Sunday September 15,
The romance of watercolour
As part of Brazil's 180th Independence anniversary activities, the
Centre of Brazilian Studies in Georgetown hosted the visit of celebrated
Brazilian artist, Maria Ines Lukacs, who exhibited her work at the Le
Meridien Pegasus from September 6 to 13. The show was titled 'The Amazon -
A Link between Brazil and Guyana,' which is a significant theme for the
recently accelerated cultural relations between the two countries. There
have been two festivals of Brazilian film and an exhibition of prints
mounted by Ambassador Ney do Prado Dieguez, depicting interesting aspects
of the country's colonial history. These have been among items in what
appears to be a programme of cultural diplomacy that has been gathering
pace over the past year.
At the centre of the watercolour paintings in
this most recent of the cultural links, is the Amazonian rainforest, which
both nations share, and which thus presented a familiar subject. From a
superficial glance, one may even deem it an ordinary subject - landscape,
nature study and nothing new. Yet, the way it was interpreted showed
something different to the Guyanese audience. It was certainly Brazilian
art, but there was nothing typical or representative about it. Those
watercolours are less symbols of nationalism than personal statements and
expressions of the moods and feelings of the artist as an individual. The
discussion of this work, which follows, arises from an interview with the
painter during her visit to Georgetown.
Artist Maria Ines
Lukacs explains her painting to Mrs Yvonne Hinds, while Supriya
Singh looks on.
Maria Ines Lukacs
Lukacs started university study, her intention was not to be an artist,
and even when she turned to professional painting, her career was well
advanced before she became a watercolourist. Her first university degree
in Brazil was in English, which she read at University Osvaldo Cruz. She
then studied Law at Mackenzie University before realising that she wanted
to express herself better as an artist. She completed her degree in Art at
Casa Sao Vicente de Paula in 1969, followed later on by post-graduate
studies in watercolour at Facultade Santa Marcelina, 1996-1998. She then
went to New York for a workshop with Don Kingman, but her studies in that
great urban centre, ironically, served to deepen her interest in trees,
forests and abstraction.
The way Lukacs' interest in watercolour
developed is of direct relevance to what was shown in 'The Amazon - a link
between Brazil and Guyana' and to the main difference between her
techniques and those of the Guyanese watercolourists. There is watercolour
in Guyana as interesting as Lukacs', but the local studies are realistic,
using a drier brush, sometimes thicker paint with a greater emphasis on
realistic form and technique. Lukacs prefers washes and aquarelle while
avoiding strict realism.
Ironically, while the Guyanese explore this
medium to perfect realistic studies, the Brazilian abandoned oil and
embraced watercolour in order to get away from realism. This happened in
1980 "when I was still painting nature, scenery and still life in oil on
canvas." But in order to get closer to desired expressionistic effects, "I
began using thin, almost transparent techniques as if I was working on
paper." Eventually, she did begin working on blocks of watercolour paper,
finally changing her medium altogether: "Watercolour is more romantic." It
was her dislike of realism that led her in the first place to experiment
with new techniques, which led to the switch.
"I was trying to be more
impressionistic. I do not like realism; it is too much like photography. I
started to thin the paint in order to achieve greater sensation and
feeling that was more difficult to do in oil. Also, because watercolour is
much faster than oil, I can capture the immediate feeling that I see
reflected in a landscape at the moment I am studying it."
Mood and colour
what gives strength, meaning and interest to the several landscapes in the
Lukacs exhibition is this element of sensation. Each piece has its own
mood and the real achievement is in the way basically similar scenes
express a different mood through use of colour, light and shade, bright
times of day versus darkness. Sometimes there is a brooding forest or
threatening rain clouds; in others the clouds are darkened by a forest
fire, while in one of the most striking studies, the light comes in
through the leaves in a dazzling spectacle, creating an almost
Statements from the
There is a sense of personification as the artist
infuses the rainforest, lake, river or seascape with moods and
personalities. Lukacs worked at these effects during a period when her
focus was intensely on trees and the forest. Her post-graduate thesis was
on 'Shades of Green.' She declares, "In nature you have human life.
tree is like a human, growing from seeds, a fragile plant, then a big
tree." This is why it is easy for her to see different moments and periods
reflected in landscape because for her, "it is just like life." She can
then project these moods into her work. But more than that, she asserts,
"I feel that I am passing my feelings on to the paper when painting," thus
giving it life.
These dynamic inter-relationships among subject, artist
and painting are very relevant to the individuality that each piece
achieves as well as to the statements made by many of them. Lukacs
contends that "works should not be just decorative because then they are
not art any more, and artists should be very aware of that.
why sometimes artists change from painting one thing and go on to
Her own statements have at times included protest.
Two of the pieces on show at the Le Meridien, for instance, Burning Trees
and Forest on Fire, are part of a protest against the devastation of the
rainforest. She has witnessed the burning of forests and the cutting of
trees: "it was like humans dying. The cut trunks, no leaves, like a
Maria Ines Lukacs'
watercolours of Amazonia
In Lukacs' investigations
into nature, her preoccupation with trees is accompanied by an ambivalent
fascination with water. It is the subject of a number of pieces on the
show as she tries to reflect muddy river water, the surface of a lake or
river appearing like a mirror, or the different moods of the sea when it
is turbulent or "when it is still; that's when it is very dangerous.
"When I gradually developed a conversation with nature, water was very
important. Water frightens me a little. I am not afraid in ships at sea. I
have spent hours in ships looking over the rails at the sea, whose
different shapes and colours are imprinted on my mind. You can combat fire
with water, but you can't combat water with anything. It's so powerful,
but I've never felt threatened by it while painting."
magician of the watercolour
Lukacs admits being influenced by
eighteenth century English painter, Turner, famous for the Slave Ship. He
is "the magician of the watercolour."
She has often gazed at his work
in the Tate Gallery, at "what he could do with sea, sky" in his "almost
abstract" fashion. Another English influence is John Constable: "My first
love as a painter, whose work I have researched." She also lists an old
Brazilian master, Hugo Adami, and her former tutor in watercolour, Iole di
Natale as important influences. In 1994-1995 she visited Monet's house at
Giverny in France, studying his work, his landscape and vegetation, which
she contrasted with the Amazon, afterwards doing an exhibition called
'The Amazon - a link between Brazil and Guyana' is
the latest of many international exhibitions by Lukacs. These include
shows in Milan and Rome, Italy (2001), Frankfurt, Germany (2000), Mexico
(1996, 1998), Hungary (1997) and Singapore (1997). Her honours include
first prize in the Brazilian Oil Festival (1977), a gold medal for another
first place in 1997 and the gold and diamond medal for watercolour in the
Arab and Brazilian Art Show in 2000.
Maria Ines had a brief look at
Guyanese art in Castellani House. She remarks that there is some
similarity in the works of Guyanese and Brazilian artists because "they
share the same kind of nature," but the sharpest difference that appeals
to her most is found in the architecture. The wooden buildings and
colonial structures fascinate her. "They are unique," she says.