Oswaldo Vigas’ Caracas Studio: A Time-Capsule of Venezuelan Art

Oswaldo Vigas Caracas Studio
Oswaldo Vigas (1926-2014) was a Venezuelan painter and sculptor.

The studio of Oswaldo Vigas in Caracas remains intact as if frozen in time. There is the table that served as a palette where this renowned Venezuelan artist, whose works are exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, mixed colors.

The life of the Venezuelan painter Vigas through his untouched studio

Now, on the occasion of the centennial of his birth, Vigas (1923-2014) has become the first painter in his country to have his own catalog raisonné, a work in which one can walk through the different stages of his artistic life.

Around the table with several layers of accumulated paint, there are three of his paintings on easels.

One of them, a magnificent green and pink “pop” crucifixion with Vigas’s signature shapes, is one of his most recent works, says his son, filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas, winner of the Venice Lion for “Desde allá” (2015).

“We didn’t touch anything,” Lorenzo said of the workshop his family opened to AFP. “We left it as it was” before his death on April 22, 2014.

Like Pablo Picasso, of whom Vigas has a photo in the studio, the Venezuelan artist was a workaholic who went through different periods, sometimes radically changing his style.

“He worked a lot at night, until 5 or 6 in the morning,” Lorenzo recalls. “He would get up late. The night was for his art and the day was more social.”

Constructivist, Formalist, Lyrical Geometry

The catalog raisonné of his work, produced by the foundation that bears his name, traces the artist’s prolific career, from his constructivist or formalist strokes to his lyrical geometry.

It took 16 years to catalog the 4,000 works of the artist who “painted, painted and painted,” according to his son.

The inventory – which can be consulted free of charge on the Internet (catalogue.oswaldovigas.com) – is the first for a Venezuelan painter, as there are no catalogs of raisonnés of the famous and sometimes rivals Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesús Soto, Armando Reverón or Manuel Cabré.

“My father was a very organized artist who, throughout his life, collected information on all the works he sold, which allowed us as a foundation” to do the work, says the son. “Without this work, we would not have been able to produce the catalog.”

This monograph will contribute to better dissemination of his work in the world, explains Lorenzo, but also to the fight against the countless forgeries of the artist, which sometimes sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the studio, dozens of works with the word “Fake” piled up on the floor. Now it only takes a few clicks to know whether a work is an authentic Vigas or not.

Picasso’s Daughter

Vigas’s studio also reflects another facet of his life: it is a large space that allowed him to receive many visitors.

“He was a social animal, many people came, he needed that,” his son recalls.

His widow, Janine Castes Vigas, 87, remembers the parties and concerts. “A lot of people came,” she says. On the walls, photos reflect the maestro’s social life. Janine, a Frenchwoman whom she met in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s, has an anecdote for each one.

Picasso’s, for example, predates their meeting. “All the South American artists dreamed of meeting Picasso. Oswaldo won Picasso’s daughter. Maya fell in love with Oswaldo and he convinced her” to introduce her to her father.

Maya Widmaier-Picasso died last December

On the wall are photos of the Colombian Fernando Botero, the Cuban Wifredo Lam and the French critic Gaston Diehl.

Janine looks nostalgically at a photo from Paris of Vigas playing maracas alongside Soto on guitar and fellow artists Elbano Méndez Osuna, on mandolin and Jesús Hurtado. “It was a great moment. We had a lot of fun.”

Pre-Columbian Inspiration

Another room in the studio features an impressive collection of pre-Columbian art and African masks that inspired him, another point of commonality with Picasso.

Many were purchased in Saint Ouen, on the outskirts of Paris. The widow recalls that when she saw them, she was inundated with salesmen offering works, “and I almost always ended up buying.” “He would say to me, ‘Did you see how beautiful they are, how much money do we have left?'”

The Las Brujas series, a centerpiece of his work, was inspired by this primitive art. “Shortly before that, my father went on a trip through Venezuela looking for signs of pre-Hispanic Venezuela,” Lorenzo says. “Above all, the petroglyphs and he went as far as La Guajira to see the paintings that the indigenous women made on their faces.”

“It was crucial, he found his roots in that trip,” he continues. “He is the first Venezuelan who has been able to make a contemporary work by taking hold of the primitive elements of his country.”

And it was this connection with the country that made him return from France after very fruitful years. “The call of the land was very important,” assures Lorenzo.

Currently, Lorenzo and Janine are trying to make Vigas’ work known through the Foundation and the catalog.

“Since my father was not interested in promoting (his work) when he was alive, it was left to us,” Lorenzo says. “But it’s very exciting to see that there are people in the world who are discovering him and are passionate about him.”

Who is the Venezuelan painter Oswaldo Vigas?

Oswaldo Vigas (1926-2014) was a Venezuelan painter and sculptor. He was best known for his large-scale murals and abstract works of art.

Vigas was a prominent member of the Venezuelan art movement known as the “Generation of the 50s,” and his work has been shown in galleries throughout the world. He was an advocate of Latin American art and in 1999, he was awarded the National Prize for Plastic Arts in Venezuela.