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What did I learn from Obregon?


The Life of Alejandro Obregón

Who was he?

Alejandro Obregón was one of the most important painters in Colombia according to Martha Traba, who was his best critic. She wrote, ¨When his art arrived to Colombia we were presented to the best painter of the country¨. He was recognized with a lot of achievements and honors throughout his life.


He was born the 4 of June of 1920 I Barcelona, Spain. His mother Carmen Rosés was Spanish, and his father Pedro Obregón Arjona was Colombian. He arrived to Colombia when he was only 16 years old. The landscapes, the culture, and the atmosphere impressed the teenager, giving him a feeling of freedom. 1938 he studied aviation in Boston, but because of problems with a teacher he was expelled, then he decided to come back to Colombia to work in his father’s company. He got bored soon, because it wasn’t what he liked, so he went to work as a driver in the oil wells in Catatumbo in 1939; consequently, he discovered his passion for painting, because of the jungle and their surroundings.

Early Years

To start his painter career he traveled to Boston to study arts and painting. He finally studied in the Museum of fine arts. He made his first exposition there, but he only lasted one semester. Later he decided to travel to Spain, his born place. He was expelled from the Escuela de Artes de la Llotja, because he was defending the American Art, so he entered the artistic circle with the opportunity to have his second exposition. He came back to Bogotá, Colombia in 1944 having the opportunity to be a professor in the Escuela de Bellas Artes. There he did his first gigantic work; meanwhile, he helped the school proceed and success.

His prime

His successful career started around 1947 with his magical expressionism. He based his painting in the violence that was present in Colombia. He was present in the incident of the 9 of April in 1948. He saw blood, death, and violence, which were the topics of his work during that time. In 1949 he traveled to France to look up for his own way of expressing. During 5 years he met Picasso, and modified his tactic, although it was until 1955 that he positioned as one of the best big contemporary artists. He arrived to Colombia again in 1955 and he won his first award in 1956 granted by the Guggenheim contest for his Óleo Velorio. Later that year the museum of Modern Art in New York acquired some of his paintings.

His most successful time was between 1958 and 1965. With a very personal style, expressionist and Americanism he started using animals in his pieces of art, which made them more alive, mythical, and magical. In august 1960 he did and exposition with various artist like Fernando Botero and Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, which were other very important artists in Colombia. In 1964 he won the II Bioennal of Art in Argentina and he filmed a documental called Alejandro Obregón, De Colombia, Pinta un Mural.

He started a new phase of his work in 1966 characterized by mystery and force in his work. In 1975 he introduced new themes into his work and he did his only sculpture, which was made out of 12 tons of bronze and it has 7 meters of height. He also continued his presentations in various museums and galleries in Bogotá. He kept winning prices and going to contests, like the Francisco Matarazzo Corintio in the IX Biennal in Saõ Paulo. He did his last exposition in the Museo de Arte Moderno in Bogotá in 1991; nevertheless, he said ¨The artist kills the critic¨, when one person criticized his work. Before he died he received the Cruz de Boyacá and the Orden de San Carlos with Edgar Negrete. He took an ecological theme in his last murals and he expresses his wish to fly, like the mural in the central base of Banco de Bogotá, or the mural he did for the Telecom. In 1984 he was the painter of peace. He painted some birds representing peace of Colombia, although the campaign failed because his friend had been kidnaped and he threatened not to paint another bird if he wasn´t set free.

Last Years and his most successful works

Alejandro Obregón died the 11 of April in 1992 of a brain tumor that seriously affected his view; consequently, he traveled for the last time to the United States to get treatment. Even though he died in Cartagena, he was buried in Barranquilla. He was honored by recognized painters in Latin America like José Luis Cuevas, Armando Morales, Teresa Cuellar, etc. José Luis Cuevas did the most touching tribute to him by painting using Obregón´s paintbrushes. He left precious and very important murals. Before he died, he painted Dos Mares, Tres Cordilleras in the national capitol and El Amanecer de los Andes in the central base of the United Nations in New York. There were a lot of recognized paintings, just as Estudiante Muerto, Torocóndor, La Violencia, and Agua Cálida. Alejandro contributed a lot to the Colombian culture, not just because he represented the country in Europe in North America, but because his way of painting the current situation in Colombia was beautiful. Painting white birds of peace, the geography in the country and even the mural in the United Nations leaves a lot to talk about Colombians and their culture.

What did I learn from Obregon?

© 2015 Mariana Santafé Jaimes