Olga de Amaral

Olga de Amaral
(Bogotà)

Nationality: Colombian



biography

Olga de Amaral (b. Bogotá, Colombia, 1932-) is a Colombian visual artist known for her large-scale abstract works made with fibers and covered in gold and/or silver leaf. Because of her ability to reconcile local concerns with international developments, de Amaral became one of the few artists from South America to become internationally known for her work in fiber during the 1960s and ‘70s.She is also considered an important practitioner in the development of postwar Latin American Abstraction. She has developed a unique language with a diversity of vocabulary from weaving, painting, and sculptural traditions. Her works are owned by major museums throughout Europe, North, and South America, and also reside in distinguished corporate and private collections.

    

Biography and education

Olga de Amaral was born in 1932 as Olga Ceballos Velez in Bogotá, Cundinamarca, Colombia to parents from the Antioquia region of Colombia. De Amaral was raised in a traditional religious family with 5 sisters and 2 brothers. Upon graduating from high school, in the years 1951-52, she got a degree in Architectural Design at the Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca in Bogotá. After graduating she started to work as the director of the Architectural Drawing Faculty at the same school.

 

Leaving for the United States in 1954 to study English at the Colombia University De Amaral soon moved and studied Fiber Art at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA (1954–55). 

The artist cherishes that period of her education and considers it crucial for her later artistic development: "In Cranbrook, the textile workshop had eight looms placed against the windows: one of them, in the corner, would be my home for a year. There, I lived my most intimate moments of solitude; there was born my certainty about color; its strength; I felt as if I loved color as though it were something tangible. I also learned to speak in color. I remember with nostalgia that experience in which souls touched hands”. During her time at Cranbrook Olga de Amaral met Jim Amaral and they became close friends. In 1955 she returned to Colombia and started to make decorative textiles on commission for her architect friends. 

 

In 1956, Jim visited Colombia to see Olga, initially for a few weeks. Shortly after, Jim Amaral and Olga Ceballos Velez married and settled in Bogotá. They started a family (children Diego and Andrea) and a workshop of handwoven textiles. 

During that period, Jack Lenor Larsen visited Colombia and the Amaral's workshop. He expressed interest in Olga's tapestries. Their professional and artistic relationship became crucial in projection of her work internationally in the world of contemporary tapestry. In 1965 de Amaral founded and taught at the Textile Department at the Universidad de los Andes (University of the Andes) in Bogotá. 

 

Moving to New York in 1966 De Amaral met Eileen Vanderbilt from the World Crafts Council and became its representative for Colombia. With Jack Lenor Larsen's collaboration, Olga de Amaral displayed her tapestries in New York (solo exhibition in Jack Lenor Larsen’s New York showroom in 1967), taught at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and in Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine. 

 

After returning to Colombia, the Amarals travelled to Popayán and Tierradentro region with its must-see San Agustín. Later Olga visited Peru as the WCC representative. On a rapid visit to Ireland to participate in a WCC conference, Olga met Lucie Rie, a British ceramist who inspired her to incorporate gold into the tapestries. At the beginning of the seventies, the Amarals moved to Barcelona and then to Paris. They visited Greece, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, and England. They made contacts with the centres of European art. They lived for a time in Europe, then returned to Bogotá, visited different areas of Colombia, and then went back to France, amid exhibits, work, and new friendships. Another important journey for the artist was her travel to Japan. Nowadays Olga de Amaral lives and works in Bogotá, Colombia.

 

Art

"I am not familiar with current tendencies in textile design. It seems to me that those who weave artistically base themselves only partially on fiber craft, which in my opinion, makes no sense. I consider that one must base oneself on precision, on mathematics, on color theory. What is woven, does not occur by chance, but totally the opposite - it is very calculated. I can't do that because I am not trained and because I am in the midst of an abstraction. Finally, my work is nothing more than my way of telling how I feel about life, about the soul of things.”

 

What has driven the art of Olga de Amaral from its beginnings has been the creation of works that redefine our notions of unity, concept, representation, and personal expression. De Amaral explores and revisits ideas, techniques, and processes, looking for subtle and intricate variations within her own artistic process. She is an important figure among a globally dispersed group of artists who are deconstructing and rethinking the structure, surface, and support of painting by adding sculptural dimensions and atypical materials.Her work takes the elements of painting off the stretcher and into space, approaching the problem of the superposition, of layering in a painting form the point of view of the material itself - the painting's support, the canvas, the fabric or texture.

 

At first categorised as two dimensional, representational wall hangings, in the late 1960s her works entered the genres of sculpture, installation, abstract and conceptual art. De Amaral’s art deftly bridges myriad craft traditions; it’s concerned with process and materiality, with the principles of formalism, abstraction and metaphysicality. The artist has developed a distinct voice in her field through her command of conventional techniques for constructing textile objects while progressively pushing the boundaries of orthodox understanding of how textiles work as objects in space. 

She has gradually moved fabric-based works beyond the category of woven tapestry - one that privileges flatness, adherence to the wall, pictorials, and an obsession with the organic and the physical properties of materials - into a more conceptual practice that embraces strategies otherwise found in painting, sculpture, and architecture. 

