Alongside Dali’s interpretations of a famous series of Goya’s etchings are the interpretations of 16 local artists in a masterful exhibit at the National Gallery.
A rare and extraordinary opportunity to view work by Francisco Goya, the 18th century Spanish painter who was considered the last of the Old Masters and the forerunner of the Romantic movement in the 19th century, is taking place at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
Alongside Goya’s work are the 20th century surrealist interpretations of Spanish Catalan painter Salvador Dali.
To heighten the appeal for Cayman’s viewing public, the National Gallery asked 16 local artists to provide their own interpretation of Goya’s work.
The exhibition features 16 etchings by Goya in a series called “Los Caprichos” that are about 200 years old, on loan to the gallery by a private collector. The accompanying rare examples of Dali’s “Les Caprices de Goya” revisit the 18th century series.
Goya, the enigma
Exhibit curator Eme Paschalides says Goya was a master at the art of etching, pioneering the new technique of aquatint that gave a far more subtle and atmospheric effect to etchings.
“He was a painter to the Spanish Court, giving 50 years of service to the Crown and serving three successive kings. Yet Goya was full of contradictions as his ‘Los Caprichos’ series of etchings were created with a far freer hand – almost cartoon-like, without the constraints of painting the conventional poses to which Goya was accustomed. They are a satirical look at the people around him, poking fun at the foibles and foolishness of the people at Court, often political in comment.”
Paschalides says ‘Los Caprichos’ is one of the most influential series of graphic images in the history of Western art. Goya never wrote any explanation of the series, she says, as he preferred instead to allow viewers to make up their own mind about interpretation.
“Goya was an enigma as a painter, in that he managed to survive the upheavals taking place in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, including the French Revolution and the turmoil of civil war, and still continued to be in favor at Court, despite his satirical etchings,” she explains. “In fact, he got promoted to first court painter only a few months after the series’ publication.”
Dali’s influence and local interpretation
In 1977, Dali transformed Goya’s “Los Caprichos” suite into a colorful surrealist masterpiece, which comprises 80 hand-signed and limited, numbered prints, Paschalides says. While the gallery will display this extremely fine set on its own in the center of the exhibition hall, reproductions of the Dali originals will be hung alongside each genuine Goya piece. Dali’s work is equally as enigmatic as Goya’s, but often explores more personal themes and ideas.
To ensure the exhibition’s relevance to the Cayman Islands, the gallery invited 16 Cayman artists to deliver their own perspective on Goya’s suite, just as Dali did before them.
“The artists were selected for their technical excellence and their unique style,” Paschalides says. “Each has been invited to reflect on the theme of the particular print they pulled from the Goya series. I believe the ‘Metamorphoses’ exhibition gives us the chance to bring the satirical comments of the work in line with the issues of the contemporary world and to bring a famous series to its conclusion.
“I am impressed that the local artists engaged so much with their print, some at a very personal level, others preferring to make their own political or social comment,” she says. “Their views are providing an interesting twist to the exhibition.”
Here are some of the artists’ thoughts and impressions from creating their pieces for this exhibition:
Known for his Dready images that adorn everything from postcards to T-shirts, Shane Acquart was given Capricho No, 57, which he says is ostensibly a wedding scene but in it the bride has lulled her husband to sleep so that he cannot hear her true pedigree, which is being read aloud.
“I’m told the whole series deals with stereotypes, deceptions and disguises,” he adds. “Along with the Caprichos, we were shown some of the Dali versions of the same, in which he colored and added to the Goya prints, making a series of his own. So, with these two series in hand, I did a Dready which included two Dready characters, one a traditional Dready stick figure female, the other an evolved Dready man with his arm around the woman.”
Acquart says the two characters are disparate, vastly different, not usually drawn together, yet because they’re both Dreadys, they are the same, obviously, and despite their differences, a couple.
“I chose to set them in a brightly colored space of my own making, viewing the ‘original’ Goya works on the wall, specifically number 60. In a little bit of a nod to the Dali versions (and to Dready roots), I added a touch of red, yellow and green to the original Goya on the wall.”
