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Master Argentine Sculptor
BIDDINGTON'S CREATIVE PROCESS interviews artist
Aurelio Macchi in his Buenos Aires studio.
Editor's Note: Born in Buenos Aires in 1916, Aurelio Macchi continues to live there, to make sculpture and to retain a notably puckish sense of humor.
A few days before our scheduled interview, we encountered Aurelio Macchi at a show of paintings by his wife figurative painter Elsa Espeleta at the Casa Yrurtia in the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
Rogelio Yrurtia (1879-1950), having studied with the European late 19th century masters, was an important sculptor in early 20th century Argentina. His grand house is a museum showcasing mostly his own figurative sculpture in the French tradition. Working during the heyday of Argentina's wealth when the construction of monuments was flourishing, Yrurtia grew rich and powerful making public sculpture.
Aurelio Macchi: You know, I once apprenticed with Yrurtia, but it wasn't a long relationship. On my first day in his studio, Yrurtia asked me which piece I liked best. I looked around at the sculptures, and I said: "The Rodin", at which point he threw me out and told me never to come back.
Aurelio Macchi in His Garden with
Aurelio Macchi: In those days, the usual way to learn skills was to work in a sculpture studio as an assistant doing whatever they told you to do--essentially copying what the maestro did. I worked in the studios of Fioravanti and Oliva Navarro when they were working on big projects.
Editor's Note: José Fioravanti (1896-1977) made many important Buenos Aires monuments including those to Simon Bolívar and to Avellaneda. Juan Carlos Oliva Navarro (1888-1951) made public sculpture including the 1937 fountain in homage to Pedro de Mendoza in Park Lezama in Buenos Aires.
Aurelio Macchi: I also studied art in the Escuela Nacional des Artes. At that time, the three most influential painters were Dali, Victorica and Spilimbergo. Spilimbergo lived very near here. I didn't study with him, but I knew him from the bars and cafes. He was very honest--and a good person. He made a very particular type of painting and was a fine draftsman. Spilimbergo was one of the great Argentine masters whose role still isn't really understood. Before Spilimbergo, the artistic panorama here had been shaped by Italian and Catalan artists.
Aurelio Macchi: I come from a typically European family background--my mother was Catalan; she spoke Catalan, not Spanish, to us at home. There are many Argentinean artists of Catalan descent such as the surrealist painter Batlle Planas and the printmaker Pompeyo Audivert.
Aurelio Macchi: In 1940, I won a prize, a study grant from the French government. I used it to travel to Italy and then to Paris where I studied in the studio of the Russian emigré sculptor Zadkine at L'École de la Grand Chaumière.
Aurelio Macchi: From time to time, Zadkine would prowl around the room examining figures made by students. He would put his hands around the middle of a figure, massage it, and then ask: "Where are the guts?" We were expected to make a sculpture expressing the sense of a whole body--not just its surface.
Aurelio Macchi Holding
Pregnant Woman, Clay Figure
Aurelio Macchi: My travel to Europe was a useful experience mainly because it freed me from being devoted to any teacher. So when I came back to Buenos Aires, I set up my own studio and started working in clay and then also in wood.
Editor's Note: In addition to working in his studio making sculpture, Aurelio Macchi taught privately and also more formally at Argentina's prestigious National School of Fine Arts "Prilidiano Pueyrredón". Among his outstanding students is contemporary painter Guillermo Cuello.
Aurelio Macchi: The clay pieces are built up little by little so that they have a sense of the bones, muscles and skin. We have no kiln here; so, the figures are sent out to be fired or cast in bronze.
Aurelio Macchi: I'm interested in movement. While I don't dance tango, I grew up around tango dancers. They would always stand like this.
Editor's Note: At this point, Macchi strikes a remarkably sinuous pose with ankles twined around each other and arms raised dramatically in incipient motion.
Aurelio Macchi Sculptures
Seated Figure and Tango Couple, Bronzes
with Figure Drawing by Elsa Espeleta in Background
Aurelio Macchi: For many years, Elsa and I have worked from models, usually once a week. But it grows harder and harder to find models who are professionals--who know how to hold the pose correctly--then resume it accurately after a break. Sometimes the models move so much it makes me dizzy.
Elsa Espeleta and Aurelio Macchi
in Their Studio
Aurelio Macchi: At some point, I realized that clay might run the risk of weakening the form of my pieces, so I moved to wood as a contrast--a counterpoint to the modeling for which I had always been praised.
Aurelio Macchi: No one taught me how to carve. In the wood pieces, I simply begin with the block of wood--without drawings or plans. I go where the wood leads me. I think about a piece, then walk into the studio, and I see something that needs to be done. So, I hit a few blows. Then, I leave it again.
Two Figures, Wood Sculpture (right)
Aurelio Macchi: Whatever material I am using, I want to unstick my figures from the earth, so that instead of feeling static, they are always in motion.
Links to recent Aurelio Macchi museum exhibitions:
National Museum of Fine Arts, MNBA, 2005
Museum of Contemporary Art, MACLA, 2002
ABOUT THIS FEATURE
CREATIVE PROCESS at Biddington's is designed as a forum for watching art in the making. Usually, this process happens in the privacy of the artist's studio. At BIDDINGTON'S Contemporary Art Gallery, we find it interesting to witness the steps leading to the end product and to hear the artists speak about their work in the relaxed surroundings of their own studios.
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Background Articles on 20th Century Argentine Painting:
Lino Enea Spilimbergo
Eolo Pons--On Technique
Eolo Pons--Master Argentine Painter
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