 

The way the artist incorporates the materials, natural and man-made fibres, paint, gesso, and precious metals (gold and silver leaf mostly), through the handcraft, artisanal process and techniques, reference Colombia’s pre-Hispanic art, indigenous weaving traditions, and the Spanish Colonial Baroque legacy, brought to the New World by the Catholic colonists. As Twylene Moyer indicated, this inspiration is "a true mestizaje, or mixing of cultures." What those cultures had in common, was that they all attributed great expressive power to the visual, just as de Amaral's work embody visual and tactile content "reconnecting us to an ancient understanding and appreciation of images as presences unto themselves, capable of transcending materiality to express truth through beauty". 

 

This ability to connect the ancient and the contemporary has allowed the artist to create works on the premise that "art has the power to transcend representation and embody spiritual and emotional values through form. Her tapestries are nothing less than meditations on the illusive nature of meaning." Thread, color and light determine the visual and metaphorical aspect of de Amaral's works. "I began to work with fiber by coincidence - a sought coincidence - and have continued with it because it has never disappointed me. As I get to know it better, the better it knows me. In briefer words, it has never stopped arousing my curiosity. Fiber is like an old pencil: one has used it for so long that you take it for granted. I am made of fiber because I have embraced it and because I know it". Olga de Amaral on color: "When I think about color, when I touch color, when I live color - the intimate exaltation of my being, my other self - I fly, I feel as another, there is always another being next to me." 

 

De Amaral's art is most often interpreted through the themes of architecture, mathematics, and socio-cultural dichotomies in Colombia, but mostly landscape: 

 

"Fascinated by the shapes of rocks, streams, hills, mountains, and clouds, she finds inspiration in the broken textures and movements of the landscapes surrounding her home in Bogotá. From the geometric designs of medieval cosmological diagrams to the grids of Mondrian, harmonious symmetry of form has alluded to and partaken of perfection and the absolute.”

 

Her oeuvre is characterized by various series, each with a particular essence or technique that encompass a plethora of intricate variations developed throughout her career. It is the titles of de Amaral's numerous series that reveal the themes behind the weavings: Alchemies, Moonbaskets, Lost Images, Ceremonial Cloths, Writings, Forests, Rivers, Mountains, Moons, Square Suns, Umbras, Stelae, etc. As Amparo Osorio pointed out, "much of poetry (...) emerges from these images in movement, whose titling (…) is another referent for us to achieve an understanding of this recondite sense, of that desire to say in the language of symbols all that is beyond words."


Exhibitions

2014
 Olga de Amaral, SP-Arte (São Paulo International Art Fair), São Paulo, Brazil, April 9 to 12.


2008
 Golden Fleece, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel, February to May.

2007
Strata, Casa de Vacas Cultural Center, Madrid, Spain.

2005
 Olga de Amaral: Resonances, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal, September 14 to October 14.

2004
Threaded Words, Embassy of Colombia to the United States, Washington D.C., USA, May.


2002
Times and Land, Museum of the Nation, Lima, Peru, July to August.

Museum of Modern Art, Barranquilla, Colombia.


1999
Kreismuseum Zons, Dormagen, Germany.

Textilmuseum Max Berk, Heidelberg, Germany.

Olga de Amaral:
Woven Gold, The Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.

1998
Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA.

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

1997
 Art Museum of the Americas, Washington D.C., USA.

Olga de Amaral: Monoliths and Other Landscapes, Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, August 22 to October 5.


Olga de Amaral: Rétrospective 1965-1996, Musée de la Tapisserie Contemporaine, Angers, France, June 25 to November 9.

Olga de Amaral: Seven Stelae, Federal Reserve Board, Washington D.C., USA.

University Art Museum, Downtown, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA.

Olga de Amaral: Estelas and Landscapes, Pereira Art Museum, Pereira, Colombia, November 22 to January 10.

(traveling to La Tertulia Museum of Modern Art, Cali, Colombia, January 28 to March 16.)

1996

Olga de Amaral: Textiles, Peter Joseph Gallery, New York, NY, USA, April 25 to June 7.

Nine Stelae and Other Landscapes, curated by Jacquelin Pilar, Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, CA, USA, September 10 to November 10.

(traveling to the Art Museum of the Americas, Washington D.C., April 10 to June 14, and to the Cleveland Institute of Art, August 22 to October 5, 1997.)

University of New Mexico Center for the Arts, Albuquerque, NM, USA.

1993
Olga de Amaral: Four times (a retrospective), Museum of Modern Art in Bogota, Bogota, Colombia, November 1993 to February 1994.

 

1986

Colombia nelle Corderie dell'Arsenale, 42nd Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy.


1979

Olga de Amaral, Panamanian Institute of Art, Panama City, June.


1973
 Banque Nationale de Paris, Paris, France.

1972
Museum of Modern Art, Bogotá, Colombia.

1971
Woven Walls by Olga de Amaral, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, NY, USA, September 30 to January 3.

1970
Tissue Walls: Olga de Amaral, Luis Angel Arango Library, Banco de la Republica, Bogota, Colombia, January.

Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, NY, USA.


collections

2016

In collection of Tate Modern, "Alchemy 50- Olga de Amaral 1987". Presented in 'Beyond Craft' room. 

view work by Olga de Amaral

Montaña 18

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