Melancholy Souls

by Carol Damian

I can not speak of Doors of Perception without alluding to the sequence of thought that through my entire life has led me to say and express myself in my work. I am imprinted by a longing for the myth, those myths that dwell in the unconscious world of all human beings, and is guided sometimes by dreams, sometimes by signs I find relating my life to other’s. I believe one has to surpass our own humanity in an attempt to touch others, therefore I believe one cannot touch a symbol or a myth without having experienced it through the process of living, otherwise it looses intensity and becomes meaningless. I believe conclusions of passion are the only ones worth believing in, and a work of art is that which keeps the intensity of the first impulse passing through the filter of reason.
In 1982, as I strolled along the southern beaches in my country, I found that many sea birds were dying, and as they did, the ocean waves washed them clean, giving them different forms and placing them in different positions, as if they were taking new forms of life. I drew them continuously. That memory together with a feeling of violence led me to Forms of Silence. It was the deaf silence one hears before an explosion, like the breaking of a thread.
I have the distinct feeling that female passiveness comes from woman’s wounded reason.
My work was an attempt to put myself on my female condition knowing that I cannot change the system but, at the same time, unwilling to let the system to change me. Given the grave social condition in a country such as Peru, one can not allow oneself the luxury to remain indifferent, one needs to take a stand; there is so much destruction that engaging in art is a dry and solitary task, still most essential, and provides me a sense of purpose in this realm. It was difficult for me to create during the years of violence in my country, I felt like I was living between the wind and the skin. I was only able to make two or three works in an effort to cling to my healthiest instinct, in short to cling in life.
In 1992 I went to live in Costa Rica; in one of my trips back home, I visited the Nazca lines. There I had the strong sensation that regardless of where I found myself, I carried with me my entire country, its culture, its experiences, almost like tattoos on my body. It was at that moment that I started to inlay woods in different colors offered to me by Costa Rica.

The Age of Reason
In 1995, I returned to my country making profound changes in my life and found that the symbol of the snake offered me a possibility of expressing that. I found a beautiful phrase of Joseph Campbell: The snake sheds her skin like the moon her shadow to reborn.

Tied Intensity
A dream about a hummingbird led me to think that perhaps an intensity was being freed internally, and this led me to the Tied Intensity, always portrayed as a little girl, for I believe that adults have lost the ability to be astonished.

Umbral of the Unknown
I cannot understand why people are so frightened of the unknown; what they should really fear is the not know. This feeling induced me to touch upon the subject in a single work...

I began to feel the need to raise my voice in a song of life, as I came across a book by Nancy Qualls Corbett entitled The Sacred Prostitute. The words reasserted my feelings and gave birth to Salome.

Another dream led me to Anamnesis, a dream that led me to fish in a stormy sea, going deep in my unconsciousness.

The Ship of Oblivion
It is like a life journey; one does not remember where one came from nor where one is going to, and in that path one forgives, also forgets and learns to let it go.

Beginning of Movement
A drive to try moving a point brought me to create The Beginning of Movement; at the base I made a center of energy, and later as I read a book I realized I had made the symbol of life, maybe it was just another way to question myself about my own life, and from there the life of others as well. Being a sculptor myself, I have a deep feeling about that spot located in the bowl (or socket) of my hand with the desire or fantasy to feel in it the beating of life, and from this feeling was born.
A couple of years ago as I was walking through a museum in Washington I had an experience that clarified a lot of things for me, besides being a very gratifying experience: I saw down the hall a sculpture that I thought was a drum; at first I thought it was void, then as I approached it I was repelled and attracted, I thought it was due to its blue color, then I had the feeling that it was filled, finally it came to be a sculpture by Anis Kapoor, and in what it took me to arrive next to it, it had given me the sense of emptiness, attraction and rejection, fascination etc… but it had also given me the sense of fullness and… though every day the sculptor carries on an exercise at his conscious level and it’s the interplay of fullness and emptiness, it is the mind that sets the pair of opposites, when at the conscious level there is oneness, the same way one could not understand darkness without light etc… Doors of Perception is the first try to enter that world at a conscious level which is otherwise unconscious the sculptor. To draw the doors I respected the veins in the wood, I always say that wood is a material to which one subdues instead of subduing it and that one has to approach humbly this is ever changing and living material.
After finishing the inlays I, on purpose, cracked it just to cram the cracking with protective symbols. I was at that time studying the Kaballah, that secret science of the Hebrew rabbis, and ancestral Sumerian rites and philosophy under the direction of a Peruvian master. I keep searching…
Water is an element still present in my work; this year I created a piece after the sound of flight –the sound of life. I realized when you hear a shell you are not hearing the roar of the ocean but the flowing water of your own humanity.

After finishing Doors of Perception I created Dance with Emptiness, a reflection on the Japanese Butto I saw in Lima, as well as quantum energy.
This prompted me to read Fritjof Capra’s Webs of Life. In the introduction of this book, inspired by the American Indian Chief Little Wolff, he states what you do to the thread you do to the web.


