A man discovers himself on a journey. He knows not where he goes. He knows only where he comes from. He meets strangers in unknown places, and leaves a part of his soul at every stop. Living day by day with the keenest sense of experience, solacing his solitude, he becomes ever more indomitable.
“I visited London at the age of 30, intending to stay for two weeks, but I’ve lived there ever since.” Fernando Montes told me, laughing.
Unlike Spain, where he studied, London is located firmly within the Anglo-Saxon Sphere of culture. Seeking his identity, he moved from his native South America to Spain, and on to distant London. At last, he should find himself again as a man of the highlands of South America. Reminders of his homeland and the spirit of his disappearing people – today, it is in these he will find the source of his expression.
One point I notice in his paintings is that his figures have no faces. They just gaze silently to the horizon, expressing neither joy nor grief. Time flows slowly, as it has done for thousands of years, and always to the haunting lament of the zampoña and quena (reed pipe). The figures, who resemble the indigenous people, the Aymaras, do not move, as if rooted to the earth, and are treated equally with the surrounding mountains and the stone fortresses of ancient Inca. We are accustomed to seeing western fine art, but we have the impression that his works are derived from an altogether different oeuvre. More than anything else, his work embodies the essence of Latin American art.
The South American continent, inheriting the Latin culture, has constructed its peculiar culture for the five centuries, in co-existence with the ancient civilization of the aborigines. It is constructed as the conversation between nature and man, and the communication between man and God. Here, man is engaged in constant intercourse with animal and plant, with the gods of the sun and rain and spirits of the earth. This surrealistic world is of an entirely different nature to rational European society. Why has such a spirit endured in Montes, who lives in a big city so far away. It must, of course, be that here lies his identity, as an artist. I am sure that in his heart can always be heard the sound of drum and quena, echoing over the ridges of the Andes.
Former Vice-Director, Hara Museum, Tokyo, Japan