When he first found out that he was given the opportunity to interpret a Goya and that it would be from the “Los Caprichos prints,” Alejandro Angel says he felt like he was on cloud nine.
“I wanted to keep homage to the themes and elements found within the prints while still conveying my interpretation at the same time, which I must admit was fun but difficult.”
Describing the idea behind his work, Angel says: “Why not have the essence of Goya’s work manifest in the print and come to life, only to be realized that it was being watched?”
Angel wanted this entity to be dark, but also respectable, and that’s when he thought of the owl.
“Owls were found throughout ‘Los Caprichos’ prints. However, the owl’s stare in nature is so intense and challenging, just like the ‘Los Caprichos’ series itself. The owl is not Goya’s ghost or his thoughts, but his personality come to life to challenge all of those who look at his prints and can see the darkness and criticism written between the lines,” he says.
Always injecting humor into his work, Wray Banker calls his piece “?Como se dice ‘Mekin Fun?’”, inspired by Goya’s “Ya es Hora.”
“My idea wasn’t necessarily to reinterpret Goya’s original subject matter, but more to analyze the processes and get inside the heads and motives.” Banker, who has lithograph experience, says he is aware that the images the world is familiar with aren’t Goya’s original.
“It wasn’t what he looked at when creating it,” he explains. “In the original scribed metal printing plate, everything, most evident with lettering, appears as the mirror image of the printed piece. After the final print is made, the original plate that so much effort has gone into, is customarily destroyed. I always found that part of the process unsettling – reproductions becoming more valuable than originals,” he says.
Banker says he wanted the working plate to be “king,” produced in today’s modern printing and reproduction methods and showing Goya’s perspective, while focusing on the technical aspect of printing.
“I wanted to say: “I see wha ya doing dey, big man” and acknowledge that Dali’s eyes passed through here too, and at the same time add some Wray, popping it up a bit.”
David Bridgeman was given No, 51 “Se repulen” (They spruce themselves up).
Researchers of the “Los Caprichos” series argue that the witchcraft prints (of which Plate 51 belongs) were made earlier than the more satirical and allegorical prints, he says, adding it has been suggested that Goya used them to play around with and challenge traditional ideas of form.
“I decided to play around with a small creature from my past, a water flea called Eucyclops agilis (a cyclopoid). I studied this creature many years ago as part of my university degree. I have swapped the creature’s exoskeleton for a more humanistic one, targeting not morality amongst other things as Goya did, but mortality; its phantom wings helping to blur the lines between fantasy and reality as Goya intended for his own prints.”
Titled “The Demons Within,” his artwork “is an etching produced on a zinc plate using copper sulphate solution and printed in my own studio in Grand Cayman. The print has been hand-touched with pen and ink and colored with crayon pencils.”
Debbie Chase van der Bol
Debbie Chase van der Bol says she thought that Goya was commenting tongue-in-cheek on his etching No. 62, “Mejor es holgar” (It is better to be lazy), her subject for interpretation.
“In the original print, the hardworking folks are unnoticed by ‘Mother,’ who needs to relax to cure her ‘dropsies’ (depression and tiredness), by coming to the country,” she explains. “I thus related this to many folks who travel to relax and be lazy in Cayman without realizing how hard our country folk work.
“Rather than draw my figures straightforwardly, I chose to depict ‘Mother’ as a trimmed, manicured greenery with rosebud head, versus the natural/country Cayman greenery which is sturdy, hardworking. I hope it stimulates thought.”
Infusing her artwork with a contemporary edge, Kaitlyn Elphinstone says the original Goya prints were done using an aquatint printmaking technique which involves the application of resin and acid to make marks on a metal plate, which is then covered in ink and transferred onto paper using a printing press.
“I’ve used modern technology to produce a transparent film overlay to place on top of a giclée print or photograph,” she explains. “The transparent film overlay illustrates a slightly tweaked original Goya image, Capricho No. 60: ‘Ensayos,’ and the giclée print behind the overlay depicts images of things that concern us today, including smoke from a recent dump fire and sea plastics. I’ve combined Goya’s imagery and his concerns of universal follies and foolishness in the Spanish society in which he lived with concerns of my own.”