Margarita Checa:

by Luis Lama

It is a recognized fact in our medium today that the interest of Peru's arts has focused over the past two decades on the work of our sculptors. They have demonstrated sufficient energy and creativity to put forward the proposals that have been able to revitalize art in Peru in this second half of the twentieth century. Curiously enough, it is the women sculptors capable of turning wood, marble or metal into works of arts who have shown themselves to be the most skilled. It is they who have toppled the notions of gender in art and have brought in new ways of seeing and creating art. And in this terrain, Margarita Checa occupies a foremost position. This artist was trained at the Catholic University under the guidance of Ana Maccagno - teacher and inspiration to Peru's most outstanding sculptors. Her work was further enriched by the teachings of another notable Peruvian sculptor, now deceased, Christina Galvez, who left behind unforgettable works that tie her to schools of Bourdelle and Giacometti.

Her early works showed Margarita Checa to be the creator of a fantastic universe under to hegemony of the human figure, at a time when our sculpture was striving for abstraction. This was a period when what we witnessed from her was a kind of phantasmagoric dantesque-like world, worked in tiny formats. These gradually grew into larger pieces in which anguish took the center stage, revealing an inner torment that was reflected in both metallic volumes and outstanding drawings, unrivalled today for their rigorous precision.

Gradually wood was to take the place of bronze as her material of choice and Peru was to see bodies carved in super-human dimensions: inscrutable women whose slender linearity moved is deeply. These sculptures marked to beginning of Margarita Checa's maturity of language, forms in which the anguish of living assumed more hidden expressions and esthetic subversion sought not to create an impact, but to lead to reflection. The sensuality of the carving of wood gave birth to a strange physiognomy and the artist was able to endow the dead material with a rhythmic vitality.

Margarita Checa's entry into the world of painting was an immersion in a female world through a dense lubrication of shady jungles and shadowed interiors. It was a memorable sample which she accompanied with a wax sculpture in which woman and bird came together to show the opening of a new course on her maturity.

Then came the silence. Margarita Checa left for Costa Rica and from there we would hear about works laden with Central American woods, where the carving was more elaborate and minute. Pleats and brocades enriched their surface and woods of different tones were set into incisions like jewels, in a highly enriching experience that could well have been her individual manifestation of Caribbean tradition. This became more noticeable with the applications of horn or metal.

A series of pieces on display in Corriente Alterna, on her return to Peru, revealed an artist who, after three years of absence, had made a surprising change in her working methods and achieved a different refinement. This was a woman who had reached that moment of plenitude in which beauty itself is reason for disturbance.

Today Margarita Checa is once again living among us, frequently outside Lima where she can work in peace. The results of this reencounter with her country are yet to be made known. But when we analyze her two decades of work, the formidable energy she has put into ti and the craftsmanship she has attained, we can no less than expect new forms to emerge, different hints if sensuality and, why not, that line has always identified her as one of Peru's most distinguished sculptors.

Profile for "Woodcarving" magazine

by Iona S. Elliott

Margarita Checa is considered by many to be the most celebrated sculptor from South America.

A product of her country, Peru, she's known for her figures composed primarily of olive wood, many with inlays, exotic woods, and bronzes, all intricate and emotionally compelling. With each new form, she seeks to lead her sudience to reflection through a sensual visual dialogue on the human spirit.

Says Margarita, "Many people have identified my work with Egypt, with Africa in general, but not with the Peruvian culture. I feel my work would not have the same meaning if I had not been born in Peru."

The elegantly carved bodies explore the anguish of living, the inner torment universal to all cultures and their people. Bill Lowe, owner of The Lowe Gallery in Los Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia said, "She was destined to be a force in the international art world and I wanted to be the engine that drove her evolution in the commercial and curatorial arena."

Margarita Checa was born in Lima, Peru in 1950. She was one of four daughters and two sons living in a large hacienda that had been in her family for generations near Piura, on Peru's northwest coast tip. Her father's family had a long tradition in agriculture while her mother's was one of attorneys, Says Checa, "I believe these two streams somehow marked my life".

Beginning in 1969 through 1980 her family was forced to take worthless bonds for their homestead and pennies for their machinery and move several times fleeing from revolutions and turmoil in Peru, to Nicaragua, then to Costa Rica and back to Peru when it seemed that their homeland was again secure. They brought with them the green asparagus to Peru.

Margarita was always interested in art. While attending Hatchlands, a British private school in Surrey, London,(just 14 girls from around the world were in her class) the director, Dawn Hardgraves who's husband was the messenger of the Queen, spoke to Margarita's father and convinced him to let her study art in Paris. Although she was allowed to go, Margarita decided to go to The Catholic University, School of the Arts in Peru.

She entered the Catholic University to study drawing in 1972 and started working in bronzes in 1977. At University, Checa met Anna Macagno who introduced her to sculpture. Says Margarita, "I did organic sculptures, tearing, bones, and when I felt that was not fulfilling I dropped out of school to learn drawing with Cristina and discovered many things, all of them priceless." She graduated with honors in 1979 but Cristina Galvez, was her mentor, not only in drawing but also in life. Says Checa, "Cristina influenced not only my art but also my human side." Galvez had spent time in Paris, married a Frenchman, studied with Germaine Richier, and was a friend of Albert Camus'. She returned to Peru in 1953 for good and fought for change. She thought that changes kept hope alive and worked there up to her death in 1982.

