Sunday September 15, 2002

Arts on Sunday
by Al  Creighton

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
When Maria 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."

Maria Ines Lukacs' watercolours of Amazonia

Mood and colour
And indeed, 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 metaphysical composition.

Statements from the rainforest
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.
A 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.
That is why sometimes artists change from painting one thing and go on to something else."
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 spectre."

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."

The 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 'Remembering Monet'.
'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.

                                                                                                                     © Guyana Publications Inc. 2002