Considered one of the world’s best artists of marine life, Guy Harvey says one of his favorite media to work with is ink drawing.
“From a very early age, I was using this technique for illustrations, particularly of marine life. When I was 17 years old, I illustrated Ernest Hemingway’s book ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ Nowadays I often combine a watercolor wash with the ink drawing,” he says. “The fine line drawings by Goya are similar in style, so my interpretation of his work was straight forward and I converted the topic to a Caribbean context for the purpose of this exhibition.”
New York-based artist Bendel Hydes reinterpreted Goya’s original “Big Gusts No. 48.”
“As the Spanish master was depicting the decline of morality and the hypocrisy of the Spanish church some 300 years ago, I was touched by how similar we are in terms of Caymanian society in our moral standards and yet how dis-similar we are in the sense that we can have such an exhibition without fear of retribution or dismay at the National Gallery of Cayman!” Hydes says.
He says his work is an investigation into the nature of “the line and of freedom itself.”
“The fluidity of the mark is a common concern in non-objective painting, and I wanted to not only acknowledge that but to see if this particular mark could also be used to represent the nature of ‘hearsay’ in terms of the Caymanian ‘marl road.’ The work was originally titled ‘Hearsay’ but was changed to ‘Big Gusts’ (after Goya), to bring it more in line with the exhibition. There are six mono prints in this series, where I try to scrutinize ‘Big Gusts’ as a meandering tale of various proportions to the ‘marl road!’”
Greg Lipton says Goya’s print, along with Goya’s comments that accompany the print, discuss the negative outlook about “courting fortune” and “efforts to rise,” stating that it will end in “downfall.” Lipton says he completely disagrees with this view, saying it goes against what he believes about the subject, “which is, if you believe in your goals 100 percent, work extremely hard, and stick with the idea that it’s not over until you win, you can do anything, and that your efforts will not end in downfall and that you’ll earn much more than hot air.”
“The negative view Goya has about fortune metamorphoses into my positive view of fortune, which hopefully comes across in my artwork for this show,” he adds.
Chris Mann believes everyone should think about the themes that Goya was presenting and, as such, Goya’s intentions are entirely applicable to contemporary societies, including our own. Mann says Goya is dealing with serious issues, but he sees them as satirical and very humorous as well.
Understanding Goya’s intentions, Mann reworked the image to direct its message toward a contemporary issue.
“In particular the decline of rationality regarding environmental concerns in general, the landfill, and lack of recycling,” he says. “I was given Los Capricho No. 59 ‘Y aun no se van’ (And still they come) to interpret. In looking at it I see an emaciated figure who struggles to halt an enormous slab in its inevitable descent. A woman clasps her hands as if praying for his vain struggle to succeed. At his feet and behind him, more figures appear to have given in to their fate, while two others huddle further back, appearing indifferent to both the struggle and the outcome. I changed the title to ‘And still it comes’ and covered the slab with plastic garbage bags.”
“I think that’s clear enough,” Mann says.
Joanne Sibley says her Goya print, Capricho No. 55, was “really a fun lithograph” to have worked on.
“Naturally, I had lots of ideas which seemed exciting, but in the end I just chose a simple interpretation, which I believe Goya intended,” she says. “He wrote: ‘Why shouldn’t an old lady dress up for her 75th birthday party?’ So with that in mind I updated the scene, and the family instead of laughing at the old lady, admired her efforts to look attractive. And she herself looking into the mirror saw a pretty face reflected back, (which I think we all tend to do at times!)”
Sibley explains that she enlarged the image proportionately and decided to use gouache in a monochromatic color scheme.
“I tried for the most part to retain the same values, except for the addition of the window, which changed the design a little by breaking Goya’s very strong diagonal composition. I changed her pose a little and added the dog for fun,” she adds.
