DescriptionJORGE DE LA VEGA
La Pata Roja, 1964
Mixed media on canvas
31-1/4 x 39 inches (79.4 x 99.1 cm)
Signed and dated verso: de la Vega / 64
Titled, signed, and dated stretcher verso: La Pata Roja -- de la Vega -- 1964
Acquired from the artist in 1965.
M. Casanegra, Jorge de la Vega, Buenos Aires, Editorial Alba, 1990.
Within his short life of forty-one years, Jorge de la Vega gained recognition as one of South America's most innovative and acclaimed artists. He was born in Buenos Aires in 1930 and trained in architecture at the Universidad Nacional, where he later taught art appreciation for several years. De la Vega's first attempts at painting -- geometric still lifes and portraits in the manner of Amedeo Modigliani -- reveal a lyrical abstraction. By 1959, he had developed an edgier gestural style, due in large measure to his meeting artists Luis Felipe Noé, Rómulo Macció, and Ernesto Deira. Working together in a Buenos Aires studio under the name Otra Figuración (Another Figuration), this group called for a new painting that could embody the angst-ridden milieu of post-Perón Argentina: specifically, an expressionism celebrating figurative subjects, intense colors, aggressive brushwork, and unconventional materials. As part of Otra Figuración, de la Vega won a scholarship in 1962 from the Spanish Fund for the Arts to study in Europe and, the following year, participated in the Pan-American Union exhibition in Washington, D.C.
For de la Vega, it was the animal that best symbolized man's dual struggle with his inner self and outer world. In the early 1960s, he began to paint primitive wolf- and lizard-like beasts -- Monstruos (Monsters) -- composed of jagged primary-colored shapes and heavy black outlines. His 1964 series, Los Conflictos Anamórficos (Anamorphic Conflicts), further exaggerated through the use of collage the nightmarish quality of his animals; here, de la Vega affixed to the canvases coins, buttons, rags, bunched sheets, and broken tiles and mirrors. These jarring materials, particularly the mirror fragments, were meant to question the notion of "reality" and to trigger a metamorphosis, that of the animal, as well as of the viewer. De la Vega elaborated on these ideas in the catalogue accompanying the 1964 Instituto Torcuato Di Tella International Prize:
I want my works to clash with the viewer as intensely as all of its components clash with each other, however tiny they may be. A mother-of-pearl chip on top of a blot. A number next to a stone. A beast that is all surface glitter. A chimerical smokescreen. Creatures exploring how they measure up against the void, and a mirror so they can look at each other.
-Jorge de la Vega
A true masterpiece in de la Vega's oeuvre, La Pata Roja (The Red Leg) features collage elements and a rare double-beast image that emphasize themes of duality and transformation. The black-and-white painted wolf on the right half of the composition gives way on the left to a more elaborate three-dimensional version, enlivened with sculptured denim and shards of tile and mirror. Various formal motifs -- in particular, the beast's howling expression; its seemingly decomposing head; and its leg, a blood-red slash of paint conjoining the two sides -- connote anguish and violence, what de la Vega saw as accompanying man's necessary metamorphosis in a modern world. John McKaughan, who purchased La Pata Roja in 1967, remembers convincing de la Vega to sell the painting, taking it "from its place of honor - above the mantel of his girlfriend's apartment. I was, and still am, intrigued [by] the Beasties' duplicate representation - one a poured paint body, the other a starched and knotted denim structure, yet a callipered match to the action-painting beast!!"¹
De la Vega's later paintings combine a graphic-design aesthetic with a new interest in the human figure. After receiving a Fulbright Fellowship in 1965, he taught at Cornell University in New York and became fascinated with the excesses of American culture, which he interpreted in satiric scenes of fleshy bodies piled up in cityscapes. During the last years of his life, de la Vega also composed and sang folk songs in a desire to reach even wider audiences. His paintings have been collected by numerous museums, including the Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, D.C.; Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires; Museo Nacional de Artes Plasticas, Montevideo, Uruguay; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro; Phoenix Art Museum; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
¹Interview with John McKaughan on November 27, 2004.
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