talked to Colombian master Omar Rayo (RIP), who was also in his studio there. He, as an expert in art papers, suggested Dario that we visited the New York Central Art Supply and said that if we could not find it there, it was needles to look for it elsewhere because it did not exist. Indeed, we went to that store, at 62 Third Avenue in Manhattan, where we found a roll of English Saunders Waterford watercolor paper 1.50 m wide x 46 m long and 638 g/m2, a brand I did not know.
It was the beginning of this dream; I could work on my project with a single piece of paper. My joy was infinite and my imagination had no boundaries, since at times I even thought about using paper from other manufacturers that are only ten meters long and to add the rest to complete the twelve meters challenge, but that was not what I had initially intended. I had many problems with this purchase, because despite its high cost, I was confronted with the freight cost, which was another very hard blow to my personal finances. The worst was when the paper roll arrived in Bogota and I was summoned by the Tax and Customs Administration (DIAN) to a hearing because I had to pay an additional cost for the entry of the goods into the country. I finally overcame numerous obstacles until the paper came to my studio in Bogotá, as if I had bought a new car.
Another anecdote related to this roll of paper is that the Art store in New York where I bought it gave me some samples for painting tests. I performed them on a cold and rainy morning in May 2008 at Dario’s studio and to my surprise, I found out that the watercolor pigment did not adhere to the paper, was not absorbed and did not work. I went back to the store with half-painted sheets and told the sales person that the paper did not work, that it was not what I needed for the project. He took me to a man, an expert in art papers worldwide, to whom I explained the technical problems that had and he, quite worried because he had never received a complaint, immediately, took the wise decision to call England. After a few minutes of a conference call, the manufacturer stated that the paper had to be rinsed with warm water before used to remove a protective gum it had to prevent fungus and bacteria that can appear when stored and transported. The next day I rinsed it and indeed, when I used the colors it worked wonderfully and it became a delicious experience to rediscover the devilish charm of watercolors on this beautiful paper. My doubts disappeared completely.
In late July of 2008, I left my dearest things, my family, and started all preparations to move to Cartagena de Indias; I sent things from my workshop by land from Bogotá, while I drove my own car, packed with other materials I would use to paint. My destination was Calle de las Damas (Ladies Street) in the historic downtown Cartagena, a very old house called “El Bodegon de la Candelaria”, (The Candlelight Tabern) which used to be the best restaurant, social events hall, art gallery and site where the aristocratic bohemia of the city met during the seventies and eighties, when there were true bohemians, highly educated, students of history, art and music, learned in many sciences. However, due to the fact that the country was permeated by mediocrity, this elite gradually disappeared and left their room to the emerging bohemians of today. That was the Cartagena I left when I went to study inland and the one I wanted to find at my return, but unfortunately I did not.
From the attic of the house, I had the view of the walled city, and the vast Caribbean Sea. During starry nights, the breeze brought to the notes and chords of a grand piano masterfully interpreted by a Spaniard, who has already passed, and whose name very few remember; what people do remember is that the piano later collapsed due to inclement attack milliards of termites that emerged as two handed fusas and semifusas from the many staves that this instrument devoured during its best times. However, it retains the weight of history as the mansion, where a Marquis and even King Ferdinand the VII lived when, disguised as a lady, came over to inspect the walls construction and other military fortresses in the Heroic City. From the back patio a carriage would emerge with an enigmatic lady whom no one knew. ! It was the king disguised as a woman! Gossip says that Ferdinand the VII had strong homosexual inclinations, so he would not have trouble dressing as a lady. Hence comes the name of the street of yore.
Another story is that of the Candelaria Virgin (Candlelight Virgin) who appeared to Fray Alonso de la Cruz had made the following request: “In that hill in front, built a convent to honor me.” This was the reason to build the convent existing at “La Popa” Hill; the candlelight is the name of the mansion also. I must admit it was not easy to live in the mansion and wander in it at night in complete darkness, groping, loading into one’s memory all those stories. Fortunately, the devotion I have for Virgin Mary scared away the ghosts and my stay was a pleasant one.
The house still has that stale and aristocratic touch of colonial mansions. The main gate, whose size represented the importance of the people who inhabited this house is in front of the staircase leading to the second floor, of the size of people that wandered through them, while upstairs the floor is adorned with checkered black and white marble tiles, with rooms surrounding the space with an interior balcony where one could see the stables patio and the cistern that collects rainwater through an smart drain system that still works.