Following along the lines of the great masters, Gordon Solomon’s objective was to give an insight into two growing dilemmas that he believes affect the Cayman Islands. One is the environment, and in particular the landfill on Grand Cayman.
“The unending growth has become a scene of mixed debris due to the lack of a proper waste management program,” he says. “This is presenting new hazards for those in the surrounding districts, above and below the sea, with toxic mixes fuming up fires and leaking into the North Sound. But the ‘goblins’ continue their mischief because efforts to address the growing problem have found no solution.”
The second issue he is raising in his work is the imprisonment of young Caymanian males for the consumption of marijuana.
“The fact that a person will spend six to 18 months in prison, if not longer (for possession/ consumption) at a rate of $50,000 a year per prisoner, the equivalent of a college or university tuition, is very disturbing. Hindrance is costly, but will it make Cayman’s society begin the discussion on the decriminalization of and the beneficial medicinal purposes of ‘weed?’ While we ponder, some 30 young men will remain under the system’s witch broom and analyzed for being ‘bad’ because of consumption.”
Nasaria Suckoo Chollette
Nasaria Suckoo Chollette explains that the Goya etching she was allocated depicts a donkey looking mournfully at his ancestral background.
“The artist was speaking of the unhealthy habit of people in his society trying to raise their pedigree, unhappy to be just who they are. The class system was something he obviously rejected,” she says.
Suckoo Chollette says this is still happening today in society.
“I often find people who are obviously of African descent making silly statements of having a great, great, great grandfather who was Scottish. Even more saddening is the fact that he was probably the slave owner,” she ventures. “So we find women in our society, usually of little means, spending everything they have to assimilate and get rid of their blackness.”
She says that while she sympathizes because she knows society supports this type of “psychosis” by judging people according to skin color, accent, etc., she wants women/people to be proud of those who fought and gave their lives for their freedom.
“The woman in my piece is branded, just like a cow would be, just like a slave was,” she says. “We have so many societal illnesses that we fight every day, but we cannot seem to understand that if we do not give our children their history and teach them to be proud of it, we lower their self-esteem and then we become a country struggling with under-educated, angry children just waiting to be criminals. All of this is interconnected.”
Monte Lee Thornton
An artist in the Brac for more than 40 years, Monte Lee Thornton says today young learners communicate knowledge acquired from informative teachers, but mistakenly reach a different understanding.
“My piece consists of composed ideals of today in colorful attire to emphasis the teacher and the children of today with attitudes of frustration,” he says.
He interpreted Goya’s Capricho No. 37, “Might not the pupil know more?” Thornton’s piece is called “Fooled in the midst of technology.”
Avril Ward says she feels she hasn’t done a different interpretation of what Goya had suggested in No. 62, translated as “Who would have thought it?” but rather has enhanced his meaning.
While alluding to Biblical references in this piece, Ward says she would prefer that the viewer make their own interpretation of her work, just as Goya and Dali left their work to the viewer’s imagination.
She does offer, however, that she painted the work in oil from the drawing in the same proportion, and then photographed the artwork and had a sepia digital print made of it.
Gabrielle Wheaton, a master of classical drawing techniques, says that the theme of the print she received was the arc of life and Goya’s impression that from the moment we are born to the moment we die, we have the life sucked out of us, and that we suck the life out of others.
“Not a happy prospect, but one that I can understand given the time in which he lived, and the horrors he witnessed,” she explains. “I wanted to respect Goya’s opinion while at the same time see if I could present a more positive point of view.”
Wheaton says, with her interpretation, she is trying to show that no matter what our lives may have been, in the end we all return to the Earth and become a part of new life and growth.
“The aging figures in the Goya print are now becoming part of the landscape, with the mountains in the background representing the mountains in Spain. The basket of babies in the Goya print have become a basket of Spanish bluebells, which are known to grow prolifically in the best and worst of environments, and so represent the perseverance of life.
“In the end the Earth takes us all and we are at peace,” she says.
‘Metamorphoses’ can be seen at the National Gallery through Aug. 30.