Says Margarita "When my master passed away in 1982 we opened her studio & rented it from her sister". She opened the Christina Galvez Atelier along with Leslie Lee who was teaching painting, Ana Maria Cogorno who taught pottery and Margarita was teaching sculpture and drawing.

In 1985, began painting because she felt that she did not understand the nature of color. Says Checa, " life is never black and white that is certain, so when I finally understood its essence, I quit it after one year. I am mainly a sculptress".

Art was now her profession and in 1989, due to a need to enlarge her pieces, she began to use wood as a medium. She said, "I had only made one (wood) piece in school, I just did not feel the material then, but I learned that everything has a pace and a rhythm, specially life, at all levels. I felt that while a small piece is something for you to guard, a big piece embraces you, so I went to the old master carpenters in Peru and learned from them. Then wood did its part, always teaching, guiding you."

Margarita taught for 12 years. She stopped when she moved to Costa Rica in 1992. She says, "We decided to leave Peru because of the terrorist movement, the Shinning Path, which destroyed Peru. "I went to live in Costa Rica because it was difficult to raise two children in those years because you never knew were the next bomb might be." She left with her husband who she had married in 1972, her son Jose Carlos, born in 1973 and now owns an e-commerce company and daughter Carolina born in 1975, who's now an interpreter/translator and lives at home.

From 1992 to 1995 Margarita, and her family lived in Costa Rica.

In 1995 Margarita had a very bad automobile accident, which forced her to take some hard decisions and changes in her life. Checa, "Yes I was seriously hurt and took me 3 months or more to recover. It changed my life." She got divorced and came back to a Peru with her daughter.

She says of her current influences, "I long for the myth, I start incrusting different elements in my work after seeing a cuchimilco of the Chancay culture, one that has influenced a great number of plastic artists in Peru. Most of the pieces of this culture are privately owned rather that exhibited in museums. All my life I lived through archetypes or symbols that I later used in my work, this is the only way to keep their intensity. The puma came to me after a long search between dreams and obsessions."

Margarita says of her early works, "It was a catharsis, like a scream, like the first words coming out of the mouth of a child. I believe that in order to make art you have to fly over your own humanity to touch others, and this detachment comes with time and tons of humility."

Checa used to teach to help support herself but since 1997 her art sales have supported her although she thinks she may go back to teaching at some point in the future because she love it but doesn't have the time now. Says Marga rita, "I can tell you that teaching was not simply giving lessons or so... I realized that I brought home some of the inquiries, and I was constantly trying to find different ways to transmit some ideas to the students.

In the United States she's represented by The Lowe Gallery in Los Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia. Bill Lowe found out about Margarita Checa by way of introduction from a correspondent friend from CNN who encountered Checa's work in South America. Bill knew he could place her work with his clients. Says Lowe, " I think Margarita's "voice" is utterly unique in contemporary figurative sculpture. Her ability to translate sweeping conceptual and philosophical considerations into exquisitely crafted forms is unparalleled in contemporary sculpture. While deeply mystical in nature, these works eloquently articulate a groundedness in humanism that makes them accessible to almost anyone."

She enjoys meeting her collectors when she attends the gallery openings and explains, "The work of any artist is always very lonesome, otherwise how could you hear yourself?. The fact of showing your work in an exhibit is a confrontation. Selling is absolutely necessary to continue producing, but more than that it is the identification of the people with your art where you find an echo, and that is wonderful."

Says Margarita, "My work is like a thread of life of mine that is the one I have to live... If it helps others to let their fears go or to find themselves in something or to identify themselves with it, that would be an accomplishment."

Margarita uses the electric saw, pneumatic hammer, all kinds of gouges, and the Dremmel tool with which she does the small detail work. Her wood of choice is olive wood. She finds it hard to carve but very easy to sand, and as soft as skin." Checa had bought 80 tons of olive wood that had been cut down. She says, "I am looking for a new kind of wood, like the one I used to work on when living in Costa Rica. It's called Guanacaste or Cenizaro.

Right now she is preparing to go to the jungle to buy some wood. "We have the same trees here, but under different names. I often buy trees that are already not alive and I am very careful about the jungle so this will be the second time I go there to buy with care" She still visits Costa Rica to see her son, her sister who is married to a Costa Rican lawyer and to visit some friends but not for wood.

Margarita made only four new pieces this year, some of them she sent to have cast in bronze, partly because she has been making trips to the agricultural University to find out the names of the woods she wants to buy, as well as well as building her foundry with her two assistants who have worked with her since 1997. Her foundry will be built in her studio which is 20 minutes from her home. Says Checa, "I am building each machine and checking all, I took some lessons of bronze foundry with George Beasley, at Georgia University."

I asked Margarita, where do you see yourself going? She replied, "To the unknown."


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