In an effort to take advantage of natural light, I chose the entrance to the main hall as ideal to place the frame to house the paper roll. This room has five double-wing doors; their size and design made me think that their purpose was to let in at the same time all the fresh breeze and the light from the Caribbean sea. It is surprising to see the work and dedication given to the huge stout wooden beams supporting the roof, surely had been brought on carts from the rainforests of the foothills of the Santa Marta Mountain Range or from those of La Guajira. These doors were also opened to the huge balcony of the house into the street of the Ladies, where you could see daily life events and where you could hear street cries and murmurs from the Customs Square. This was my home for five long months, during which I painted my work of art. It has also been the home for many films shot in Cartagena, especially those based on works of writer Gabriel García Márquez.
I came to this house after a negotiation with Francisco Olano, property manager, who allowed me to live there until the end of the Pachamama project. I will never forget his support and complicity. I will always be grateful to him.
Another character of early times was Lazaro Diz a “handyman” with a strong personality, who works with the Modern Art Museum; Lazaro undertook the task of building twelve meters long and two meters high wood frame, that could bear the weight of the paper, with the ideal slope and with other interim details. Actually, his help was invaluable.
Thus early August 2008, in a warm morning, I began to draw the pencil diagram of the work, clinging to the imagination of the rainforest that always haunts me, that is with me and appears without warning, as a indissoluble marriage; which governs me and forces me to keep the same respect from the first day I saw it.
It was a December morning in 1989 when Ecopetrol’s plane landed at the Orito (Putumayo) Airport, a place to which I arrived as official of the state oil company. My exploration has continued ever since, discovering its deepest secrets and venerating this living being that I have portrayed and filmed for over a decade. Fortunately, when I arrived I already knew how to paint with watercolors and consequently this facilitated my interpretation of its colors and different palettes of greens, browns, yellows with rain or sun, sunrises and beautiful sunsets. Contrary to what everyone thinks and asks me, I had very little opportunity to paint a landscape directly. Doing it was very difficult because of the rapidly changing light and weather conditions. It used to rain heavily and insects were unbearable, which always made me postpone for other scenarios my rainforest paintings. I had always wanted to be able one day start a life project with my paintings and to scour the globe. On the sketches, as led by the hands of God, one by one appeared the details of this stunning design that had captured for many days my full attention; it was a matter of giving them weight, proportion, balance to the elements arranged and to all forms and details that scared me more than the ghosts of the house due to the impressive size of the paper, totally white, rigid, long, endless as its size filled all available space on the second floor of the mansion.
In the initial work design, I included the natural forest dwellers of Putumayo’s rainforest as Kofans, Inga and nukak maku, who seemed judging and claiming for the misuse we make of the jungles, tropical forests and their ancestral territories. However, after a discussion with master Camilo Calderon, who warned me that the presence of the Aboriginal would open a shamanic discussion, and also that the indigenous had learned from white people to deforest the jungle, trafficking with its wildlife and other practices that I had witnessed in Putumayo, I realized that he was right and decided to removed their faces from the sketch. I only left that of my friend, “taita Querubin”, whom I had already painted. He remained there as a tribute to his wisdom and leadership.
This work was completed after forty-five continuous and unrepeatable days, as well as after many work sessions of up to fifteen to twenty hours, always accompanied by the Mozart’s symphonic movements and sonatas. Perhaps it was him, who gave the keys with which, in the opinion of Cartagena’s master Dalmiro Lora, the finished work was a symphony of nature. I tinted other moments of this long work with Juancho Torres’ orchestra, the drums of Petrona Martinez and the saxophone of Justo Almario, who brought me back to my musical ancestors. It was the result of a pictorial work that led me to the limits of my human and artistic, design complexity, proportionality, spatiality, color balance capabilities to maintain all the time the same temperature in the landscape, which was my greatest obsession, and the difficulty encounter in handling this aqueous art; and, most importantly, to keep me calm despite financial distress, anxiety and time pressure to finish within the term set with national and international media, art critics, the city itself, unbelievers and picky critics of minor details and project developments, of a project which was not funded by any organization promoting art and culture, neither private nor public. So, I decided to undertake the high costs demanded by the work, whereby I had to contribute with every penny of my savings.
