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Fernando de Szyszlo (Peruvian, 1925-Unknown)
Born in Peru, Fernando de Szyszlo studied painting and architecture at the School of Fine Arts of the Catholic University in Lima. He began his artistic career as a figural painter, but after studying in Europe, he embraced abstraction completely. According to the scholar Jacqueline Barnitz, de Szyszlo saw in abstraction a means to assert a cultural identity distinct from that of the United States and other Western countries. When the first exhibition of de Szyszlo's abstract work was held in his native Peru, it created a great social controversy and was met with hostility from his fellow countrymen. Although he would later be regarded as one of the most influential artists in establishing a contemporary Peruvian artistic identity, his work was originally labeled as violent, disgusting, and anti-Peruvian.
De Szyszlo utilized abstract forms in order to symbolize the pre-Columbian history of Peru, earning his style the nickname abstract nativism. He looked to the ancient textiles, ceramics, architecture, and mythology of the indigenous Peruvian people for inspiration, reinterpreting this shared cultural heritage within a modern context. De Szyszlo's work references the aesthetics of Peruvian handicrafts through its texture, color, and form. His canvases also incorporate more tangible influences such as the Cubist adobe houses and figural totems of the pre-Columbian era. De Szyszlo's non-representational canvases are organic, featuring a vibrant palette that energizes his highly tonal paintings.
During his later career, de Szyszlo has been a visiting professor at Cornell University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Yale University. He served as an advisor to the visual arts division of the Pan-American Union of the Organization of American States, now the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America in Washington, D.C. His work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennial, the São Paulo Biennial, the Carnegie Museum, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
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