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Art and Painting in Ecuador - Culture And Arts - Ecuador

Ecuador has always been a nation of painters and artists. During the colonial era, Quito built a solid reputation as a center for religious art in the New World, and has never looked back. Today, Ecuador is still one of the best places in the world to appreciate and purchase beautiful works of art.

The Quito School of Art

Within a few years of arrival in Quito, the Catholic Church began constructing houses of worship—from small chapels to huge cathedrals. These churches, emulating their European counterparts, featured elaborate, impressive interiors with hand-carved decorations and pillars, paintings and arches. Rather than import artistic works such as crucifixes, paintings and statues of saints from Europe, the priests began training local artists to produce them.

For the first hundred years or so, the copies of European art made by Ecuadorians were skilled and workman-like, if uninspiring in nature. But then, something happened that the priests did not foresee: The local artists began to develop their own techniques and styles. Their art became more visceral and detailed than the European works they copied. The crucifixes, which had previously portrayed a stoic Christ on the cross with a single wound over his heart, now were of a Christ in agony; his flesh shredded, his ribs showing, his skin flayed. Few who view crucifixes from this period can resist an involuntary shudder as they see Christ’s pain and torment—the pain and torment of the conquered, enslaved native people who produced the crucifix.

The Quito (Quiteño) school is also known for highly detailed statues. The saints and other religious figures that were depicted were made from finely carved local wood, painstakingly whittled into shape before being painted with incredible attention to detail. The cheeks of the saints were given a rosy glow, and fake glass eyes were included to improve the sense of realism. Some even had real hair, and many had robes of fine local cloth. The Quito style of art became well-known in the region and in the world, and by the middle of the 18th century, there were more than 30 art guilds operating in Quito, producing art full-time. With the advent of independence and the resulting loosening of the Catholic Church's stranglehold on art and culture, the Quito school of art began exploring their roots, blending what they knew with their own culture. From this period come paintings of Christ wearing Andean clothes and even eating cuy (guinea pig) at the last supper.

Indigenous Movement

In the early twentieth century, a new artistic movement swept the country: the indigenous movement. Inspired by the Quito School of Art as well as by the suffering of native peoples in the Americas, artists from Ecuador began producing works which reflected the sorry state of native populations in South America. Artists such as Oswaldo GuayasamĂ­n, Eduardo Kingman and Camilo Egas gained world-wide fame with their portrayals of the trials and tribulations of native life, contact between natives and Spaniards and pressures of modern life. Their works can be seen in Quito at the Casa de la Cultura and the museums dedicated to GuayasamĂ­n, Egas and Kingman. See the museums section for locations and hours.

Today’s Art Scene in Ecuador

Today, Ecuador—and Quito in particular—is home to a vibrant art scene. Several impressive art galleries in Quito feature work by local artists. The capital’s Centro Cultural Metropolitano and Centro de Arte Contemporáneo hold special exhibits. The annual salon, Mariano Aguilera, is the national art competition. A neat place to see local artists showcasing their work is Ejido Park (across from the Hilton Colón) on Sunday morning, when dozens of local artists unpack their canvases for everyone to see and (hopefully) purchase.

If you're interested in other forms of art, such as tapestries, check out the fancy boutiques on Amazonas and Juan León Mera. The few art galleries in Mitad del Mundo offer touristy paintings. There are several galleries (the term is used loosely: some are converted family living rooms) in Otavalo. On that town’s market day (Saturday), you can choose from a wide array of local art, mostly watercolors. Prices are reasonable, but be persistent in your bargaining. Art sellers in Otavalo tend to jack up their initial prices relatively more than other merchants. You may find yourself paying less than half the original price for a piece of art if you bargain well.

One local form of art that is popular with visitors is the Tigua painting. Tigua is a tiny town high in the Andes known for small, colorful paintings made on stretched sheepskin. The paintings usually feature tiny figures of Andeans about their daily life herding llamas, attending local fairs and the like. Some feature mythological elements, such as condors, faces in the mountains, and volcanoes. Be sure to ask the vendor (who is often also the artist) about any element in the painting that you don't understand: often, the artist offers and interesting explanation. Tigua paintings are available almost everywhere: you'll see them in any market you visit.


Culture and Arts, Culture and Arts Info.

Here are other activities in and around Ecuador that may be of interest: History of Ecuadorian Cinema and Centro Cultural Metropolitano.

03 Sep 2012

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