My anguish and loneliness were so, that I did not hesitate to propose to Carlos Molina Freyle, the project management due to his artistic sensibility, his enthusiasm and great sense of belonging, because I knew of his skills since Putumayo, when we were co-workers at Ecopetrol. His best efforts linked Bertha Arnedo as communications strategist. The help of Carlos and his support were valued and priceless. Also, I proposed to Maria del Pilar Rodríguez, cultural sponsor, to support and unhesitatingly she accepted, but despite her efforts and selfless work, I continued to remain alone as to the financial point of view, because I had no sponsorship to assure the permanence of a good managerial team.
I cannot go on without mentioning the support and sensitivity of a disinterested friend, poet, writer and painter, Gustavo Tatis Guerra, El Universal newspaper, the best cultural editor in the Colombian Atlantic coast. Surely he, with his patience, managed to sneak many articles and reports in this important newspaper, and he did not spare any space in its pages to deploy my project.
Behind this work, that is a hyperrealist tribute to the natural landscape threatened by multiple economic, social and political factors, is a human being, a retired oil industry worker, a self-taught painter, who did not faint in his struggle to achieve his dream and chose to work in this pictorial line, which has a beautiful chapter in universal painting, but that is not taught in our schools and which is considered a minor art: watercolor. Unfortunately, ignorance about this form of painting is total among art critics, curators, gallery owners and collectors, making our way tougher, although there are great exponents of watercolor in the world.
These reasons are attached to the fact that in Cartagena watercolor is considered as something that flows from its bowels that keep alive the memory of its historical past, from the epics of Spanish conquest, the liberation campaign, the Botanical Expedition, the Humboldt mission and countless events narrated by chroniclers. Watercolors influenced me since I began to accept challenges from critics and modern conceptualists, innovating and researching to transform the myths, secrets and paradigms of this technique in progress and achieve no only a silent contemporary revolution with the use of large formats, mounting fabric-covered works on racks, applying fasteners and sealants for finishing purposes and the use of airbrush-an invention used in their works by English watercolorists in the eighteenth century, that make use of new elements applied presently, to validate my personal creative process and put my works at reach and at sight of all.
Today, Pachamama (in Quechua “Mother Earth”) is my pride as an artist, but more than this, I wish it to be a useful artistic work as an element of visual persuasion, put to the service of ecological education of my countrymen and current generations of mankind, who understand the need to save the environment and with it to save rainforests and the Amazon, depository of the ultimate green border, oxygen, moisture, fresh water producer, with the biodiversity and being the habitat of 70% of the fauna and flora of the Earth, indispensable for mankind’s survival.
The purpose of a work of art with these characteristics is to search for harmony between man and nature; the observer whoever may be must establish a communication, a dialogue between imagination and action; it must awaken the finest feelings, return to its origin, to the natural, primary essence of life, because the worst enemy of rainforests are not the greed of a combination of socio-economic or political factors or the neglect of environmental authorities, or the indiscriminate use of this natural wealth, – wonderful source of life- but the indifference of world’s citizens and their ignorance of the importance of protecting and preserving this resource gradually disappearing before our eyes; to continue like this, future generations will have a very precarious existence and the planet will enter into a deep agony.
Finally, this work was exhibited at the Modern Art Museum in Cartagena de Indias on November 4, 2008 and has ever since been held by its creator, waiting for an opportunity to make its way onto a project that traverses the world, which is supported and is awarded the merits required for its roaming and that its final resting place may be a great world art and culture promotion institution, in order to remain there as witness of the green world of Pachamama that needs to be preserved.
There were many friends who went through the project and it would be endless to name them all, but I will always have their tokens of affection and sympathy.
The Modern Art Museum in Cartagena de Indias, is still indebted to the bronze statue promised to the artist for his promotion work with the National Beauty Pageant, whose candidates visited the museum and the work, and the Guinness Record will not be a necessity despite the initial motivation was not that, because they have not classified paintings under specialties; yet it shall remain as one of the great watercolors of the world made from a single piece of paper and the evidence of Colombians’ artistic talent; it shows that there are more good and honest people, that we’re to do big things that exalt us as civilized people and as a civilized society, and moreover it is a tribute to my first two decades of work with watercolors.