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Jorge Eduardo Eielson

1924 - 2006

Born in Lima to a Peruvian mother and a Scandinavian father, Jorge Eduardo Eielson (1924 – 2006) displayed multidisciplinary artistic tendencies from a young age. His poetry and theatre won him several awards in 1945 and 1946. As a major protagonist in his country’s poetic revolution, Eielson also produced his first paintings in parallel, which he exhibited in 1948 in Lima, Peru. As he liked to say, “To write poetry, you have to forget about words.” Jorge Eielson therefore lived between words and images, and having dominated words, he developed research which allowed him to extend his thinking beyond the borders of Peru.

Galerie Arditti, Paris, 1972. Jorge Eielson: shirts, knots, ropes, stretched canvas, pyramids of rags, flags © Centro Studi Jorge Eielson

Jorge Eielson became known at the age of 20 through poems which revolutionised the literature of his country. At the age of 21, he received the national poetry prize for his book Reinos (Kingdom) and became a member of the Peruvian movement “Generation 1950.” After receiving the national prize for his play Maquillage, and after his exhibition in Lima, he was awarded a French scholarship enabling him to travel to Paris, where he settled in 1948. He rubbed shoulders with the artists of the New Realism and exhibited in the galleries of the capital, whilst seeking a new language and new forms of expression. In 1950, he was awarded a UNESCO grant that enabled him to travel to Geneva, an important step in his creativity since it enabled him to do some soul-searching. He visited Spain, then Italy, and moved to Rome in 1951, where he remained until 1965, before finally settling in Milan. In Italy, he became close to the conceptual artists Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri and Mimmo Rotella, who introduced him to new avenues of research. Borrowing only a few elements from them, Eielson’s work avoided any formal association with minimalism or conceptualism, culminating in his own visual and artistic language. In Europe, Eielson was considered to be a visual artist – he didn’t publish any more poetry until the 1980s –, whereas in his native country he was foremost recognised as a poet rather than a painter, sculptor or performer.

His visual work is composed of several distinct series. In the first (1958-1962), named La costa infinita del Perú, the artist used natural materials such as earth, sand, crushed marble, clay and concrete with which he literally sculpted the surface of the paintings, creating multidimensional landscapes evocative of his native country. Eielson covered the canvas with these materials so that they could interact with each other and cause accidents of nature – erosion, wind, heat… After several years of work on the same subject, the landscapes gave way to human figures.

Jorge Eielson "Camicia", 1963. Shirt, glue and acrylic on canvas, 80x120 cm. © Centro Studi Jorge Eielson

Between 1960 and 1963, Jorge Eielson added this reference to mankind in his work, making use of clothes, ties, dresses, shirts… which he treated in a very significant way, again on a two-dimensional canvas. This use of various pieces of clothing, as an extension of his earlier research, led him to twist, tear and tie the textiles to make them into works of art. Although Eielson went into exile in Europe at a very young age, he remembered his Latin American identity. The unexpected reality of the war he experienced in Europe led him to turn to his origins and explore pre-Columbian cultures, where he discovered the quipu.

“The extreme fluidity of the field of language translates into a vital nomadism, multiform from the point of view of expression, planetary from the point of view of existence”

Pierre Restany

From 1963, Jorge Eielson seized upon this original discovery, this form of writing without words or paper, which was used by ancient Andean cultures as a system of numbering, archiving and presumably dialogue. The Incas used form and colour to convey meaning, and this new path led to visual solutions that allowed the artist to combine tactile and visual experiences to code and/or decode meanings. The Quipus were born in the 1960s and remained one of the main characteristics of Eielson’s artistic career for more than four decades. In 1964, the artist exhibited them at the Venice Biennale and met with an incredible reception from critics and visitors. He thereby acquired international recognition and took part in major exhibitions at the MoMA and the Rockefeller Collection in New York, received several invitations to the Salons de mai in Paris, and exhibited in galleries across Europe.

His work is fully expressed through the use of the node (Nodos). The conceptual reinterpretation of this ancient communication system designed by the Incas enabled Eielson to combine painting, poetry, sculpture and performance in a single creation. The Quipus and Nodos push back the conventional boundaries of language and allow us to overcome the restrictive two-dimensional limits of the flat surface, which was one of the main concerns of this visionary artist. The node stretches the canvas, giving the work a feeling of dynamic energy and seemingly wanting to point out of field. The Nodos, understood as a sign that is both ancestral and linguistic, was at the heart of the artist’s creative process.

Painted and knotted canvas on a wooden base (detail)

Jorge Eielson - El Cuerpo de Giulia-no (247 meters of raw cotton). © Centro Studi Jorge Eielson

Eielson’s Quipus took on a sculptural dimension when they were made on a large scale, for performances or installations, as here with El cuerpo de Giulia-no (247 metres of raw cotton) presented at the 36th Venice Biennale in 1972 and at the Munich Olympics in the same year. On this occasion, the artist focused on the twisting action of the fabrics which became the basis of his performance and detached itself, in a way, from the direct allusion to the Inca civilisations. Thus, his innovations escaped narrativity and transcended the anecdotal. The historical theme left room for a new language which distanced itself from the trap of nationalism. This new stage opened up new fields of exploration where the artist tried to connect the pre-Hispanic world to modernity and time to space. He actualised pre-Columbian art in the present day.

The Incan Quipus, whose exact translations or meanings remain poorly defined, would have disappeared artistically if Eielson had not seized upon these ancient codes to give them the necessary expressive momentum to challenge us. Like the spatial concepts of his contemporary Lucio Fontana, also of South American origin and based in Italy, Eielson’s Quipus explore a language constructed from a range of themes and incessant variations of the same action. His works have been acquired by the greatest collectors of the twentieth century and exhibited all over the world, on a large scale at the Olympics in Munich in 1972, and on the occasion of four Venice Biennales. They are featured amongst the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museo de Arte de Lima, the Rockefeller Collection, New York. A major retrospective of Eielson’s work was presented in 2017 and 2018 at the Museo de Arte in Lima, Peru.

Artworks

Jorge Eduardo Eielson

Quipus 39-A, 2000
Acrylic and canvas folded and knotted on canvas
68 x 83 cm | 26 3/4 x 32 1/4 in

Jorge Eduardo Eielson, Codice di Leonardo

1996

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